LAS VEGAS—Near Field Communication technology may be slipping in its perception as the presumed dominant technology emerging mobile payments efforts ultimately will harness.

During a kickoff panel discussion March 5 here at the inaugural Cartes in North America Expo & Conference, industry experts agreed that consumer response to the first broad mobile-payment initiatives might foreshadow which specific technology will prevail, and the outcome remains uncertain.

“Simply tapping to pay (with NFC-equipped phones) is not enough” to spur widespread consumer and merchant adoption,” said panelist Scott Mulloy, chief technology officer of Isis, the NFC mobile-payment effort involving several large banks, telecommunication carriers and the four major payment networks.

The amount of value consumers see in using their phones to make purchases through diverse merchant channels will determine the real power of mobile payments, Mulloy suggested.

Consumer reaction to Isis tests planned this year for Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City will go a long way toward determining NFC’s role in a broad national rollout, Mulloy said. “By targeting the launch in those markets, we can create (tap-and-pay) merchant offers and gather consumer feedback as we pursue a national launch,” he said.

Indeed, NFC technology so far has been central to several recent EMV payment card rollouts in markets in Europe and Canada, panelist Mario Shiliashki, senior vice president and group head emerging payments at MasterCard Worldwide, told the audience.

“NFC is one of the technologies that enhances the (mobile-payments) experience, but it won’t be the end-all and be-all; … we’ll see various technologies come out, and NFC will be one of them,” Shiliashki predicted.

Because it remains uncertain which types of mobile-payments technology may catch on fastest, banks and other payments-industry players should establish diverse partnerships across a wide spectrum of emerging mobile-payment technology efforts, Shiliashki suggested.

It is partnerships “not just with existing (payment players) but new technology providers like Google, Intel, Boku and others that will help bring all the elements together” of promising mobile-payment platforms, he said.

The ultimate industry goal will be “not just one partner pushing (NFC or mobile payments),” but a broad array of industry players working together to create open systems driving “an enhanced consumer shopping experience” compelling enough to change consumer behavior, Shiliashki said.

Broad participation among diverse payments-industry players also will help speed development and spur consumer adoptions, panelist Brian Russell, senior vice president and general manager of payments for Giesecke & Devrient, told attendees.

And consumers will decide which mobile-payment technology they prefer, he said.

“It all comes down to the choice of the consumer–the end user–(asking himself,) ‘What wallet do I want to use; which card do I want to use?’ And as the pieces of mobile payments come together, it will be important to pick good partners to test and learn from them because none of us knows where this is going to go or what business model will (dominate),” Russell said.

As consumers gradually get a chance to experience broad-based mobile-payment trials, evidence quickly will mount as to which technologies and systems work best, said panelist Aditya Khurjekar, a payments industry consultant and former Verizon executive.

“Consumers know what they want, and we don’t know what it is,” Khurjekar said. “We can’t wait for everything to be perfect before we begin exploring what consumers want. Let people start to experience NFC in big and small ways, and the market will tell us how to proceed.”

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