Bankwest looks inside to ensure its NFC ring is ready for prime time

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Wearable payments are looking hot in Australia, where the NFC payments infrastructure is dense and several large banks including Commonwealth Bank of Australia and ANZ were among the first to announce payments support through Garmin's newest smartwatch.

But for banks forging their wearables strategies, experimentation can get expensive, which is why Bankwest relied on its employees to help design and promote Australia's first NFC ring.

The idea for the Halo NFC-enabled payments ring that rolled out last week to Bankwest's customers across Australia was born from one of the bank's regularly scheduled "Hack Day" brainstorming sessions designed to bring employees with diverse skills and perspectives together to innovate and find solutions to problems.
Employees proposed experimenting with payment wearables, based in part on the fact that with Australia's mature contactless payment infrastructure, more than 80% of Australians make a contactless payment at least once a week, data suggests.

Bankwest quickly green-lighted the plan and lined up more than 400 Bankwest employees who volunteered to participate in the wearables trial beginning last August, with employees trying out one or more of four different NFC-enabled wearable options including a key fob, a fitness-style wristband, a clip attached to a personal wristwatch and a ring linked to their bank accounts.

The bank's commitment in the last couple of years to an "agile" environment of rapid testing and learning produced answers within a couple of months.

"The results of the testing were overwhelmingly in favor of the ring, giving customers the freedom to pay wherever and however they want," said Andy Weir, general manager of technology and transformation at Perth-based Bankwest, a subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank.

Further feedback from the army of internal testers helped shaped the final product, which is available in black or white by ordering online or inside branches, for AUS$39 (US$31.50), with a free ring-sizing kit available to customers who request it online.

"It's still early days, but so far we've had a very positive response from both customers and colleagues," Weir said, noting social media posts from employees and the public are helping to drive interest and demand in what Bankwest says is Australia's first NFC-enabled payments ring.

But Bankwest's speedy path from concept to rollout with the Halo ring doesn't mean the bank will rush ahead with other wearables.

"Technology like the Internet of Things represent exciting possibilities, but we need to remember that for any innovation to be successful it must satisfy actual customer needs," Weir said.

On its website, Bankwest instructs users to use the ring by curling their fingers over a payment terminal as if to knock on a door, and notes that the ring—up to 50 meters underwater—can be used only for debit transactions currently and purchases over AUS$100 (US$81) require a password.

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