The Contactless Sticker as a Mobile Wallet Trojan Horse

imageI’ve had Discover’s Zip contactless sticker pasted to the back of my iPhone for a few years. Although I don’t run across very many places to use it in Seattle, I enjoy the user experience when it works. It’s not a huge time saver, but it’s easier to wave my phone than dig the right card out of my “analog wallet.” And it usually is interesting to the clerk, since “paying by phone” is still a novelty. 

Whether Discover has benefited from issuing me a sticker is debatable. Stickers are issued only by request (at least on my account). Discover not only had to pay an extra $3 or $4 for the sticker (note 1), but also paid a customer service rep to answer the phone and take my request. Assuming they incurred an admin cost of $7 to $10 to process and mail the sticker would make the total cost to Discover $10 to $15. Therefore, my measly $300 in incremental spending hasn’t yet given them a positive return. But if more terminals were around, I’d have put thousands on it, and they’d be ecstatic.

The reason I’m writing about stickers again, is that my Moven card and sticker package arrived last week (see pictures below; previous post; note 2). And I thought how much more impressive the startup’s card mailer looked with the Moven sticker (and supporting mobile banking graphics) than the typical bank card mailer (Simple excluded, of course).

I know the extra $3 to $5 it would cost to toss a sticker into the card mailer is a huge expense. But I think the potential benefits makes it worth considering, at least for a portion of your customer base. (And if you add the sticker as part of a premium package, you might even convince customers to pay for it.)

Financial institution benefits:

  • Increased POS transactions: Move your card to the top of wallet instantly when users are at a working, contactless terminal.
  • Increased online transactions: If you print the card number, expiry date, and security code on the sticker, cardholders would turn to your card more often when arriving at check-out at ecommerce sites. It also would work for mobile commerce, although not as well since users would have to flip the phone around to read the numbers.
  • Increased loyalty/referrals: Once that sticker is placed on a phone, it’s a constant reminder of your bank and card. It also makes it easy to show off to a friend.
  • 1st gen mobile wallet: The sticker, combined with your mobile banking app and/or SMS alerts, provides a fairly solid “mobile wallet experience” to compete with Google and others.
  • Seamless transition to NFC (or whatever): When the day arrives that the contactless capability is embedded in most handsets (yeah, Apple, we are looking at you), you simply tell customers to pull off the sticker and keep on waving that phone at the terminal. 
  • Competitive advantage: You differentiate yourself and earn referrals from a certain group of customers who are impressed with tech innovations.

Bottom line: Increasing costs with a contactless sticker is not for everyone. But if you are looking for a tangible point of differentiation that also builds your tech-cred, this is one possible solution. Moven, for one, is banking on it. 


Moven outside envelope (13 July 2013)
Note: I know this is good for security reasons, but I was expecting something a little snazzier. Luckily, the inside card carrier was the best I’ve ever seen (see below).


Moven card carrier
Note: Sticker is on left, plastic on right



1. I’ve seen a wide range of prices quoted for contactless stickers, but I believe the relevant range for most issuers is $3 to $7 each, depending on quantity.
2. I can’t report on actual Moven account transactions because I haven’t verified the trial deposits. While this is a clever and relatively simple authentication technique, it does require users to log in to another bank account days later, so it is easy to neglect. Moven sent me a reminder two days after my application, but that was two weeks ago. Clearly, they will have to follow up with procrastinators like me again.
3. For more info on fee-based banking services, our Online Banking Report on fee-based online services (subscription, May 2011). For more info on the “near bank” or “meta bank” phenomena see our  report on Truly Virtual Banks (subscription, Oct 2011).

Could Mobile Payments Get a Boost from Lowly Stickers?

image Even though I have credit cards from Citibank, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, American Express and Chase, I have never been offered the opportunity to add contactless payment capability to my card, so I still have no firsthand experience of that particular wave of the future. 

And it hasn’t been too high on my list of things to try, since it still requires carrying a piece of plastic or an additional device such as keychain fob (inset). I don’t see much benefit to tapping a piece of plastic compared to swiping it.

However, I do look forward to NFC-enabled mobile phones. But given the hurdles for adoption among carriers, payment processors, and issuing banks, I wasn’t expecting that much before the next summer Olympics.

But now an interim workaround is being tested around the world: the contactless payment sticker. It’s a quarter-sized sticker you plop on the back of your mobile phone making it instantly payment-enabled.

That allows consumers to leave their wallets at home, a nice benefit for outdoor enthusiasts, club goers, or anyone who doesn’t want to worry about losing their wallet while on the go. Of course, we’ll need a few million more contactless-enabled merchants before the wallet-free world is realistic for most, but widespread use of stickers could move that along (see note 1).

Who has it?
There are several rollouts under way around the world. For example:

USA Technologies Pay Dot contactless payment sticker

1. There are about 110,000 PayPass merchants worldwide, less than 1% of the 25 million locations that accept regular MasterCard cards. 

Do M-Payments Have a Future in the U.S.?

David_evans An unpublished study being completed by Market Platform Dynamics says there’s little data to support assertions that mobile payments will become the payment vehicle of choice for the people under the age of 40 called Gen X and Gen Y. According to the company’s multi-year research, 62 percent of respondents said they think using cell phones as payment vehicles is unnecessary, and 38 percent said they don’t use their cell phones enough to make it worthwhile. The good news: People born since 1977—Gen Y’ers—like the idea better than their Gen X elders. Last week, founder Market Platform founder David S. Evans spoke with NetBanker about his findings, and their implications.

NB: Tell us about the difference in attitude between the 16-to-19-year olds and older people.

Evans: The very young people indicated they’re more interested in using their mobile phones as a payment device, and the very old people—real geezers in their late-30s to early-40s—are less enthusiastic. Everyone else is about the same [as the geezers]. But still, even 50 percent of the real kids say ‘not really interested.’

NB: Most of the enthusiasm for mobile payments is based on the idea that these children are going to be flocking to use their cell phones like they do in Asia, and that therefore, mobile payments is not only the wave of the future, but also the demise of the credit card and the credit card brand as we know it.

Evans: Let’s be careful about a couple of things there. First of all, and despite the survey results, I’m still bullish on mobile phones eventually becoming payment devices. The thing you need to keep in mind is that people can’t really imagine what it is like to use one of these things until you actually present them with the goods. So, despite these numbers, I’m still bullish on mobile phones.

Number two, you say ‘Displace the credit card industry.’ There are two issues: One, whether the mobile phone is going to become the new form factor—just a physical thing that people use instead of a magnetic stripe card. The other question is whether the possibility of the mobile phone carriers being in the loop has an implication for the card system.

Those are two different questions. For the second question: What is currently happening in the U.S. is that the mobile carriers are not expressing, at the moment, great enthusiasm to be card systems. But having said that, it’s ultimately the mobile operator that has the relationship with the customer, so the mobile operators are being injected into the payment eco-system, and it’s possible that that could have some implications for the card associations. But it’s pretty complex.

NB: It seems to me that the real impetus here is going to be the first question—will the form factor impel the cell phone operators into the loop.

Evans: That’s correct: If consumers are interested in using their mobile phones as payment devices, then you can be sure that ultimately, the mobile phone operators are going to want to figure out some way to get a piece of that action.

NB: Based on your research so far, what are those indications?

Evans: Based on what’s happening in Asia, and looking at the U.S., our sense is that in the long run, and despite the lack of enthusiasm that we get in the survey, the mobile phone has many advantages as a form factor, because of the possibility of its being a contactless device with a graphical user interface—able to do lots of different stuff and being ubiquitous as well. So it’s a natural thing for them to become an important—if not the—form factor for paying for things.

NB: So I take it that your ultimate conclusion here is that this will happen, but it will take longer than some enthusiasts may be suggesting.

Evans: That’s correct, and I think the survey results indicate that people aren’t going to flock to this thing just because it’s new, and whoever is trying to push this form factor on consumers, or on merchants, is going to have to present a solid value proposition to the consumers. Consumers will have to be able to do something with this device that they can’t do with their current, easy-to-use magnetic stripe card. It underscores the fact that the introduction of a new technology in the payment card space is always an uphill battle.

NB: So first of all, the way to accelerate adoption will be to offer something the cards don’t do, aside from being able to use your cell phone as a gizmo; and number two, the people who want to push adoption will have to be willing to buy market share by accepting lower margins today.

Evans: I don’t necessarily agree with that. If you can come up with a clever, valuable thing on the mobile phone that is of interest to consumers, consumers will be interested in it. And that can happen without necessarily taking a hit on margins.

NB: Would that include rewards programs?

Evans: It may turn out that mobile phones make it easier for card issuers and merchant participants to have rewards programs, because you have a graphical interface on the phones. That implies that you can basically beam rewards to people. There are more clever things you can do with a computer than you can do on a mag stripe card, or even a contactless chip card. So that’s one of the value propositions that one can start thinking about with mobile phones: Are there ways to turn the mobile phone into something that’s valuable to both consumers and merchants?

NB: And what do you think?

Evans: Once you start moving towards a smart computing device with a screen, there is an enormous amount of things, including rewards, that people in this business can start thinking about—things we can’t even imagine. The mobile phone is most interesting because it truly is a computer. And in other parts of the information technology world, we’ve seen that once you start talking about software platforms for computers, developers come up with all sorts of ideas about how to use that computing power. That’s the true excitement of the mobile phone.

NB: So the payments mechanism will just be included in the phone, and over time, people will use it more.

Evans: We have to be careful about one thing, though: When you think about people using mobile phones, we’re talking about contactless, and therefore the adoption of mobile phones as a payment device is tied to the adoption of contactless at the point of sale by merchants.

NB: Which is the chicken-and-egg issue.

Evans: It’s a chicken-and-egg issue. There are all these contactless cards out there now, but there aren’t a lot of merchants that accept them. But if consumers wind up really liking the idea of contactless mobile phones as a payment device, and people start getting those sorts of phones, it could propel adoption of contactless. Having said that, if I gave you a mobile phone with a contactless chip today that was an incredibly powerful payment device, you could use it at your local McDonald’s to buy a Big Mac, but not much else.

NB: Everything you’ve said is contingent on a screen. What does your research tell you about what people say will be the generation after cell phones—a chip embedded in a wristwatch or token?

Evans: I don’t think that’s after mobile phones—I think it’s pre-mobile phones. One of the things that came out of our research is that our respondents exhibited utter lack of enthusiasm for fob-like devices.

NB: Yet most people have predicted that that is the next generation after this, and that’s what’s going to atomize the brand value.

Evans: The Gen Y people indicated slightly more interest in fobs than Gen X, but no one expresses a lot of interest in fobs.

NB: I infer from that that some of the anxieties that I’ve heard about the next generation of payment devices atomizing brand value is, at a minimum, overdone.

Evans: Yes. I don’t think there’s any reason to think that mobile phones are going to atomize the brand. I think that the major implication i
s that in the long run—five to ten years—mobile phone carriers are potentially important players in the eco-system, and whether they  become allies of the card systems, or whether they think about becoming alternatives, or allying with someone else, remains to be seen. But it’s certainly not going to atomize the industry—it’s just going to inject another set of interested parties into the business.

NB: What’s happened in Japan [where DoCoMo already operates a thriving mobile payments system] could be done in this country just as easily. Do you think that could be the disruptive element that could marginalize cards?

Evans: It’s possible, but there are very important differences between Japan and the U.S. Japan has a poorly developed card industry and not a lot of interest in the use of credit cards. It has enormous interest in the use of mobile phones. DoCoMo got established in Japan mainly because people don’t have personal computers, and there is an extensive broadband penetration, so Japanese consumers standardize all their Internet activities on mobile phones. And you have companies that are able to push the mobile phone manufacturers around and tell them what to do. When you come to the U.S., you have totally different sorts of operators and a very, very well-developed card industry, with plenty of muscle behind it. So I think the [U.S.] mobile operators are an interesting set of entities that, as the mobile phone becomes a more important payment device and gets injected into the [U.S.] payments eco-system, could alter that eco-system. It could possibly take on a more significant role. But I think that’s a long time coming, and certainly not imminent. It remains to be seen whether that is even a plausible outcome in the U.S.

(Contact: Market Platform Dynamics, David Evans, 617-266-6839)

Contactless Payments Systems are the Future

Contactless payments systems in their various stripes are the future of retail point-of-sale systems, and banks still own the networks. But unless they stop trying to control the process, they could lose the system to merchants with their own private-label card programs, thinks Bruce Cundiff, a research analyst with Javelin Strategy and Research.

There’s really nothing to stop such merchants from outmaneuvering the banks, if they want to, he says. “The possibility exists among those merchants considering contactless, and really have a robust card issuance card network to begin with. They’re well-versed in credit, debit, and closed-loop card operations—and they see their private label brand as a lower cost channel.”

The merchants have plenty of good reasons for moving away from bank-owned cards. Doing so would not just give merchants more money from each transaction, it would also reinforce customer loyalty—making for more repeat business—and enrich marketing programs by giving merchants better access to the customer data in the payments stream.

Merchants increasingly view private-label, contactless payments as their best bet for driving revenue. According to Cundiff’s research, 20 percent of merchants considering enhancements to point-of-sale payments consider the technique among the most productive choices they can make. Only signature debit (31 percent) and ACH payments (33 percent) scored higher among merchants as possible new payments options.

Even worse news for banks: Cundiff’s survey of 900 retailers included all sorts of merchants, from large chains to the iconic Mom-and-Pop store. “We reached out to all types of merchants, even to those with only one location,” he says.

The irony here is that banks started this phenomenon in the first place.

“Contactless payments are the wave of the future because issuers like (JPMorgan) Chase got into the game,” he says. It was Morgan Chase’s decision to jump into contactless payments with both feet that solved the chicken-and-egg question surrounding contactless payments, because it was a signal to cell phone manufacturers that there would be a market for RFID (radio frequency identification) chip-enabled cell phones that can facilitate payments. “Prior to that, merchants were saying ‘It’s not broke, and I’m not going to fix it. They didn’t think people were going to come in and ask ‘Where’s your contactless terminal?’”

But that historical fact is irrelevant to the future, because with the genie out of the bottle, the challenge for issuers is to do everything they can to enable the technology now, before merchants do it for them. And since, as Cundiff’s research indicates, those merchants are a substantial fraction of the overall universe, the prospect that banks could be disintermediated by these merchants is a very strong possibility.

The fact that banks will have laid the foundation for this turn of events by educating merchants about the benefits of the technology is merely one of life’s injustices; the most disturbing element in this scenario is that bank disintermediation is entirely avoidable, if institutions will just make it in the merchants’ interest to work with the banks—even if that won’t be so easy. “If I’m Macy’s, and I’ve invested millions of dollars in contactless, I’m going to make sure that as many transactions that flow over that system are going to be Macy’s cards,” says Cundiff.

That prospect will be made easier by the widespread availability of cell phones that can make payments, he adds. The logic is perfectly clear, if brutal: With so many people carrying payments-enabled cell phones, he says, it makes perfect sense for stores to offer to download their own card onto a customer’s cell phone at the point of sale. Then, unless the banks have already beaten the merchant to it, more and more payments volume will go to merchant cards—edging out the bank and cutting into the fastest-growing segment of payments-fee revenues.

How to avoid this? “They (banks) need to consider the fact that they need to work with the merchants in a more integrated fashion—especially a large merchant that has a high profile and has plenty of locations and payments volume,” he says. A promising tactic to make sure the banks are still involved is to approach the merchant and offer to issue a co-branded, contactless card.

But to do this, banks have to recognize that contactless payments are the key to the future at the point of sale, and that they either turn the lock, or don’t. And if they do, they either continue to insist that everything be done their way, or they can start working with their customers to integrate themselves into that next generation of payments.

Luckily, the best banks already get this, says Cundiff. When Morgan Chase went to market last year with their Blink contactless cards, for instance, “they were talking about how they had to approach merchants and not only build acceptance, but build affinity for the product with both cardholders and merchants—that meant co-marketing agreements and signage,” he says.

But what this also means is an apparent shift in the balance of power between issuers and merchants. While some will argue that issuers have always valued their customers and tried to accommodate them, that posture is undermined some by the ongoing interchange war: After all, if the issuers had always been so accommodating, the years of complaints from merchants that interchange was too high would have resulted in adjustments—not lawsuits.

At this point—as many observers have argued—the better part of valor for issuers may be collaboration with merchants instead of battle, lest contactless, private-label cards prove to be yet another army rising on the issuers’ flanks. (Contact: Javelin Strategy and Research, Bruce Cundiff, 925-225-9100)