BUSINESS TECH A mobile phone equipped with a card reader can be used to process credit card payments on the road, Ian Grayson reports FOR any rapidly growing business, one of the biggest hindrances is slow cash flow
     Waiting weeks, or even months, for invoices to be paid drains finances and constrains expansion. Anything that can streamline the job of getting money through the door has to be worth a look
     Businesses with a shopfront or online store have been able to get round the problem by accepting electronic payments, but this hasn't been an option for those operating on the road
     However, advances in networks and portable electronics are enabling mobile payment systems
     Armed with a compatible mobile phone and companion card reader device, any small business operator can take credit card payments regardless of where they happen to be. The days of waiting for the cheque "in the mail" are gone
     Mint Wireless marketing director Nigel Turner says market awareness of mobile payment systems is increasing as people realise mobile phones are good for a lot more than just making calls
     Mint's Portable Payment System uses a palm-sized device that incorporates a credit card reader and a small printer. The device connects via a wireless Bluetooth link and interacts with software installed on a mobile phone
     To use the service, a business needs to establish a merchant account with their bank, as they would with a conventional wired eftpos terminal. Each transaction using the Mint device is then authorised by the bank and the funds are transferred into the account
     "Our service is designed not just for sole traders but for larger companies with hundreds of people in the field," Turner says
     "All transactions can be recorded in a central administrative system for easy review." Each user can configure the Mint service using an online web portal through which details such as price lists and customer details can be entered
     These are then available to each mobile device as it logs on, making it possible to generate invoices on the spot
     For Jim's Antennas franchisee Matt Donnon, one of the main advantages of a mobile payment system is the way it cuts down administrative tasks. "I can essentially do all my bookkeeping while I'm still out on the road," he says. "When I get home I just download it all to my PC, hand the file over to my accountant and it's done." Donnon says the Mint system also streamlines cash flow, as funds are credited to his merchant bank account much more quickly
     "You can also get a listing of where and when payments were collected, so keeping tabs on business is much easier
     "Overall, the system is very simple to use, it's good for business and it looks very professional to clients." Telstra business executive director Elizabeth Aris says her company's Mobile Payments service is appealing to small businesses that do not have sufficient transactions to warrant a conventional eftpos terminal
     The service uses a small card reader, a T-Pad, which connects via Bluetooth to any compatible Next G mobile phone. As well as the $299 purchase price, users also pay a $35 a month subscription for the service
     "It can make a small business much more efficient," Aris says. "It speeds cash flow and cuts down paperwork. You don't have to send follow-up notices or call people." When the credit card is swiped by the device, it automatically encrypts the card number and other details on the magnetic stripe and sends it over Next G to the bank. Credit card details are not stored on the phone, ensuring they remain secure
     "A receipt can then be sent by SMS or emailed to the customer, giving them an electronic record of the transaction," she says
     In the future, Aris says, contactless payment systems are likely to become popular. They will allow customers to use their mobile phone handsets as a payment mechanism
     A receiver in the transaction device will read the chip in the phone and either make a credit charge or deduct funds directly from a nominated bank account
     MINT PORTABLE PAYMENT SYSTEM RRP: $1176 (or $49 per month) Mint's system is based on a small device incorporating a card reader and printer that connects wirelessly to a mobile phone handset. An online portal gives the ability to upload price sheets, which are then accessible from the mobile device. Credit card, cheque or cash payments can be recorded with invoices and receipts printed out on the spot
     TELSTRA MOBILE PAYMENTS (T-PAD) RRP: $299 T-PAD is a small card reader that connects wirelessly to a compatible Next G mobile phone handset. Credit card payments can be taken on the spot with funds directly transferred into the business merchant's account. The service is designed to be intuitive to use and requires minimal set-up. Details of all transactions can be accessed via a special website
     MOBILE EFTPOS RRP: variable Offered by all major banks, mobile eftpos terminals are similar in size and function to those used in shops. Comprising a card reader and keypad, they use a mobile phone network to establish a secure connection to the bank for each transaction. Fees and charges vary both between banks and in the number of transactions a business carries out each month. This service is designed for businesses with high volumes of transactions that need a solid, reliable mobile payments device.

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