Expert Says Consumers Will Go Slow on Mobile Wallets
Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of the credit card comparison website CardHub.com and a personal finance consultant. predicted that large credit card issuers will likely make more credit available in 2013 and that consumers will not rush to sign on to any of the latest mobile wallet technologies.
“There was a lot of buzz surrounding mobile wallets in 2012, and while consumers might be excited about this new technology and the prospect of having one less item to carry around, widespread adoption isn’t going to happen in 2013,” he said.
“There are just too many factors conspiring against it. From lingering security concerns to market fragmentation and unsatisfied infrastructure requirements, there are a number of pretty big dominoes that need to fall first.”
He also noted that one of the most often cited reasons for why consumers would demand mobile wallets, ease of managing many different card and card accounts, had also diminished significantly since the economic downturn and subsequent credit crunch.
“The era when many Americans had 8, 9, 12 card accounts has passed,” he said. “Many Americans, if they have more than two accounts, only have two they actively use and they might have some others that they leave at home because they are paying them off.”
He explained that he was not necessarily against mobile wallets or opposed to new payment technologies. But he added that consumers need to have a compelling reason to move from one payment system to another, and he had not seen anything in mobile wallets that made them so much better that a consumer would want to switch.
But if consumers run counter to his predictions and do accept mobile wallets, they may also have an easier time obtaining money to put in them, according to Papadimitriou’s additional prediction of greater credit availability.
“The $43.5 billion in credit card debt we project U.S. consumers will ultimately incur in 2012 is a clear sign that credit is easier to come by than in 2011,” Papadimitriou commented. “As the economy continues to improve and unemployment falls, this trend will continue. Hopefully we can leave the debt in the past, though. Balance transfer credit cards, credit card calculators, secured cards, and good old fashioned budgeting can all make spending within your means significantly easier.”
He pointed to prepaid cards, particularly reloadable cards such as the Bluebird card from Walmart and American Express, as the biggest new tool consumers could use to help control that spending, and he urged both banks and credit unions to take the competition to their retail banking operations seriously.
“I don’t think Bluebird would put banks or credit unions out of business,” he said, “but it very well might steal an important relationship and marketing channel away from them.”
By contrast he said Bluebird threatens to put check-cashers out of business.
“Anyone familiar with check cashing stores knows how costly they tend to be,” he said. “Historically, unbanked consumers had to grin-and-bear-it with high fees because that was the price of having no other options when it came to collecting a paycheck. However, a number of low-cost prepaid cards enable consumers to load checks directly using ATMs or mobile banking applications and therefore serve as the death knell for check cashing businesses or at least their traditional fee structures.”
He also pointed out that the CARD Act, which predated the most recent round of financial regulatory reform, had helped create a more transparent atmosphere for the card industry.
“Transparency was a major issue in the credit card market prior to and during the Great Recession, but the CARD Act eliminated many of the ills that pervaded the space,” he said.
“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has put credit bureaus and debt collectors under the microscope already, and you can count on prepaid cards and checking accounts getting some attention in the near future. This regulatory scrutiny will be nothing but beneficial for consumers.”