Banks, Mobile Carriers Treading Carefully with Digital Wallets #appsworld

4 minute read
Anthony Myers avatar

Mobile payments may become a US$ 90 billion industry by 2017, but banks and mobile carriers in the US are moving slowly on things like digital wallet technology in mobile phones.

So far, the mobile payments industry is mostly confined to people shopping online with their mobile devices, a panel of banking and mobile carrier representatives laid out at the Apps World conference this week.

There are a myriad of problems that come with turning people's mobile phones into a wallet, the panel agreed, and that means people have been shying away from the concept, and instead using other forms of POS payments.

Buying Online Making Mobile Wallets Moot?

So what if people can't use their mobile phones to buy things at the store, they can buy stuff online, and clearly, have been doing so in record numbers. Instead of mobile phones keeping customer bank info and credit/debit card info loaded onto the device itself, retailers are often turning to things like the Square payment system.

The costs may be higher to the merchants, but customers don't have to have the right kind of phone or be on the right network to make it work. The biggest exception to the Square option is, of course, PayPal. Most people know about it, and in fact it dominates the digital wallet landscape, but there are plenty of other systems out there competing against it.

Google Wallet, for example, launched two years ago, but the NFC technology it uses has been as slow to proliferate as merchants and customers have to adopt any part of the ecosystem.

Learning Opportunities

Do Customers Even Want Digital Wallets?

A panel of banking and mobile carrier reps at the Apps World conference this week characterized the slow moving digital wallet ecosystem as a complex problem with fault on both sides of the shopping spectrum. Customers don't understand the technology, and banks and mobile carriers are weary of government regulations on what data can be transmitted via mobile devices.


A recent Forrester Study shows 2013 will be a critical year for NFC adoption, followed by rapid growth in mobile payments (mcommerce).

NFC technology is barely at double digit market penetration, Fawad Khan, director of mobile payments for AT&T said at Apps World. AT&T is part of a consortium along with Verizon and T-Mobile on the Isis Mobile Wallet system that has so far been rolled out in just two American cities. A recent report on that system has users making transactions about five times per week in the Salt Lake City, Utah test market.

Between the low availability of the service, and the often misunderstood technology on the part of customers, widespread adoption of NFC could be another five to 10 years away, Aashir Shroff, VP of mobile banking and payments at Wells Fargo said at Apps World.

Customer understanding of the technology aside, one of the big hurdles for mobile carriers is the regulations that go with mobile bank transactions. Regulators are working on protecting people's privacy, but they are not experts on the technology, and they need as much education as customers, Jackie Moran, chair of the mobile payments and executive director of federal regulations for Verizon said at Apps World.

None of the panel members agreed with the idea that if the infrastructure was in place, widespread usage of digital wallets would occur. Instead, they agreed that customers will dictate when the ecosystem will spread, and until then, they making sure they don't get caught by regulators violating customers' privacy.

Think people would use digital wallets if they were more available in the US? Let us know in the comments if you think customers are simply not demanding the technology or if they are simply waiting for it become available in their area.