Crunch the numbers and compare forecasts, and it gets tricky to determine which parts of the world will actually embrace new payments technology quicker.
A MasterCard Inc. "mobile preparedness" study in 2012 indicated that Singapore, Canada and the U.S. were the countries most prepared to offer payments technology and innovation to serve willing consumers. But the study also showed the U.S. ranking 10th when it came to "consumer readiness" for adopting mobile payments.
That might explain why most U.S. consumers are hard-pressed to say they have noticed a lot of mobile or contactless payment taking place at the nation's point-of-sale terminals.
U.S. cardholders have grown content with the magnetic-stripe cards they have used for decades, says Deborah Baxley, principal at Capgemini Financial Services.
"Mag stripe is so fast and convenient, we don't have a strong motivation to change, but other markets have leap-frogged us in adoption of payments technology," Baxley says.
China, ranked fifth in the MasterCard survey for consumer readiness, is poised to do that sort of leap-frogging.
China advanced more than 30% in the number of non-cash payments in 2012 through mobile phones or contactless China UnionPay cards, according to Capgemini's World Payments Report 2012. ABI Research reports Chinese consumers spent $900 million (U.S) in mobile/contactless payments in 2011, and forecasts that amount to reach more than $8 billion by 2014.
Most of that increase has been fueled through the China National Advanced Payment System, which introduced contactless payments to residents and helped Shanghai become the country's center for new payment technology.
Last month, China issued 26 new licenses for electronic payments companies. Shanghai alone boasts of 51 e-payment companies, or more than a quarter of all such companies in China, Capgemini says.
China is expected to accelerate its QuickPass contactless pay system for UnionPay cards this year, with a goal of having as many as 800,000 merchants accepting the contactless cards.
Capgemini views emerging markets such as China, Brazil, India and Russia as "the next in line" to embrace the contactless payment technology that has become common in Japan, Australia and South Korea.
MasterCard this month reported increases in PayPass contactless payments through cards or phones in emerging markets in 2012, mainly through a 28% increase in merchant locations accepting those payments in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
MasterCard says its contactless payment network now consists of nearly 700,000 merchant locations in 51 countries, with the most recent addition being Vietnam.
Last month, Vietnam Export Import Commercial Joint Stock Bank launched PayPass cards for consumers and acceptance for merchants as part of a government program to reduce cash payments and create a contactless payment ecosystem, reaching 250,000 card-accepting merchants and 200 million transactions per year by 2015.
Overall, however, consumers are not as quickly adapting to contactless pay through their mobile phones, as the Capgemini report indicates only 2.1% of all mobile users are making mobile payments worldwide.
Still, some research predicts the U.S. is on the verge of joining the rest of the world with contactless payments through cards or mobile phones. As emerging markets fuel a payments technology boom, the U.S. payments industry has mostly been dealing with a migration to EMV smartcards while also deciphering numerous mobile wallet options and other emerging technologies.
"There is uncertainty about the benefits from both merchants and consumers," says Scott Strumello of New York- and London-based Auriemma Consulting Group. "As soon as someone finds a technology that benefits both sides, there will be quite a bit of 'me too' adoption taking place," he adds.
Some researchers predict a fair amount of this "me too" behavior taking place in the coming years. Forrester Research predicts the U.S. mobile payment market will see $90 billion spent in 2017, or a rate of 48% compounded growth over the $12.8 billion spent in 2012. Juniper Research forecasts $110 billion in transactions for that same time period.
"The U.S. reached a tipping point in 2012 when 51% of mobile phone owners said they had smartphones," Strumello says. "As that mobile handset adoption rises, so too will mobile commerce."
While the forecasts show the U.S. lining up with emerging markets for mobile and contactless adoption, the country does have a track record of moving a bit slower with mobile technology, Baxley says.
Payments technology adoption worldwide has unfolded in the same manner as mobile phone technology did three decades ago, Baxley adds. "In the U.S., we had active land lines for our telephones, while other countries that did not were embracing mobile phones," she says.
In addition, Japanese consumers were texting on their phones well before Americans began doing so in large numbers, Baxley says.
"The same thing is happening with payments now," she says. "It will take more time for us to embrace it."
Or maybe a boost from government — as is the case in Vietnam and China.
Baxley says Capgemini has taken "a somewhat contrarian view" in that it feels federal regulation can sometimes serve as a driver of payments innovation.
"Banks hate regulations because they think it destroys their business," Baxley says. "But we are seeing examples with EMV technology and different standards where payments companies can't get started by themselves and regulation could be helpful."
The U.S. payments industry can even find a silver lining in the Durbin amendment, known for mandating interchange caps on debit transactions, Baxley says. "In looking at Durbin, you can think of it as driving innovation in prepaid technology," she says.