As digital wallet strategies begin to fall into place for more large banks, many smaller banks are feeling the pressure to develop apps of their own.
Banks of all sizes now support Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, but consumer adoption remains low for these third-party wallets, which if nothing else have leveled the playing field for issuers.
Giants like Capital One, RBC and Wells Fargo are have taken the next step of building branded mobile wallets to differentiate their offerings. More than a dozen large and regional banks, including Citi and SunTrust, are taking a hybrid approach by aligning with Mastercard's retooled digital wallet, Masterpass, which provides some opportunities for customization.
But for many smaller banks across the U.S., their next step forward with mobile wallets is less clear, said Bob Legters, senior vice president of retail products at FIS, which is fielding a high number of calls from small and midsize banks seeking guidance.
"Mobile wallets are on all banks' radar right now, and it's an especially hot topic with small banks that worry about mobile technologies eventually displacing them in the payments chain," Legters said.
FIS tells smaller and regional bank clients that even without a large technology budget, it's important to begin making modest investments in mobile payments to gauge consumers' payment preferences and begin amassing data to develop a unique strategy.
"For banks of any size, if customers are demanding mobile payments and not getting them, the bank runs the risk of [being] uncompetitive and irrelevant," Legters said.
As the processor for many small and midsize banks, Jacksonville, Fla.-based FIS has spent nearly two years doing the back-end technical work to connect many of its clients with third-party NFC-based mobile wallets, but it isn't a panacea, Legters said.
"The problem is that no single wallet has ubiquity, and until you can put a card in a mobile wallet and expect to use it the same way every time at all merchants, banks are going to have to straddle several technological approaches, and it can be hard for smaller institutions to do that," he explained.
FIS this year is making significant headway with its own mobile payment approaches, which it's been working on for more than three years in various pilots, Legters said.
Last fall FIS began an integration with SAP enabling mobile payments at gas stations, which is yielding useful data, he said.
But the biggest area of mobile payments innovation is FIS Mobile Wallet and its Cardless Cash feature for ATM access. The smartphone app rolled out this year with support from 35 banks, Legters said.
FIS next plans to add merchant support to the FIS Mobile Wallet enabling cloud-based, tokenized mobile payments at merchant locations via NFC, Bluetooth, biometrics and QR codes, with the same app customers use for Cardless Cash, Legters said.
FIS is in discussions now with 50 top U.S. merchants and plans to announce a broad slate of merchant partners by the end of this year, according to Legters.
Banks and merchants can integrate with FIS Mobile Wallet easily through a shared tokenization approach and set of APIs, so FIS-powered bank mobile wallets will work at merchants that have their own FIS wallet or POS system supported by FIS, Legters explained.
FIS currently is piloting in-store acceptance of its mobile wallet at certain undisclosed merchants using NFC, Bluetooth and QR codes.
Legters dismisses the idea that QR code-based wallets aren't the freshest technology for a forward-looking mobile wallet.
"QR codes require no new POS hardware and work on virtually every smartphone in the market," Legters said. "Until other technologies catch up and are supported across the majority of point of sale systems, QR codes provide the cheapest, most ubiquitous and fastest time to market for banks and merchants."