When Will Mobile Wallets Be Commonplace?

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Not long ago, debit cards were a relatively small percentage of the total payment card volume. I had a friend who made a prediction each January that “This was the year debit cards would take off.” I asked him why he kept making the same prediction each year, only to be wrong. He said he knew that one year, he would be right.

A few years ago, I predicted that within five years, most smartphone users would be routinely using their mobile wallets to make purchases. I think it is fair to say my timeline was a bit aggressive. However, I still believe that mobile wallets are the future and that plastic cards will go the way of paper checks—some people will continue to use them, but the rest of us will wonder why.

What has slowed the pace of mobile wallets and what foretokens will speed us to widespread adoption?

First, a quick stroll down mobile wallet memory lane. Imagine it’s early 2012:

  • Google Wallet was brand new (September 2011) and was still in a bit of a “honeymoon” period.
  • Apple’s iPhone 5 had not yet launched (September 2012); some believed it would include a mobile wallet.
  • Predictions were made that the US would bypass the chip cards used by the rest of the world and move straight to mobile wallets.
    • Visa and MasterCard had announced a deadline for EMV “liability shift,” but many believed the associations would delay based on pressures from both merchants and issuers.
  • The data breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels, Home Depot and at least 15 other retailers had not yet occurred.

What detoured us to the slow lane of mobile wallet adoption? To borrow a phrase from my friend Sam Maule, “Sh*ft Happens.” Leaving the Site Icon The data breaches forced card associations to hold fast to an October 2015 EMV implementation timeline. Issuers had to scramble to issue chip cards to consumers, and merchants needed to put EMV-capable point-of-sale (POS) devices into stores. Apple did not introduce Apple Pay until the iPhone 6 was released in September 2014. With all the focus on security and a lack of merchant acceptance, Google Wallet failed to gain traction.

Another consequence of these sh*fts was that consumers became increasingly concerned about security. In 2012, according to CG’s mobile payments research, Leaving the Site Icon 50% of consumers were unsure they could trust the security of a mobile wallet.

When Apple Pay was launched, most people were pleased that it incorporated several security features (fingerprint identification and account number tokenization). However, it did not include a robust reason for consumers to habitually use the product. Most notably, there was no loyalty rewards program associated with Apple Pay.

So, while a few early adopters were excited to test-drive their mobile wallets, there was little reason for the masses to change their payment behavior. This at least partially explains why only 1% of digital US retail transactions involve Apple Pay Leaving the Site Icon and why my initial predictions about mobile wallet adoption were overly optimistic.

That said, there are four promising signs that we may be moving into the adoption fast lane.

  1. 1More global mobile wallet providers (with value added services). With the addition of Android Pay and Samsung Pay, virtually everyone with a smartphone has a mobile wallet option and a reason to use their phone instead of their plastic.
  2. 2More smartphones. By 2020, there will be 6.1 billion smartphones Leaving the Site Icon in the global market (most with biometric security features). That’s a stark contrast with the 2.6 billion smartphones in today’s market, most of which do not have biometric capabilities.
  3. 3More merchant acceptance of contactless payments. Many of the new terminals merchants are implementing support both contactless payments and EMV chip. Many European countries are seeing high growth in contactless payments once the terminals are in place. The US will see similar growth.
  4. 4Customer dissatisfaction with the EMV user experience. Perhaps this is simply a matter of people getting used to something new, but consumers have reported frustration with the time it takes and expressed concern over  the potential to forget their card in the reader.

We certainly lost some time in the mobile wallet slow lane, but acceleration is finally occurring. My new and, hopefully, more accurate prediction for mobile wallet adoption is that by the end of 2018, most people in the US will be using their smartphone for payments at least five times a week. By 2020, I expect 20% of all POS payment transactions to be initiated with the consumer’s phone. Fingers crossed.

View CG’s infographic Leaving the Site Icon depicting the roadblocks and drivers behind the US consumer acceptance of POS mobile wallet adoption.

Post Date: 11/9/2015

Peter Olynick Peter Olynick

About the author

Peter Olynick is the Senior Practice Lead, Retail Banking for NTT DATA Services. An accomplished financial services professional with more than 25 years of experience in cards and payments, he has led over 100 initiatives including platform evaluation, portfolio migration, new product launch, and new feature implementation. Peter is a recognized and sought-after contributor and speaker on core transaction processing systems, mobile wallets and payments innovation.