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Most of the recent discussion around mobile payments has been how, or if, carriers and banks will hammer out a shared revenue model. But when mobile payments become an everyday reality for banks—and few forecast otherwise — experts say there will be crucial business-line decisions on the suitability of ACH, ATM or card association networks for particular payments.

"For us, enabling mobile transactions across all three [networks], that's the easy part," says Bruce Parker, vp of product marketing and strategic planning for transactions processor ACI Worldwide. The hard part is predicting how payments will be routed over those various networks. How will information "around" each payment, such as risk and cost factors, impact institutions' routing decisions?

If a customer uses a phone to pay for a bag of chips at the movie theater, would the payment ride the rails as a signature debit or an ACH transaction? Is the immediate funds availability of an EFT network required to build adoption of mobile deposit or billpay features? If interest in business mobile banking services surges, how will banks best bundle the remittance and authorization data?

There are also issues involving which payments would be aggregated in lockboxes or preferable for same-day transmission. There may be no clear answers until banks are forced to make these decisions and real trends emerge.

Including person-to-person, remittance, and NFC-enabled models, "all of those different types of payments are going to fundamentally require a different infrastructure," says Virginia Garcia, a senior research director at TowerGroup.

Add to that the new network capabilities — such as new international ACH remittance rules by NACHA — that may emerge alongside mobile-based payments, and you have a foggier outlook for exactly where cost efficient routing may materialize.

Even so, some pairing up is occurring. One of the top mobile banking trends of 2008 has been the ties established by m-banking platforms with key payments drivers. Monitise Americas, a joint venture between UK mobile platform vendor Monitise and U.S.-based Metavante, has touted its card-based enrollment features and the NYCE network connections. "Our foundation is on the ATM debit rail," says Lisa Stanton, president of Monitise Americas.

Obopay, the California person-to-person payments provider, is finding strong growth potential in its anytime, anywhere service that uses the cheaper, next-day settlement of the automated clearing house. Obopay is testing an account-to-account transfer service with Citibank, and in June announced a pilot person-to-person remittance partnership with MasterCard for account holders at issuing banks. The company is also ramping up international remittance features for a surprisingly strong adoption curve in the unbanked arena.

Like Monitise, sending or receiving funds over Obopay doesn't require the transmission of account numbers—a major plus for security.

Visa and MasterCard, meanwhile are piloting Near Field Communications (NFC) contactless mobile phone payments to deliver POS transactions over their networks. ACI's Parker points out mobile-based marketing—storage of loyalty programs and points on the phone, for example—could actually improve merchant relationships over card-based schemes. "It's the information around the payment, and management of that [information] that the mobile device can do something interesting with," Parker says. "People talk about [mobile payments] from an enablement standpoint. The mobile device allows you to do a whole lot of things you couldn't do before. [And] it justifies the interchange to say, 'I'm going to help you understand who your customers are, Mr. Merchant.'"

What may have a big impact on m-payments trends is the earlier-than-expected interest in business mobile banking, according to several analysts.

Most corporate-use scenarios involve ACH offerings for mobility remittance, through which businesses can handle multiple accounts, multi-institutions and cross-border partners.

"I'm starting to see tremendous traction on the business side," says Garcia, "where payments can get approved and wire transfers [through] ACH originations can be executed by a mobile device." But just like any of the payment channels, banks will likely have to take into account issues with SWIFT international payment standards, and upcoming changes with NACHA's international remittance rules. The phone's unique authorization strengths could make those easier to implement in mobile.

In another business banking play, Obopay U.S. president Gregory Holmes is talking up network plans to promote P2P business payments between what he calls "cash-based merchants"—the club musician or the freelance landscaper who normally don't take checks or hand out invoices in the field.

Still, most thoughts on the "hows" for mobile payments remain on the back burner, says Garcia.

When mobile goes mainstream, predicts ACI's Parker, "we'll find there isn't just one such thing as a 'mobile payment. There will clearly be something that's first, clearly something that gains traction.

"But I personally don't see in anything...where ACH goes away, EFT stops or the Visa/MasterCard associations are under some sort of threat.

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