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UK mobile industry remains behind the times in digital payments technology

Caroline Baldwin

The mobile payments industry is struggling to grow due to many convoluted payment technologies that are difficult to develop for.

Industry best practice needs to keep up to date with retailer technology and simplify the existing mobile payment mechanisms, said Dave Birch, director at Consult Hyperion.

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Birch said that the industry had made some mistakes in the evolution of mobile payments.

“Something went horribly wrong after the early days,” he said speaking at the Digital Services World Congress in London today. 

“We ended up with a system so complicated, so expensive and difficult to develop for – we’ve ground to a halt.”

Birch said that secure elements in mobile handsets made it difficult to develop innovative payments programmes. He said that not having access to a device’s secure access key is preventing developers from creating brilliant ideas for near-field communications (NFC) programmes.

He also said that point of sale (POS) systems in the physical retail space has changed. 

He said that when the industry was inventing the mobile wallet they wanted to minimise the impact on merchants by working with what they already had. But retailers are now introducing modern technologies to the shop floor rather than the traditional POS systems.

“Big merchants are saying that they are never going to order another POS terminal,” he said. “Merchants will be walking around with their own iPhones [to complete sales]. The girl with the iPhone has more functionality than she’d ever get with a POS terminal.”

Birch said that one of the biggest projects the payments industry worked on was allowing TfL’s bus system to accept contactless card payments. 

“You can pay by tapping your Visa or Mastercard, but what you can’t do is walk into a shop in the UK and buy a single handset that will let you walk onto that bus and use NFC to pay,” he said.

By January 2014, the TfL open loop payment system will extend to include the whole of the TfL network, including tube and overground trains.

“We haven’t quite got to the mass market breakthrough we’ve been hoping for,” he said.

Birch stressed that it was not the consumers that have stood in the way of adoption. During early pilots, consumers were using Visa and TfL Oyster applications around London. 

“They loved those things, the consumers were never the barrier,” he said.


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