April 15, 2011

The promise payments initiated without swiping a card, handing over cash or writing a check is the essence of the oft-discussed topic of the "mobile wallet."

But the concept frozen somewhere between science fiction and reality, with dozens of traditional vendors, networks and banks competing with startups to be the first to get it right and ultimately spur widespread adoption. So why we wait, let's define terms.

What, exactly, is a mobile payment?

Andy Schmidt, research director, Commercial Banking & Payments, TowerGroup, provided a simple guideline during TowerGroup's financial services conference in Boston.

As Schmidt defined it, a mobile payment is initiated from a mobile phone on an anytime, anywhere, anyone basis for delivery to:

  • Another mobile phone
  • An email address
  • A point-of-sale terminal
  • A deposit account with or without online banking
  • And, no, slapping a contactless payment sticker on the back of a phone doesn't turn it into a magical mobile payment device.

    Simple enough right?