If My Phone Was My Wallet: Reflections from NACHA Payments 2010

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29 April 2010
Bob Meara
It’s hard to imagine a business trip without a Smartphone. This week at NACHA Payments 2010, an embarrassing event caused me to consider the practical risks of overreliance on mobile devices. Mobile payments were a hot topic in Seattle this week. Multiple sessions argued the coincidence of factors that will bring about the ascent of mobile payments in North America. Few need convincing that mobile devices are increasingly becoming the primary point of contact for a growing segment of the population. Most nod in agreement that mobile devices would be a great mechanism for P2P convenience payments for example – but wholesale replacement of plastic? Is this really a good idea? While assertions about the superior security and convenience of mobile payments abounded at the conference, I didn’t hear much discussion about a rather obvious risk. What happens if one’s phone stops working? Perhaps I’m a bit of a curmudgeon about this trend, but I’m reluctant to place even more dependence on mobile devices than we already have. Consider airline electronic check-in for example. Like many, I find it convenient to check-in from the office and print boarding passes ahead of time in return for faster navigation once at the airport. But, I’m not yet ready to trust my next business trip to an eBoarding pass for its incremental convenience. Once again, what happens if your phone stops working and the boarding gate is about to close? The first evening at Payments 2010, I was scheduled to meet a colleague at a reception event. The room was large and crowded and I was unable to find him. Sending him a quick text seemed like a reasonable next step. This posed a modest problem for me, however because I had just graciously accepted a glass of fine Washington State Merlot and there was no convenient place to set it down in order to operate my device. (My fine motor skills aren’t advanced enough to operate the HTC device without using a stylus. It therefore takes both hands for me to send a text message.) Unwilling to risk the fine wine, I simply tried to hold both the wine and my HTC for the quick text. Be forewarned – it’s not a bright idea. My device ended up in the glass and most of the merlot onto my previously white shirt. Three days later, my phone still hasn’t recovered. All this has been both an embarrassment and inconvenience. Heck, I stopped wearing watches long ago since phones keep decent time. Mine used to. But, if my phone was my wallet, I might be sleepless – and stranded in Seattle.


  • A stylus, really? That’s in the category of a Jeff Foxworthy joke “I don’t believe ida told that to anyone!”

    But seriously, I am with you on the mobile wallet thing. I've sat through numerous "mobile banking" vendor demos, and 80% of it is hype about mobile wallet. I've seen this before . . . with Internet banking. All of the initial hype about Internet banking was fixated on "futurist, non-traditional" activities - shopping, account aggregation portals, etc. Fifteen years later, consumers have voted, and more than 75% of all Internet banking activity is around traditional things: balance inquiry, paid check/item inquiry (with image, perhaps the best thing we've done for consumers in a long time) and funds transfer. Bill pay has not even taken off, with a few exceptions. Mobile banking, for me, is just an extension of Internet banking to the handheld platform. That will no doubt be successful, and is worth investing in.

  • […] a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to mobile wallets. My skeptical attitude reached an apex when I dropped my smartphone in a glass of merlot several years ago and hasn’t recovered. Had my smartphone been my mobile […]

  • not to long ago i lost my wallet in seattle and i was totally sol . it was sat. so i couldnt go to the bank on sunday and get a replacement card at least you local att/tmo store is open everyday for you to go and get a replacement. Plus all you data will be stored in the cloud.

  • Agreed, I prefer my phone to be a online interface independent of NFC chips etc. Cell phones are to unreliable and bulky to become my non-cash replacement. Give me a NFC chip in a ring format, so if I want to exchange funds I just shake hands with the other person...I worked on chip program back in Guelph,ON for the Royal Bank years ahead of the market.. we had a neat device that hung on your key chain that allowed you to exchange funds between chip cards..pretty handy. I like the CPNI system which doesn't rely on propitiatory web accounts to exchange funds. Allows you to push funds to anyone with a cell number or email account straight from your bank account or credit card of your choice...Receiver gets a message and then tells the system where to put the fuss no muss.

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