Industry experts agree that after years of discussion and much speculation the mobile payments market is finally taking off. In fact, according to eMarketer.com, the U.S. market is expected to triple this year to $27.05 billion, up from $8.71 billion in 2015. And the research firm reports that the number of people making proximity payments will increase by 61.8 percent to more than 37.5 million. Consider also a recent Gartner, Inc. report predicting that by 2017, mobile commerce revenue in the U.S. will account for 50 percent of all U.S. digital commerce revenue.
“While consumers and merchants have been relatively slow to adopt mobile payments until now, we are starting to see the numbers tick upward,” said Amanda Smith, Strategic Product Architect for CO-OP Financial Services. “So 2016 may just be a breakout year for the technology.”
Emerging Markets Are Going Mobile
According to Smith, to-date the U.S. has lagged a bit behind some nations in terms of mobile payment adoption partly because of our economy’s reliance on legacy systems put in place years before mobile even existed.
“Interestingly, some of the fastest adopters of the technology have been regions such as Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa,” she said. “Because their emerging economies are not hindered by legacy systems, they have been able to leapfrog into the future with infrastructure that is purpose-built for mobile.”
Smith notes, however, that the U.S. leads the world in terms of non-cash payments. “We are quite accustomed to using our cards instead of cash,” she said. “As mobile payment technology becomes more readily available on smartphones and at merchant sites, we expect consumers to embrace it.”
The All Important ‘Wow’ Factor
When it comes to mobile payment adoption, Smith emphasizes that the experience delivered by the technology must entice customers in order for them to use it.
“Most of us within the financial industry are focused on speeding up payments,” she said. “But when you consider how efficient cards are for the consumer, you quickly realize that speed is not enough. Consumers are looking for flawless utility and an experience that ‘wows’ them.”
Smith adds that rewards may emerge as a key factor in furthering adoption of the technology. “If consumers can receive special offers or points for switching to mobile payments, that may keep the technology top of wallet,” she said.
Another factor that could drive mobile payment adoption overall is the increasing popularity of P2P payments, a technology whose journey into the mainstream has taken its own twists turns.
“Early on, the vision for P2P payments was one of friends splitting the bill at lunch without having to divvy up cash,” she said. “What we have found instead is that the average P2P transaction amount is much higher than that – in the hundreds of dollars. This suggests that the technology is primarily used today for sharing larger purchases or dividing up household expenses. However, smaller transactions are gaining ground, and we expect this trend to continue.”
To support an increasingly mobile member base, Smith advises credit unions to get behind the major digital wallet providers and to ensure that their employees are well versed in everything mobile.
“CO-OP offers support for all the ‘Pays,’ including Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay, and we encourage our client credit unions to invest in these products,” she said. “We also support the ‘Buy’ buttons, including Visa Checkout and MasterPass. These tools both simplify mobile and online transactions for members and provide them with a valuable layer of added security. As mobile technology advances, we will continue to equip credit unions with the solutions they need to keep pace with member requirements.”
Another trend sure to impact payments, adds Smith, is the emerging “Internet of Things” (the network of physical objects – devices, vehicles, etc. – embedded with electronics that enables these objects to collect and exchange data).
“This amazing development is widely discussed in the press and promises to yield a whole new class of devices that are on 24/7, taking instructions and intuitively doing what they need to do,” she said. “What is ironic about this dynamic is that the technology may actually restore a sense of simplicity that modern commerce lacks today. For example, if you had lived in a small town back in the days of the Wild West, your goods and services would all come from one general store – and you would have a running tab there. Mobile devices of the future will likely serve as that running tab, tallying our transactions as we go about our daily lives. That is where the technology is headed.”
For more information on how credit unions can keep up with security innovations while also keeping up with advancing mobile payments technology, visit the resource center here.