Cardless ATMs show mobile wallets have finally arrived

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For someone who never carries cash, I was especially thrilled a few weeks ago to test drive Wells Fargo's new mobile enabled, cardless ATM feature.

Like many new bank technology offerings, it was clunky and confusing. Despite the experience, Wells Fargo deserves credit for being the first large bank in the country to replace its entire ATM network with cardless capability.

After my first cardless experience, it occurred to me that if Wells Fargo's ATMs could authenticate me without a debit card present, and knowing their ATMs are NFC-enabled, that perhaps the Wells Fargo debit card in my Apple Pay mobile wallet might work at the ATM. So I returned and presto! Not only did the ATM authenticate me using the debit card in my Apple Wallet, but it bypassed all the clunkiness of the one-time PIN process.

Recent research published by The Financial Brand shows that the biggest trend for 2017 among financial firms is "removing friction" and the second-largest marketing spend is on "Mobile banking solutions."

What excites me about this data, and my personal experience is that after hearing that "the mobile wallet" is coming for years, the time is finally here. Apple Pay was introduced in 2014 and now finally, in late 2017, we're seeing banks embrace mobile wallets not just for merchant transactions, but for cash transactions at the ATM and among peers with the newly launched Zelle P-to-P offering.

Accessing a mobile wallet with biometrics (thumb, face, retina) is infinitely more secure than a four-digit ATM PIN. And Apple's anonymized token is infinitely more secure than encrypted card information at the POS, assuming it's even being encrypted by the merchant. And no mugger will ever get your cash if you don't carry cash. The mobile wallet is not just more convenient, but it is safer.

My personal experience is maybe a tiny canary in the coal mine of financial services. By eliminating the friction of a cardless ATM, the utility value of the mobile wallet has just increased by an order of magnitude. The cardless ATM will likely go unnoticed by most people, but as more merchants embrace mobile payments, and consumers realize the added security, the mobile wallet will accelerate in adoption and applications.

There will be a day in our lifetime when most of us will carry only our phone in lieu of a wallet , and then all of us can go all in.

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