Mobile payments in the US: 'wallet wars' and the Wild West

Panel discussion MobileCon 2012
Tayloe Stansbury of Intuit speaks during a MobileCon panel

The mobile commerce landscape went under the microscope during a roundtable discussion at MobileCon 2012 Thursday, with five executives from leading payment companies breaking down what it will take for such services to get off the ground.

Afzal Bari, a financial analyst for tech and telecom at Bloomberg Government, moderated the talk that ranged from what value mobile payments really bring to regulation concerns.

According to Dekkers Davidson, head of mobile commerce business at Barclaycard, which offers online credit cards and credit guidance, successful mobile wallet adoption in the U.S. looks like one out four people using such a service in the next five to eight years.

Now is the time for experimentation, not red tape or winner-take-all competition.

"I liken it to Lewis and Clarke, where we're a 100 miles out of Missouri and looking back over the ridge and saying, 'Ok, where are we going?'" he said. "We're just getting started here."

Entering the 'wallet wars'

Mike Love, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Mozido, a cloud payment network, said an attitude of "wallet wars" currently prevails.

Whereas the market is already looking for a mobile wallet victor, the time is ripe now to simply educate consumers on the value of mobile payment systems, not bludgeon the competition.

"Nobody ever said they had a problem with the vinyl record until the MP3 player was introduced and you could port all these songs onto one device, " said Ryan Hughes, chief marketing officer at Isis, a mobile wallet company.

"Ultimately, we're tapping into a latent need here," he continued. "What do you need and what problems do you have? Consumers won't identify a problem until they see a solution to fix it."

Everywhere the same

As for standards, government and other agencies can't come up with regulation as fast as the technology evolves, the panel tended to agree, meaning the onus falls on service providers to develop principles of operation.

"Intuit has 30 years of handling sensitive customer data, so we've developed a set of principles of how to keep data secure and private," said Tayloe Stansbury, senior vice president and chief technology officer at the company.

"We share those principles with other companies and agencies, which helps make sense of a world where technology moves a lot faster than regulation."

The transition from leather wallet to mobile payments is happening, though what final shape it takes is still forming.

"We don't know which way is the best - whether security through the secure element of NFC or through the cloud," Love said.

Will customers come?

Davidson said adoption will quicken if "multiple players make bets," including Google and Apple.

National wallets for national retailers and vertical applications - like apps to pay for parking - are also part of the process to win over consumers

"If you can wake up in the morning and pump gas, pay for coffee, go to the hardware store, pick up a prescription at CVS and do all the things you need to do and everywhere you go the experience is exactly the same, that's when you'll see it picking up," said Dodd Roberts, an executive at Merchant Customer Exchange, a confederation of retailers.

Ultimately it's consumers' call whether they adopt mobile payment services and technology, but companies can't be faulted for not trying to get the message out, even if it's just to make life easier.

"To quote [Henry] Ford, 'If I asked consumers what they wanted, they would say a faster horse,'" Roberts said.

"The average consumer doesn't know that their experience engaging in the commerce world could be so much better than it is right now. We are enhancing the experience, not necessarily solving a problem."

Michelle Fitzsimmons

Michelle was previously a news editor at TechRadar, leading consumer tech news and reviews. Michelle is now a Content Strategist at Facebook.  A versatile, highly effective content writer and skilled editor with a keen eye for detail, Michelle is a collaborative problem solver and covered everything from smartwatches and microprocessors to VR and self-driving cars.