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Credit card companies losing mobile-wallet race

by Peter Andrew

How do you react when you see reports of lines forming outside Apple stores days before the launch of some new smartphone, tablet or similar device? There seem to be four main areas of emotion that might grip you:

  1. Bewilderment: What planet do these people live on? It's a lump of plastic and metal, for heaven's sake. And they could probably walk into the store next week and buy one without spending nights on a cold, wet sidewalk.
  2. Envy: I wish I had the time and/or money to get one of those amazing devices on launch day.
  3. Contempt: I hate Apple, and these people are idiots.
  4. Excitement: Look, guys! I'm watching the local news on my current-generation iPhone/iPad, and they're showing us in this line.

You and the future of credit card payments

Which of those did you identify with? The question's worth asking, because it's possible your answer is going to reflect your attitude to mobile wallets, which the Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group (CG) defines as:

An "app" for your smartphone or tablet that allows you to organize your payment cards, coupons, vouchers and identification to facilitate financial transactions.

If you chose the first of those four emotions, Bewilderment, then you're probably among the 52 percent of "traditionalists" who:

  1. Have no interest in mobile wallets, and/or
  2. Place little value on mobile-wallet services, and/or
  3. Have security concerns about the technology.

That leaves 48 percent who are welcoming of -- or, at least, less resistant to -- mobile wallets: 27 percent are "techno shoppers" (people who actively like the shopping and social features offered by mobile wallets), and 21 percent "payment optimizers:" those who are anxious to use technology to help them make smart payment choices based on special offers, rewards credit card options, and their financial situation.

Those were among many findings uncovered in Mobile Wallet Market Analysis, a Jan. 28 report by CG, some of which were included in a press release. Others mentioned here were gleaned from a different document sent by the company directly to IndexCreditCards.com.

Credit card companies missing out

A week after CG published its report, comScore, a company that specializes in "measuring the digital world," unveiled its own study of Internet users (not all consumers), which revealed the percentage of respondents who had actually used different sorts of digital wallets:

  • PayPal 48 percent
  • Google Wallet 8 percent
  • MasterCard PayPass Wallet 3 percent
  • Square Wallet 2 percent
  • V.me by Visa 2 percent
  • LevelUP 2 percent
  • ISIS and Lemon Wallet 1 percent each

That's an incredible lead by PayPal, with six times as many users as the next biggest wallet offering. And it's a frankly pathetic showing by MasterCard and Visa. Some of that must be down to those card networks coming late to the wallet-development party.

However, turning to the CG's analysis, which included Amazon Payments, it's also because they're struggling to catch up. On a scale of consumer experience, the PayPass and V.me wallets are the two nearest the low end, while LevelUp and Amazon are the ones nearest the high end. Meanwhile, on a mobile-payments-capability scale, PayPass currently beats V.me by a wide margin.

Flexibility an issue

When CG asked consumers in a 2012 nationwide survey what they looked for in a mobile wallet, 60 percent said that payment choice was important. That was by far the biggest requirement, and was followed, in order, by:

  1. Managing receipts and documentation
  2. Real-time incentives
  3. Search and shop
  4. Ratings and reviews
  5. Places to go
  6. Create and share wish lists
  7. Sharing purchases

But, of course, card networks don't want their wallets to give you a choice of payments, the very thing consumers demand most. Visa wants you to use Visa cards, and MasterCard its branded products.

Virtual credit cards a sure thing

It's hard to see how these two payment giants can overcome either their slow start in the mobile-wallet race, or their apparent inability to offer a single wallet that can be linked to all debit and credit cards, regardless of branding. But it seems almost certain that somehow they will.

They have both the resources and the will to invest whatever it takes to achieve their wallet goals. When, on Feb. 6, Visa reported its latest results, it said the company's profit had jumped 30 percent in the first quarter to $1.3 billion. In a quote from a conference call, the payment network's CEO Charlie Scharf's remarked:

The work on mobile here continues, both organically and with the acquisition of Fundamo. It's a critical access point to our network and continued investment in that is absolutely critical for us.

So expect both MasterCard and Visa to refine and improve their mobile wallets. And who knows? If they do a good enough job, you may one day find yourself waiting in line to buy the latest smartphone or tablet.

Published 02/18/13 (Modified 11/20/13)


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