Mobile Wallet: A Marker for the Future

The mobile wallet seems like it’s tailor made for our times. An easy way to use the credit card or debit card, without actually carrying the cards around? Wonderful. It might even be the perfect embodiment of the modern era: A digital capability that comes with the mobile devices we carry anyway, and affords easy to access to every finance-driven interaction, not to mention other conveniences such as coupons, ID cards, boarding passes and event tickets. It’s convenient, secure and labor-free.

So why is it still an outlier? Why doesn’t everyone have a mobile wallet?

Some new reports on the market point to an answer, but it’s not a particularly satisfying one. Sure, age is a factor—the generation gap is definitely real—but there are also signs of industry weaknesses.

“Millennials and Mobile Wallets: What banks can learn from the digitally engaged generation about mobile wallets,” out this summer from the Catalyst Consulting Group, offers a clear view into this seeming disconnect—the wide availability yet lack of adoption of a tech-driven finance capability that is ideally suited for the modern consumer. The report explains that both millennials and their older peers have essentially the same priorities: They want to closely monitor and manage their financial status, and they want alternatives to cash. But that’s about where the similarities end.

Let’s acknowledge one obvious difference. Baby boomers and Gen Xers alike embraced digital capabilities over time, particularly those of the mobile variety; millennials can’t remember a time without them. That suggests a greater ease in incorporating these advances into daily routines—banking tasks are like other functions now managed through a wide range of mobile apps. But there’s more to it than that.

First, according to a new report from Computer Services Inc., nearly half of all online consumers have no plans to adopt a mobile wallet this year. That said, it’s a different story with those pesky millennials—nearly 70% between the ages of 18 to 34 in the U.S. and U.K. had used a mobile wallet in just the last three months before polling. And of course, they’re drawn to banking platforms that feature fully integrated banking experiences, including the ability to adopt new tools and capabilities as they emerge.

None of this is much of a surprise, but there’s one other detail that’s more unsettling: Less than 7% of the respondents to the Catalyst Consulting study say they would prefer an option from a banking institution (although a much higher number, 52%, do profess some openness to such an option). In fact, across most of the studies released recently, tools such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay attract greater attention and adoption. Even a favored bank-branded technology might supplement these choices rather than replace them.

Part of this non-brand-loyalty has to do with the other functions mentioned above—millennials expect a seamless experience that covers diverse tasks, from money management to loyalty card integration, as well as a high level of security. What’s distressing here is the presumed assumption that those features are more likely to come from a technology provider or an online-only institution rather than a financial services institution with decades’ worth of experience in. . .financial services.

There are some critical takeaways here.

First, let’s not neglect the importance of marketing. Banks need to communicate far more effectively that they actually have the resources and the dedication to develop technologies that are most useful for the consumer, and by extension better than all-purpose offerings from technology vendors. That message must be conveyed in a variety of channels, from TV ads and social media to each teller making contact with a customer. It could even include featuring co-branded tools with technology companies.

Second, security is a deal-breaker, and a potential deal-maker. Financial services providers live under a plethora of compliance mandates—they know better than anyone how much damage a single breach can cause to the bottom line and the brand. As a result, apps from banks are likely to be more secure than offerings from tech startups.

Finally, banks need to address the key perception issue: legacy. The fact that these organizations have been around for a long time offers credibility without taking away from innovation. In fact, the best options might come from companies that build on the strengths of the past to surge into the future. In that sense, mobile wallets might even be seen as a perfect representation of how much a particular enterprise is able to present itself as a forward-facing endeavor.



Written by Jack Dougal

Jack Dougal

Jack Dougal is's resident news reporter. He writes regular blogs covering the latest stories and key developments in the global financial services industry.

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