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When Will POS Mobile Payments Go Mainstream?

Despite all of the attention on mobile payments, the use of phones to make in-store payments is still extremely rare and done mostly by millennials. Will Apple Pay, CurrentC, Softcard and other mobile initiatives be enough to make mobile POS payments a mainstream occurrence?

There is no doubt that the discussion of mobile payments is front and center in both trade press and mainstream media. The coverage has been fueled by a number of developments that could reshape the mobile payments landscape, including:

  • Apple Pay: The introduction of Apple Pay is thought by many to signal the tipping point for mobile near field communication (NFC) acceptance by financial organizations, merchants and consumers because of their devoted fan base and the unique ability to change consumer behavior on a large scale. The new payments alternative allows iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users to make payments at over 200,000 retail locations in the US. One of the major advantages to Apple Pay is that it includes new security features that speak directly to consumers’ top mobile payments concerns.
  • MCX: Not to be outdone by Apple (and presenting a potential point of confusion for consumers), Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) has built a consortium of over 70 of the largest retailers in the US including Target and Wal-Mart and announced an alternative mobile wallet solution, CurrentC. The participating merchants control one in five retail dollars spent in US stores, and have said they won’t accept Apple Pay.
  • ISIS: While significantly smaller than either Apple Pay or CurrentC, the Isis mobile wallet app is backed by three of the largest U.S. wireless carriers. It changed its name to Softcard after a violent military group of the same name began to dominate headlines.
  • In-App Alternative: There are alternative apps that bypass payment terminals altogether by allowing users to make in-store purchases entirely within their phone. This option changes the way consumers pay in restaurants and bars and potentially other locations, making mobile payments a software-only process.

The question that needs to be asked is whether these developments are enough to be the catalyst for people to finally start paying with their phones? In a report from BI Intelligence, it was projected that while mobile payment volume will grow rapidly over the next five years, it will still only represent less than 5% of in-store retail sales in 2018.

Read More: It’s Time To Get Serious About Mobile Payments )

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Mobile Payments ‘Explosion’?

Subscribe TodayWords like ‘explosion,’ ‘exponential,’ and ‘unprecedented’ continue to be used in conjunction with the growth of mobile payments. Are these exaggerations or simply a case of selective statistical analysis?

One of the challenges is that reporting of the growth of mobile payments often uses different ways to calculate mobile payment acceptance. Even the definition of ‘mobile payments’  gets convoluted due to the different types of mobile payments used in calculations:

  • Mobile Wallet: Possibly the most hyped form of mobile payment, this method uses “tap and go” or a smartphone’s built-in NFC wireless technology at the POS terminal. This in-store payment is the area where Apple Pay, Softcard (previously known as ISIS) and CurrentC (MCX) are competing.
  • Digital Wallet: This form of payment lets consumers make payments to merchants or to other people (P2P) using a mobile device without direct contact with a POS terminal. This is usually an online transaction done on a phone with a credit or debit card entered for payment but could also include email, SMS or even social-based payments.
  • Merchant-Based Mobile: This type of mobile payment actually uses a consumer credit or debit card to process a payment using a merchant’s mobile device. This type of payment is usually associated with card reading devices from Square, PayPay and others.
  • Closed Loop Mobile: Think Starbucks, TabbedOut, OpenTable or any one of a number of merchants that are building payment functionality into their mobile app. Done right, it simplifies the payment process for frequent customers.

With any and all combinations of the above options, in addition to mobile bill payments, being used by government and trade organizations to measure ‘mobile payments’, no wonder there is confusion on growth estimates. For most industry watchers, the most important measure of mobile payment acceptance is the growth of in-store mobile wallet payments.

In a case of the ‘law of small numbers,’ the growth rate of POS mobile payments is expected to ‘explode’ at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 154%, to $189 billion in 2018. While seemingly impressive, in-store mobile payments will still only account for less than 4% of brick-and-mortar transaction value according to BI Intelligence.


In-store_mobile_payment_volume_as_a_percent_of_total_in-store_volume_ 10-6-2014


Read More: How Will Banks Respond if Apple Becomes Mobile Payments Player )

Foundation for Growth

There are a number of reasons mobile payments have not been widely adopted in the United States. Some of the barriers are on the supply side – for example, the difficulty of getting industry participants to agree on technological standards and the lack of compelling business models for participants.

Barriers to acceptance and usage also exist on the demand side, not the least of which are the lack of a well defined value proposition or the continued concern around privacy and security. Many believe Apply Pay may have addressed some of the convenience and security concerns.

According to Harris Interactive, as of 2013, while awareness of the ability to make mobile POS payments is relatively high, just 6% of US adults said they had made a payment in a store with their smartphone by tapping it at a payment terminal. BI Intelligence believes that over the past year, that number has most likely grown to about 8%, following the existing growth trend.

Future growth is expected to be positively impacted by the introduction of Apple Pay, since going forward, 90 percent of future smartphone shipments will be able to make NFC payments.

US_adults_who_have_made_a_payment_by_tapping_a_smartphone_at_a_receiv er_in_a_store_10-5-2014

Not surprisingly, the primary demographic group that is leading the charge to greater in-store purchasing acceptance are the millennials. In fact, fifty-five percent of people who say they use mobile wallets are millennials (ages 18 to 34). Mobile natives in the millennial and other demographic groups are expected to continue to drive mobile wallet adoption.

From a mobile platform perspective, Android users outpace iPhone users in making proximity payments, which most likely reflects both the demographic make-up of the platforms as well as the fact that most Android phones now have integrated NFC capabilities.



With the 2015 EMV migration deadline set by the card networks and with new Apple phones having NFC compatibility, most merchants will be upgrading to NFC-compatible terminals in the next 12-18 months. So, instead of consumers having to search out NFC compatible terminals (or merchants disengaging the functionality), consumers will have more places to make in-store mobile payments.

Read More: 300 Mobile Payment and Digital Banking Trends )

Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends

Overcoming Mobile Adoption Barriers

BI Intelligence believes that the most promising benefits of Apple Pay, in the context of mobile payment acceptance overall, is that the new Apple offering solves two of the biggest hurdles mobile payments adoption among consumers – lack of interest and security concerns.

According to a Harris Interactive 2013 survey:

  • 58% of people who were not interested in mobile payments said it was because they did not see any reason to switch from cash and payment cards
  • 62% said they didn’t want to store sensitive information on their phones
  • 55% said they didn’t want to transmit sensitive information to a merchant device (an increase from 2012 most likely attributable to security breaches at Target and other retailers)

Reasons_for_lack_of_interest_in_using_smartphone_to_make_in-person_pa yments_10-5-2014

The ability of Apple to change consumer behavior in the mobile payment space can’t be overestimated. Much like they have changed the music industry, they are a driving force that could make mobile payments “cool” and have 900,000 users who can make a measurable market impact.

BI Intelligence believes this impact will be increased by the ability to integrate offers and loyalty programs within the Apple Passbook application. They also believe the built-in security features of the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay will help alleviate some security concerns of consumers:

  • Sensitive payment-card data will not be stored on a user’s phone or by Apple but will be encrypted, rendering it useless to hackers
  • Payments will be authenticated using Apple’s fingerprint scanner Touch ID
  • All transactions will be done using a single use tokenization process as opposed to using debit or credit card numbers
  • Apple also says it will not harvest purchase data from consumers for use by third-party advertisers (that is not to say they won’t integrate iBeacon technology to drive merchant offers)

Read More: Is Apple Pay a Banking Trojan Horse? )

Financial Institution Response

It has been well publicized that the majority of larger financial organizations have already indicated that they will become part of the Apple Pay network. This should not be a surprise given the size of the Apple consumer user base and the fact that MCX is trying to bypass banks with their solution and the modest size of the Softcard initiative.

But how should the rest of the banking and credit union industry react to the recent changes in the mobile payments marketplace? Given the relatively small penetration of in-store mobile payments now and in the near future, there may be other more pressing digital banking priorities that need attention first, like simplifying the overall mobile banking experience, providing a seamless mobile banking account opening process, developing a tablet-specific mobile banking application, etc.

This is not to say that providing mobile payment functionality isn’t important for financial organizations of all sizes. It simply means that reacting to over-hyped mobile payments statistics (that may be positioned to amaze rather than inform) may divert attention from more important strategic priorities.

The introduction of new mobile payment alternatives that address consumer concerns is exciting and will lead to growth in the percentage of payments made by a smartphone on premises. Once the POS mobile payment value proposition is increased and more consumers accept this new form of payment, all organizations will need to provide this functionality.

Until then, financial institutions should continue to closely monitor mobile payment trends and be ready to react quickly when customer and member demand reaches each organization’s respective tipping point.

Digital Banking Report | Challenger Bank Battlefield

Jim MarousJim Marous is co-publisher of The Financial Brand and publisher of the Digital Banking Report, a subscription-based publication that provides deep insights into the digitization of banking, with over 150 reports in the digital archive available to subscribers. You can follow Jim on Twitter and LinkedIn, or visit his professional website.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends


  1. Nice re-cap Jim except for the Google Wallet omission.

    You mentioned four types of mobile payments: Mobile Wallet, Digital Wallet, Merchant-Based Mobile, and Closed Loop Mobile. Currently the Google Wallet works in three of these four types. They do not have a solution for Merchant-Based Mobile. Where they can help merchants is with in-app purchases and in e-commerce check-out.

    What will be exciting is the EMV rollout and who will have access to the NFC capabilities. The questions I have heard posed around the web are, will Apple force store owners to lock-down the equipment so it only works with Apple Pay and lock out the sizable Android audience or will the equipment remain open and benefit all NFC capable phones?

    What I am also interested in is how quickly will Apple roll out their payments ecosystem to match the capabilities of the Google Wallet and PayPal ecosystems.


  2. Jim Marous Jim Marous says:

    Google Wallet, PayPal and others were not mentioned because they do not represent a significant player in the in-store mobile payment ecosystem. While you are correct about the categorization, the primary goal of the article was to illustrate that despite the ‘noise’ (much of it from Google), POS mobile payments are still a non-event at this time. I don’t believe any equipment will be Apple Pay only since this defeats all players in the payments space. Finally, I agree that it will be interesting to see how well Apple Pay performs in the online mobile payments world (dominated by PayPal today). I think the security issue alone will tip the scales Apple’s way. Thanks as always for the read.

  3. Jim,

    thanks for your feedback. While I do agree that Google Wallet is not a significant player in the in-store mobile payment ecosystem, neither is Softcard (formerly ISIS) for CurrentC (MCX). Google Wallet has a huge market share compared to ApplePay and CurrentC. Only Google Wallet and Softcard are actual NFC payment systems that work today in the USA. Once Apple Pay launches, the Apple effect will lead them past both Google Wallet and Softcard. I just felt they should have been mentioned.

    Disclaimer: David Gerbino is a fan and active user of Google Wallet and its multiple payment modalities.

  4. Jim Marous Jim Marous says:

    I appreciate your perspective. While I agree that adding Google Wallet may have rounded out the players a bit more, the focus was not on the players (except Apple Pay) but on how small the entire in-store mobile payment space is overall. It was also to bring home the point that the majority of the ‘not top 10’ financial institutions have other things to worry about before POS mobile payments. As you know, I cover the payments space overall pretty regularly and will certainly include Google Wallet where appropriate.

  5. Excellent article. I’m able to use a phone for payments but see only negatives. My debit card is entirely free, accepted everywhere, I just wave and average wait is two or three seconds for small purchases, I keep only enough cash in it for short term purposes……I can keep talking on the phone while paying…..and yes I often run out of battery….just dandy when you come to pay for a meal (of course a restaurant could fix that my keeping numerous battery chargers for different models….).

  6. Jim Marous Jim Marous says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. You are correct that the only way to move the needle on mobile payments is to provide an alternative with greater benefits and value. Maybe security (cards are a terrible security risk), rewards (based on where you are) or another benefit that exceeds what you are receiving from your card today. My bet is on security provisions, convenience and contextual offers.

  7. Jim,

    I totally agree with you regarding the mobile POS space being very small. Except for Starbucks, there are no success stories. Apple will fail at the current level of NFC capable POS systems. Nobody can be a successful when approximately 98% of the POS terminals are not NFC capable. With the planned turnover of POS technology due to EMV, I hope that the capabilities for mobile POS payments with NFC grow exponentially. If the infrastructure is there, an Apple can move the needle and expand the market for all the players. My fingers are crossed.

  8. Jim Marous Jim Marous says:


  9. Ed Rothenberg says:


    Very good article, you have sifted through the hype and present the realities. Although I would pay particular attention to paypal. They have loftier goals than the others in this space and might offer the biggest benefit to the merchants and they hit the ground running with 100+ Million users already. Their solution might offer merchants a cost savings on processing transactions rather than an incremental spend that comes with the other players to accept mobile payments.

  10. Jim Marous Jim Marous says:

    PayPal continues to set the standard for online payments and could definitely move their model to include in-store purchases. It is interesting to watch the marketplace changes.

  11. I really like the depth of the analysis you bring. Apple Pay is definitely defining a turn in the industry and it will be interesting to see how competitors but also more global environment will respond. Also agree that there may be other priorities for banks, and as pointed out by other bloggers and analysts, the inheritance of past infrastructures and mindset versus emergence of new comers and usage is difficult to manage while transitioning to new and necessary models. I guess they just won’t have the choice and find a way to redefine business models and organization that support new disruptive payment services and bring value from being a bank.

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