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.

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