New data busts myths about gender, age in mobile wallet use

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As with anything high-tech, early predictions held that millennial men would be first to adopt mobile wallets.

After all, millennials are known to be tech-savvy, and men in particular don't treat their wallets as fashion accessories. But two new research studies are casting doubt on the assumptions about the roles gender and age are playing in the mobile payments adoption curve.

In its newest study looking at customer preferences, FIS found there are striking differences between the younger and older halves of the millennial crowd, which may become a critical factor as Zelle, the banking industry’s person-to-person payments brand, takes on millennial favorite Venmo this year.

The upper end of millennials—those 26 to 36 years old—have vastly different financial experiences and goals compared to those who are 18 to 25, and should be handled differently, FIS concluded.

“It’s a tale of two millennial types, and we’ve dubbed a combination of older millennials and Gen X consumers ‘Gen MX’ because they’re more like the older Gen X consumers than today’s youngest adults,” said Doug Brown, FIS’ senior vice president.

Separating younger and older millennials reveals key differences in their payments preferences, Brown said. Simply being categorized as "millennial" isn't enough to determine a consumer's affinity for mobile wallets.

Younger millennials in FIS’ study made almost twice as many mobile payments as senior millennials, and younger adults were almost twice as likely as older millennials to use a third-party P-to-P app like Venmo to pay someone back as a bank’s mobile app.

Analyzing the data and considering its relevance for banks promoting Zelle, Brown said it’s clear that social media and peer influence are huge drivers of P-to-P adoption for all millennials.

“The whole social element of P-to-P is very important to millennials, and banks rolling out Zelle need to understand the importance of social media and how peers influence one another to reach these younger adults, who are their fastest-growing customer segment,” Brown said.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based FIS conducted its third annual PACE study in November and December of 2016 among 1,000 U.S. consumers.

While age differences clearly matter in mobile payments adoption, there may not be as big a gender gap for the technology as previously assumed, according to the authors of a recent study by New York-based consulting firm EY.

EY’s study of 4,000 men and women based on data collected last year suggests men and women were about equal in their current use of mobile phone payments, with 28% of men and 27% of women saying they have used mobile payments.

But more women than men—39% versus 36%—said they plan to use mobile payments in the future, which runs counter to many expectations, said Kelly Wilson, a principal in EY’s payments practice, who co-authored the study.

A few years ago when mobile payments came on the scene with Apple Pay, available evidence suggested men were the biggest early adopters because they want to minimize what they carry in their pockets, and mobile payments consolidates that process because it lets them carry just one device to pay for things, according to Wilson.

“The thinking was that men just had one device, but because women love to carry purses and wallets, it was just as easy for them to pull out a card as a smartphone, so mobile payments wouldn’t necessarily save them a step,” Wilson said.

But apparently the difference in the way men and women handle physical wallets mattered less than expected.

“Our research indicates the script was flipped. Women are still carrying purses and wallets, but they’re embracing mobile payments almost as much as men now, and even more than men in the future,” Wilson said.

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