There’s a smartphone epidemic. So many people have them, and they are so engrossing, that smartphone users literally bump into each other when crossing the street or passing each other on a set of stairs. They’re communicating, they’re gaming, they’re researching and locating, they’re checking the weather, they’re shopping, they’re daydreaming, they’re doing everything with their enthralling phones… except paying. Or making eye contact.
What is the holdup in adopting mobile wallets? To be fair, a respectable 35 million consumers—22-plus percent of all smartphone owners—have gone so far as to provision a credit or debit card into a general purpose mobile wallet for use—maybe not for regular use, but at least they’ve tried it.
There’s been a ream of articles written about what it would take to get mobile wallets into wide adoption—and each article eloquently offers one piece of the puzzle. We’d like to posit that what it’s going to take to get the mobile wallet to replace the tattered leather one in your back pocket is… when everything that’s in your wallet is in your phone, and more. And everyone accepts that as reality.
Let’s make a checklist of what’s in your physical wallet now, and whether they are, or could easily be, in your phone. Credit cards? Check. Debit card? Check. Little scraps of paper with people’s names and phone numbers on them? Check. Frequent flyer, grocery, and other loyalty cards? Not yet. Gift cards that you never remember until after you’ve left the store? And how about your driver’s license? With this checklist, a picture of the real wallet, beyond just making payments, is beginning to form.
The mobile wallet needs to have a 360-degree view on the range of identifiers you keep in your physical wallet. You shouldn’t have to fumble for your credit cards, loyalty cards, or prepaid gift cards. You shouldn’t have to carry around your physical driver’s license or social security card. In a sense, it’s actually safer to have them stored electronically in a device you carry all the time anyway. A device that has already become a highly personal, unique object to you. Each smartphone owner has his or her own settings, apps, ringtones, wallpaper and background images. The phone is a personal statement about—an extension of—who they are.
So what is keeping people from using their smartphones as an all-the-time, functional mobile wallet? As we stated earlier, multiple factors are involved. Very often, their issuing bank has not integrated with one of the wallet providers, so they can’t provision a card into it. Another widespread reality is that the wallet is not accepted in many places. Without global acceptance across all merchants and services, it can never become as habitual as paying with physical money (either with credit cards or cash). Then there’s the limitation of only being able to have credit and debit cards in your phone, instead of having gift, loyalty, or other prepaid cards available, in digital format, for use anytime. Until you can get your license and Social Security card in there, it won’t be a true wallet.
Remember when you bought a word processor, a sort of proto-computer that was programmable but not connected to the internet? You may be too young to remember that, but in the not-too-distant past you had to have a different device to do your word processing, your spreadsheets, your faxing. (What is faxing? some young people will ask.) You kept your contacts in an ancient device called a Rolodex. Then along came Microsoft, and suddenly, it all came together in one place—a digital calendar, spreadsheets, word processing, email management (the modern equivalent of faxes)—the works. Now we have Windows10, the re-fulfillment of that intention, with its objective of making everything mobile, transportable, and interconnected—an integrated experience. It brings together news, music, photos, geographic status, email, texts… all in one cloud-based place.
Well, in just the same way, it all needs to come together in the mobile phone in order for mobile payments to be widely adopted by consumers and merchants. That level of nearly unconscious acceptance that we see with computers—is there anyone who doesn’t, at minimum, know the workings of a computer, or more likely owns several of them in some form?—needs to happen. Will economic history mark it as a bigger leap from cash to credit cards, or from cards to the mobile wallet?
Once the universality of structure is achieved, trust and acceptance will inevitably follow. And actually, it’s bound to happen: we will see a similar integrated capability where multiple payment and identifying forms—all the information that defines our commercial lives—reside in one place. The phone.