For a long time now, one key question in mobile banking has been: When? When will the integration of mobile devices and credit cards become truly mainstream, when will one open technology standard (or one clear proprietary winner) emerge, when will the market be described as stable rather than volatile?
The apparent answer still is. . .not anytime soon. But is that a bad thing?
To be sure, there’s no shortage of competitive options. Just a few days ago, FIS released its Mobile Wallet, which enables downloadable proprietary apps from selected financial institutions and retailers. As with other entrants in this market, it gives consumers the option to securely use their credit cards to make purchases via a smartphone either online or at the point of sale.
What makes this market so fascinating is that each new offering joins a lengthy list of innovative options already available from an array of providers. Credit cards giants such as Visa and Mastercard have entered the arena, as has Internet behemoth Google. PayPal, the undisputed market leader in online payments, has multiple approaches, including its acquisition of mobile payment startup Fig Card. While some financial institutions are waiting it out to see who takes the lead, a few have entered the fray on their own, such as ClearXChange, a joint effort from Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. And of course, as with any emerging market, there are very interesting newer players, including Intuit’s GoPayment and Square, launched by a co-founder of Twitter and now backed partly by Visa. And that’s by no means a complete list.
In other words, there may be just too many intriguing possibilities for a clear consensus to emerge anytime soon. But again, is that what the market needs? Can real growth only come through consolidation and a real standard?
Historically, that’s sometimes been the case. The VCR market saw a battle royal between VHS and Betamax, and it can be argued that only with the emergence of the VHS format did usage explode. The modem market waited for a standard as at least two formats fought for leadership. Microsoft’s DOS, and later Windows, captured a huge lead it the PC arena by beating out the Macintosh and holding off competitors such as IBM’s OS/2.
However, this has definitely not been the case with the mobile market. Apple’s iPhone has both mind and market share, but there are still plenty of other options in operating systems and formats alike, and that’s also the story with tablets.
So maybe the real answer with mobile payments is that, for the foreseeable future, there will be more competition rather than consolidation, and that will drive the market rather than constrict it. Of course, if there’s one prediction in technology that always holds true, it’s that every prediction turns out to be wrong. Any guesses?