February 26, 2013

Mobile commerce grew exponentially in 2012, evidenced by the big increase that companies like PayPal saw in mobile payment volume this past holiday shopping season. But that trend of customers using the mobile device to pay for online purchases will not necessarily mean that they will jump to using the device as a mobile wallet at the point-of-sale. For the near future mobile payments and mobile wallets seem to be on divergent paths, with customers becoming more comfortable making online purchases with their phones and tablets, while mobile wallets lag behind, says Mike Heindl, a principal at PwC’s financial services advisory practice.

While several new mobile wallets were released or piloted in 2012, such as Isis and PayPal’s second version of its digital wallet, Heindl says he doesn’t see mobile wallets adoption picking up in 2013 or even 2014. Many in the payments industry suggest that the key to mobile wallet adoption is in offering loyalty rewards and coupons to entice the customer. But Heindl says he thinks that it will take more than that to get customers to put their physical wallets in their mobile devices. The key will be offering a different - and better - payments experience than the one offered by cards payments. “People are used to paying with plastic. There has to be a payments experience that’s better [with mobile wallets]. No one has cracked that yet,” Heindl comments.

[See Related: Non-Banks Take Early Lead in Mobile Wallet Race ]

Mobile wallets providers have to start thinking about what a perfect buying experience with the mobile device would be like, Heindl suggests. “I can see value in never having to walk through a checkout line,” he explains. “Really in a perfect world you’d never have to interface with the wallet. It would understand our preferences. If I’m making a large purchase it would know I like using this credit card for that; and it would know I like putting smaller purchases on my debit card.”

The path to mobile wallets adoption will remain uncertain and murky for some time, and given that environment Heindl says financial institutions would be wise to build relationships with multiple players in the industry. “We tell issuers to keep their options open, because nobody knows which players will win right now,” he reasons. “They [banks] have to be prepared for any scenario.” In its annual white paper on mobile payments PwC advised banks and issuers to focus these relationships on players who offer differentiating factors such as analytics, value-proposition design and an enhanced customer experience.

And banks also need to strengthen their relationships with their customers, he adds, by building a better understanding of their customers by breaking down organizational silos. This will help build customer loyalty no matter what happens in the mobile wallets market. “Customers want to deal with financial institutions. They don’t trust the new entrants [to handle their money]. The only way they [financial institutions] lose is if they fall asleep at the wheel.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Camhi is a graduate of the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, where he focused on international reporting and interned at the Hindustan Times in Delhi, ...