CHICAGO -- Ask a group of consumers what's keeping them from using a mobile wallet and more than half will say it's not safe to do so.

Most research on the consumer adoption of mobile wallets says the top challenge for wallet providers and merchants is how to communicate what they know to be true -- that mobile wallets are far safer than plastic cards.

"The best way to communicate that is to hold a credit card in one hand and a mobile phone in another in front of a consumer and ask which one they could do the most damage with," said Chris Otey, chief revenue officer for CU Wallet, a mobile wallet platform serving credit unions.

"The phone is exponentially more secure," Otey said as part of a security panel Aug. 30  at the annual Mobile Payments Conference. "If we were to design a payments system today, a card has to be one of the worst things in the world. It has a number right out in the clear and most of them don't have signatures."

The most effective way to communicate mobile safety is to make that simple comparison, showing that a mobile device has biometrics or passwords protecting the device in addition to tokenization of the card data, Otey added.

In his company's research, Nitesh Patel, director of  global wireless practice for U.K.-based Strategy Analytics, acknowledged more than 50% of consumers consistently mention security as the major obstacle to mobile wallet adoption. That top concern held across all demographics, with an unexpected spike in the concerns of those in the 24-to-36 age group, which has been most likely to be mobile wallet adopters, Patel said.

"One of the major concerns for most has simply been what they would do if they lost their phone," Patel added. "They are worried about losing payments credentials."

Payments industry executives know that's not a concern because obtaining credentials from a mobile device isn't likely through security layers on the device, tokenized transaction data and the credentials that reside in the phone's secure element or in the cloud, Patel said.

"It's important to understand that everyone in the value chain must be responsible for communicating the safety of mobile and why it is more secure," Patel said. "The payment networks and banks that sit on all of this data could quite easily communicate that a mobile payment is more secure than a traditional card transaction."

In another common finding, Patel said his company's research also indicates that consumers are more comfortable when a mobile wallet app is offered through their bank or from a trusted payments network, like PayPal.

Banks have an advantage over other wallet providers in part because of the Know Your Customer regulations, CU Wallet's Otey said. "They already know who their consumers are and they are already using the mobile banking app and authenticated within that app," Otey added. "If the payment piece can be bundled into the mobile banking app, we have removed security concerns from the equation," Otey said.

The disadvantage for a financial institution deploying a wallet is getting that wallet accepted by merchants, Otey added.

Advanced tokenization, contactless NFC and other systems that help enable mobile payments have created "very complex transactions compared to card swipes," said Cliff Duffey, president of security technology provider Cybera. But that complexity translates to stronger security, he added.

Every customer working with mobile payments integration has much work to do to determine how to open their systems to fit in a mobile pay solution, Duffey said.

In a recent survey, Auriemma Consulting revealed most consumers chose EMV chip cards as the most secure payment security method, with more than three times as many picking EMV rather than mobile as most secure. In regards to mobile technology, Strategy Analytics' Patel said most consumers choose Near Field Communication as one they prefer because it is less cumbersome than QR codes and they understand how NFC contactless works.

In that regard, the networks and wallet providers have an opportunity to continue promoting NFC as part of the mobile payments security advantage, he added.

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