Hari Gopalkrishnan, Bank of America's managing director of client facing platforms technology, is adamant that the bank doesn't need to have its own mobile wallet today.
It's a mindset that is not about ignoring mobile, but instead about not letting mobile obscure the overall needs of the merchants and consumers who handle its payment cards, he said in an interview at SourceMedia's annual PayThink conference, taking place this week in New Orleans.
"You get to do more interesting stuff with mobile, but mobile is a distribution channel" for alerts, balance inquiries and other functions that are not mobile-specific, he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be that purely all payments go through there."
Many functions that were developed outside the context of mobile payments are naturally touching the channel. BankAmeriDeals, the bank's card-linked offer system, was designed for online banking users. But the bank saw the number of interactions grow substantially when consumers started accessing it from an app.
The bank had to make sure its system could adapt to this higher volume, but it did not overcommit by making the offers dependent on a customer's use of mobile.
For example, Bank of America is open to using geolocation to create more targeted offers, but it can already analyze customers' spending data to improve its targeting, Gopalkrishnan said. If the bank knows a customer eats lunch at the same place every day, it can provide offers from that restaurant or from nearby merchants at lunchtime without having to ping the user's phone for a location.
Fraud detection runs on a similar principle, he said. It may be useful to push alerts to a customer's phone or to know the device's location when evaluating risk, but it would be premature to allow fraud detection systems to become reliant on the mobile device, he said.
"You can't just assume you're only going to protect the mobile payment transaction," Gopalkrishnan said.
Ultimately, these functions will converge in a mobile offering that will be compelling to the consumer, merchant and issuer. But that's not happening today.
"Until it gets there, let's invest in the individual components," Gopalkrishnan said. "Invest in offers, invest in fraud detection, invest in these things because they have to benefit the whole ecosystem. That's why our focus is on those things, and then if we want to create a wallet some day, we'll create a wallet some day. We know how to do that."
As for person-to-person payments, Gopalkrishnan sees a different target than the typical scenario of making it easier to split a dinner check.
His target is the point in time when the consumer decides to withdraw cash or write a check. In the example of paying a Spanish tutor for lessons, the customer is already likely communicating with the tutor over text to confirm appointments and arrange payment.
"It should be just as simple as texting you the money" at the same time, he said. "There's a fair bit of friction in writing a check … there isn't a lot of friction in texting someone."