Why 2015 is the year mobile payments could finally take off

Smart payments for the masses

With Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and various other initiatives launched in the last 12 months, there's plenty of buzz around mobile payments – yet walking into a shop and paying for groceries with a swipe of your smartphone still seems a long way off.

Various apps launched by network operators have met with a lukewarm response, and even big names such as Amazon have found their mobile payment schemes wrecked upon the rocks, so it feels like we've been waiting for this kind of technology to become a reality for several years.

Yet – whisper it quietly – when you cut through the hype and bluster there are signs that 2015 might be the year when mobile payments finally start to gain traction. To get the inside story we spoke with Peter Keenan, CEO of Zapp, which is launching software this summer in partnership with several major banks.

Zapp isn't a standalone app, but arrives as an update inside your existing banking software and enables various mobile payment features, including the ability to pay at a terminal using a smartphone and NFC, Apple Pay-style.

O2 Wallet

Mobile payments systems have struggled to take off

In order for a mobile payments system to put down roots, Keenan says, it needs to reach a tipping point on either the customer or retailer side: customers won't adopt a system unless it's widely supported by retailers, while merchants won't upgrade their hardware unless there's enough customer demand.

And that's where previous efforts in the market have struggled. "One of the issues that a lot of the standalone payment apps have had up to now is just they never get to scale," says the Zapp CEO. "They create these great solutions and wallets, but customers just don't use them significantly enough, so they get nowhere with the merchants, and they wither and die."

Enter Zapp's system, which is rolling out this summer. "We've been working now for just over two years on building up this ecosystem," Keenan told us. "You either have to bring a load of merchants to the party or you have to bring a load of customers to the party, and we're starting with bringing a load of customers to the party."

In practice that means retailers and merchants know that if they support Zapp they'll also be opening up their systems to several million customers from banks like HSBC, Nationwide and Santander. If you have a compatible banking app, Zapp will arrive as an automatic update, and you can opt in to activate the service if you want to.