[Dave Petch] I was searching for articles on customer feedback on NFC-enabled Mobile Phone trials recently when I discovered what I thought was a very interesting comment from John Suchanec, the Senior Vice President of Payment Technology for Bank of America, regarding the bank’s own NFC trial that they carried out in late 2006 as part of a larger 5,000-employee pilot held at one of its corporate campuses:

The bank gave employees a choice of the contactless form factors they could use and employees chose key fobs to phones by a six-to-one ratio, Suchanec said. The application available for download to the phones was PayPass from MasterCard.

“Active fob users averaged three times more transactions than phone users,” he said. “One of the problems they had with the phone, you can’t do more than one thing at a time; you can’t talk and pay.”

[From: Contactless Technology in US Card ]

The article explains that one of the key issues reported during the trial was the complexity of getting the payment application to work in the NFC-enabled mobile phones (the Nokia 3220 model), including the slow download speed of the application, missed SMS messages and lost connections during the download process.

It piqued my interest because it would appear that many players in the emerging mobile payments industry have been and still are stating precisely the opposite i.e. that the mobile phone is the preferred form factor. Here are some examples.

When Consult Hyperion were working with MasterCard on the first U.S. field trial of mobile phones with contactless capabilities back in 2004, Motorola announced that:

“…recent MasterCard consumer research showed that consumers who found contactless payments to be extremely appealing, selected mobile phones, based on convenience and uniqueness, as a form factor of choice to be enhanced with PayPass."

[From: Motorola to Launch Trial of Handsets with MasterCard® PayPass Technology ]

In February 2007, the GSMA were saying this:

Several customer trials have confirmed that the mobile phone is the preferred form factor for contactless services. The demand for this new range of contactless services is applicable across all user and market segments. Furthermore, customers want to keep the same ease of use, “look & feel”, security and confidence as experienced with existing mobile services.


[From: Mobile NFC Services ]


In April 2007, the Retail Council of Canada published an article in the Canadian Retailer magazine which quoted Pat Daley from Deloitte:

“[A mobile phone] is the preferred form factor next to cards,” she says.


[From: 3,2,1…Contact(Less)! ]


Our own Dave Birch has consistently said that the mobile phone will be the ubiquitous payment / ticketing / loyalty / couponing mobile platform of choice when the numerous NFC trials have finally given way to a full-blown NFC ecosystem in the year 20-err…something. Many of his blog entries at http://www.digitalmoneyforum.com/blog/ are evidence of this.

So the question is whether Bank of America’s experience is similar to that of many other companies running NFC trials or an anomaly. The article states that the Nokia 3220 mobile was considered by the pilot employees to be unattractive and low on features, but it isn’t made clear whether the majority of the employees made their choice of fob over mobile before or after making this discovery. The key question would seem to be: Was their decision to choose a fob because of the mobile phone or despite it?

The pilot employees often chose a fob over a mobile because (as quoted above), “you can’t talk and pay”, and the reported result of this decision was that three times as many transactions were made on average on the fobs than the mobiles. But since paying takes a couple of hundred milliseconds is it really a big deal?

Is it really the case that, in everyday usage, the general public will want to be chatting to friends while they pay for their shopping? Will they consider this to be a key feature of their mobile device once it is equipped with all kinds of value added services? Perhaps in the field of transit or event ticketing there is a case to be made for “talking to your mate while walking through the gate”?

I think the key point here is that this limited pilot provided a single contactless payment application to the end user, not the fully-populated m-wallet that is highly likely to be the end result of this developing ecosystem. There is already much evidence that providing just mobile payment services alone is not likely to be the killer application for NFC.

Bank of America are very enthusiastic about mobile as a whole.  The Bank has recently reported great success with the rollout of its Mobile Banking service, hitting the 500,000 user mark at the end of last year (more than all the other US banks combined), so at least something is going well for them in the mobile finance space.

[From: Bank of America hits half a million Mobile banking customers ]

Personally, I think the mobile phone will be the final winner of the form factor debate. Ten
years ago we carried with us a mobile phone, a personal CD player, a
diary or Filofax, a wristwatch, a Gameboy and a wallet stuffed with
plastic and a picture of the kids. Today, we can carry the same set of personal items with us using just our mobile and a wallet stuffed with plastic. NFC is clearly the platform capable of converging those last two entities into one. Given
the oft-quoted statistic that more people would go back home if they
forgot their mobile than their wallet or keys, I say case closed.

1 comment

  1. I was a participant in the NYC Mobile Trial – You can Google that and get the website for the trial.
    We were given and returned the Nokia 6131 NFC. I am aware of the Nokia 3220 and read somewhere that you actually just put on another outer case in order to enable it to be used for payment. The 6131 has a software program and the chip embedded in the top half of the flip phone.
    I much prefer the phone. How many people are chatting on their phone while ordering something at McDonalds. We all have phones in our outer pockets and keys may be tucked away to only be used a few times per days.
    I only wait for AT&T to start selling a NFC enabled phones—as I will buy that right away and upgrade from my 2yr old one now.
    Good Luck.

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