Geoffrey Cairns . . . providers still to provide a consumer-bent solution to electronic payments. Photo: Rob Homer
Smartphones have long been promised as the future of electronic payments, replacing credit cards and physical wallets. But car keys, a running shoe accessory or a virtual credit card that switches issuing banks at the touch of a finger could be the main way we pay for goods in the near future.
Geoffrey Cairns, a former Microsoft executive who now heads mobile technology company NFC Data, said a lack of convenience and insecurity surrounding mobile phones had, so far, prevented them from becoming the clear method of paying electronically, a problem that was likely to hound it in the near future.
"Nothing's come along that's replicated the ease of my wallet, which sits in my pocket and works just fine," he told The Australian Financial Review.
"I can go to Starbucks today, anywhere around the world, take my AMEX card and swipe it; they won't ask me for my signature or do anything else. All these other solutions, I have to do something more; there's a huge adoption curve."
The major Australian banks, retailers and telecommunications carriers have each tried to introduce mobile "contactless" payment technologies in some form in recent years. Visa is expected to introduce a new type of payment in Sydney on Tuesday.
But many technologies have faltered at trial stages; rely on accessories, or fail to pick up steam with consumers.
Mr Cairns said few mobile payment technologies had managed to make payments convenient for consumers.
"A lot of the implementations have been trying to make technology work for a function as opposed to trying to enable something unique and friendly for a consumer to actually use," he said.
"I don't think anyone has provided a consumer-bent solution that truly creates the same level of convenience of what we're used to today."
Adding to the difficulties of mobile payments, few phones contain the hardware to facilitate "contactless" payments while complex profit-sharing negotiations between banks, telcos and phone manufacturers have also been a stumbling block in developing commercial services.
Mr Cairns said while smartphones could still prove a successful method of paying for goods, near-future solutions may involve devices like a car key fob.
One possible payment method could also involve a credit card that does not belong to any one bank but instead allows a consumer to change the card's issuing bank, or the account it is tied to, through a smartphone app.
"I don't know that the phone as a form factor is the be-all, end-all," Mr Cairns said. "[Companies have] got to solve an elegant, consumer-driven distribution of credentials, they've got to do that and do it well. They've got to create consumer convenience. If they can do that, it's like 'there's your pick, there's your pans; go dig for gold'."
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