- Half dozen viable digital wallet products now on the market.
- Some credit unions are still trying to figure them out.
- Experts urge patience with adoption.
The future of digital wallets is uncertain and the earlier predictions of quick market adoption may have been proven wrong, according to some experts and credit unions using the technology.
Still, the interest continues to grow.
“We are getting a lot of inquiries. Credit unions are trying to figure out what digital wallets are and what they do,” said Amanda Smith, senior technology and innovation manager at the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based Co-Op Financial Services. “We recently did a webinar on the topic and had one of our largest (turnouts) to date.”
As for timelines, Brian Day, product leader with Des Moines, Iowa-based payments CUSO The Members Group, said, “We probably are still a couple years away from mainstream acceptance of digital wallets. The market is ever changing and highly fragmented.”
Nonetheless, Day said, “It’s important to be proactive about digital wallets. When things do move, you need to be ready. Put an oar in the water. Do something now to differentiate yourself from competitors.”
There are at least a half dozen viable digital wallet products already on the market and pioneering consumers are busy using them. On that list is the Starbucks wallet, which some experts consider to be the most successful because it is in so many hands. Square is another that continues to win strong buzz.
“Square is the only digital wallet that is being adopted at a fast rate by merchants. That’s what gets consumers to adopt a wallet,” said Amad Ebrahimi, founder of MerchantMaverick.com, a website that reviews merchant processing services.
PayPal is also winning millions of users although some see it still struggling to establish its use as a digital wallet. Nonetheless, its huge brand recognition keeps it in the conversation.
The frightening bottom line for financial services executives is that consumers are taking the plunge into digital wallets but not typically through a bank or credit union. However, at least some credit unions are already deploying them.
In June, the Lansing, Mich.-based $1.6 billion Lake Trust Credit Union rolled out MasterPass, MasterCard’s digital wallet, in a pilot with PSCU, a payment service provider in St. Petersburg Fla., said Karen Kane, assistant vice president at Lake Trust. One of the main benefits of
MasterPass is that whenever a consumer sees it on an online retail storefront, he or she can pay by quickly logging into MasterPass, Kane noted. There’s no need to fill out address forms or provide credit card information to the retailer.
With barely 100 members, Kane acknowledged member adoption has been slow but Lake Trust still views MasterPass as a success because “we wanted to get our toes wet with digital wallets and this let us do it at very little cost.”
The MasterPass roadmap also calls for rollout of the product to bricks and mortar retailers, perhaps allowing consumers to pay with a few taps on their mobile phone and that may increase interest, Kane added. However, she said there is no announced timeline for that product extension.
Lake Trust also is an early adopter of Google Wallet, a payments tool built around Near Field Communication technology that allows a consumer to tap and pay with a smartphone or some tablet computers. NFC adoption has been tepid mainly because retailer readiness to handle NFC transactions has been slow, some experts have noticed. There are also few NFC-ready phones in consumer hands. For instance, Apple’s iPhone is not NFC complaint and there haven’t been any immediate indications to move in that direction.
“We are happy to have our brand in Google Wallet,” said Kane, who explained that Lake Trust gave Google permission to use its card art. “We are excited about this because nowadays you always have your phone with you.”
Exactly where Google is heading with its Wallet presently is unknown. Some experts said that it appeared Google had lost interest in the product, after vaporizing half a billion dollars on it. Others have said they believe Google is in the digital wallet competitive space for the duration.
A third contender is Visa’s V.me, which the $54 billion Navy Federal Credit Union, the nation’s largest, recently announced it had adopted. The Vienna, Va.-based cooperative joined some 50 other credit unions that already have signed on including the $15.8 billion, Arlington, Va.-based Pentagon Federal Credit Union and the $5 billion Marlboro, Mass.-based Digital Federal Credit Union.
In explaining the V.me adoption, Randy Hopper, Navy Federal’s assistant vice president of credit card lending, said, “Given that our members gravitate toward digital channels, we see this as an excellent opportunity to offer something that makes their lives easier.”
Shaun Bodington, who heads V.me for Visa, said “V.me is a commerce platform with payments at its heart. We have focused on ecommerce. Consumers are challenged making purchases on mobile devices. We are trying to make it convenient.”
If that sounds a lot like MasterPass, some experts say they see very little difference between the products. But V.me is still trying to distinguish itself. For instance, Bodington said offers targeted to consumers are in the V.me pipeline. “We are working with our merchants on that,” noted.
Because V.me Visa is intensely focused on security, Visa is looking at a multitude of ways to authenticate the consumer and the transaction on the device with the goal being safer mobile commerce, Bodington said. And, V.me is on the hunt for what Visa views as anomalous purchases, in which the consumer who spends $2 every day at a coffee shop suddenly tries to buy $500 in gift cards, he pointed out.
“We will offer challenge questions when purchases seem anomalous,” Bodington said.
What about Isis, which is the digital wallet supported by cellular carriers Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile? And MCX, the new payment vehicle supported by a consortium of big retailers led by Walmart? Skepticism continues to plague them, according to Michael Grillo, senior product marketing manager at payments processor ACI Worldwide.
“While the big named providers continue to get the most air cover, the question isn't necessarily who is going to win the mobile wallet wars,” Grillo explained. “The better question is banks and retailers willing to give up control of their customer data to a third party provider?”
According to Chris Gardner, a founder of Boston-based payments innovator Paydiant, which has partnered with FIS, among others, to offer wallet products to financial institutions, there are two realities about digital wallets.
“This is definitely not winner take all. When this settles, we will have five to 10 apps on our phones that we use to pay with,” Gardner said.
Meanwhile, financial institutions are positioned to succeed with the technology. Credit unions already have the member relationship built on trust and that sets the stage for persuading the consumer to adopt new technology.
“We have always expected a slow pace of adoption,” Gardner said. “Be patient. Digital wallets will happen. Credit cards weren’t adopted overnight, it took years. Expect the same with digital wallets.”