[Dave Birch] I had a bit of a mobile day out when the kind people at Barclays invited me along to give a keynote at the launch of their PingIt payment service to corporate partners. The day started out with me deciding to take the bus to the train station. I normally buy my bus tickets on my mobile phone using the Arriva app. The app works, but it’s a bit rubbish. I’ve used it countless times, but only to buy one particular ticket. Ever. The only ticket I ever buy is a Woking one-day ticket (which now costs a staggering £4.70 as a result, I imagine, of the government’s green energy policy by which we will all be forced to stay at home and not use transport of any kind by 2020). So despite the fact I have only every bought that one ticket, every day I run the app I have to select my region, then I have to select my town, then I have to select my ticket type. Why it just can’t default to the same ticket I bought last time (an elementary piece of UI design that pre-teen coders at their first JSON/REST summer camp would have figured out before the first juice break) I don’t know. Anyway, I ran the app. But I was using my splendid new iPhone 5S and this was the first time I’d run the app on the new phone, having switched to it the day before. So instead of the ticket-buying page, I found myself looking at the “yes it’s the same mobile phone number and yes you entered the right application PIN and yes you unlocked the phone using your fingerprint but hey will still want you to party like it’s 1994” page.

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Really Arriva? In 2013? At this point (in common with approximately two-thirds of all mobile purchasers in the UK), I gave up. The marketing people call this “cart abandonment”, I understand. I was about to drive to the station instead, intent on using my trusty RingGo app to pay for parking (after all, I’d have half-an-hour to kill standing up on the train, so I could re-enter the card details then), when I realised that there were some coins in my car’s centre console. Grabbing them, I saw I had enough for the bus. So much as my great-great-grandfather might have done, I waited for the bus and bought a paper ticket with coins. “Hhhmmmm….”, I was thinking to myself, “I’m glad payments work well, and I can see why people question the need for mobile payments”.

Soon enough I was at Woking station, where the system is not as advanced as it is on the buses. There is no mobile app, even an annoying one, so you have to stand in line for ticket machines. These have recently been upgraded, as you can see here:

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I couldn’t really say how they have been upgraded, since on the odd occasions when they are working, all they seem to do is print out exactly the same tickets as before. Anyway, I got on train and set off for Canary Wharf, and soon enough found myself at the launch. Barclays were showing off their new PingIt services for corporates and they had invited along a wide range their customers to check it out: utilities, retailers, consumer goods and so on.

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In truly astonishing, almost supernatural instance of money-related morphic resonance, as I started to enjoy the PingIt corporate hospitality, this arrived on my iPhone…

Yep. A bona fide PingIt funds request. Having two teenage children, I am a frequent PingIt user – this wasn’t staged for effect! So far, however, I’ve only used PingIt for inter-personal money transfer and to buy Bitcoins. Around the country, however, consumers are starting to use it to pay merchants. I saw an airport taxi ad with a PingIt logo on it and I’m going try to persuade my taxi driver to start taking it – I’ll ask him why he doesn’t take cards. I should have asked our oven repair man last week but I forgot. His GPRS card terminal wouldn’t take my card (couldn’t get a reliable connection, what with us being out in the wilds of Woking) so I should have asked about PingIt but much to my disgust I wrote out a cheque instead. People are already using PingIt to pay utility bills (Severn Trent have started sending out water bills with PingIt QR codes on them) and charities (they have integrated Gift Aid notification into the app). All in all, I can see why PingIt has become such a case study of what can be done by a retail bank when they put their minds to it.

In more advanced parts of the country, PingIt is already being integrated into the transport network. Take, for example, the case of Wessex Bus. A happy commuter in their zone of control can buy a bus ticket using the PingIt app already installed on their phone rather than having to mess about entering a 16-digit PAN and other details. Here’s how it works. You choose the ticket, then instead of opting to pay by card, you can pay by PingIt.

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It works like this. When you select PingIt for payment, you get bounced to your PingIt app where you authorise the payment as normal, and from there you get bounced back to Wessex Bus. The consumer likes this, because they don’t have to mess about entering card details, and the corporate partner likes it because the payment comes in as a credit push which is both immediate and (although I am not party to commercial details) cheaper than a card payment.

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In the future, you can see this being done through an API, with a token. I download my new Arriva app, the app notices that I have PingIt installed, so it asks for authorisation to use it. I get bounced to PingIt, I authenticate and I grant permission. Under the hood, PingIt generates a token of some kind that it passes back to the Arriva app. For subsequent purchases, the Arriva app can pass the token to the PingIt API and the payment can complete without me having to re-authenticate every time. Just like my iPhone settings tell me which applications I’ve authorised to post on Twitter, or access Facebook, they will tell me which applications I’ve authorised to charge to PingIt (perhaps with different limits for each one – Arriva £5 per day, Kentucky Fried Chicken £20 per week, Apple iTunes £50 per week and so forth – but you get the point). The “Triple-A Play” that we have been advising clients about is a win-win-win. It’s better for the consumers (less hassle), better for the corporates (less abandonment) and better for the payment schemes (less fraud).

(And before I get the e-mails, here’s the disclaimer: Consult Hyperion has provided paid professional services to companies mentioned in this blog post in connection with products and services described in this blog post.)

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