By Sarah Zhu on Friday, 6 May 2016

So it was around two weeks ago that I went from being a full-time loyal plastic credit card user to a tech-savvy cardless cash consumer, paying for chocolate bars using a mobile phone from ten different mobile payment applications.

I owe this unique experience to a mobile payments research project that I had been assigned on: investigating the various user journeys that the respective bank payment applications have released. These were the ten different mobile payment providers that I had the opportunity to experiment with, nine of which were operated by an Android device (NFC-enabled):

  1. NAB
  2. UBank
  3. CommBank
  4. Credit Union Australia
  5. Bank Australia
  6. Australian Military Bank
  7. Heritage MobilePay
  8. Cash by Optus
  9. ANZ Mobile Pay
  10. ANZ Apple Pay

Armed with a stack of bank cards, I was all set to go full throttle on purchasing chocolate bars for my colleagues in the office with this evolving piece of technology that I was so intrigued by, yet somewhat doubtful about. However, the first step was to go through the virtual card provisioning process with each of these bank payment apps.

Card provisioning

Card provisioning is the process of installing your card details on your phone, so that you can then use it for mobile payments.

Generally, the whole procedure goes something like this: assuming that you’re already up and running with internet banking, you simply go into the ‘tap and go’ functionality within the app and set that up. This is provided either within the bank’s regular banking app or as a separate app, depending on the bank. Once you’re done, a little tutorial screen usually then pops up and shows you how exactly to pay with your mobile phone at the POS terminal.

In retrospect, the card provisioning procedure proved to be a defining part of my user journey with mobile payments.

Some personal comments

From a consumer’s point of view, this is what I genuinely think: we like to have a simple, intuitive and also aesthetically-pleasing user experience. Here are some personal comments about the card provisioning process for a few of the apps I tested.

ANZ Mobile Pay: This comes to the top of my list, as the user journey from beginning to end was intuitive and seamless. I personally really liked the process of adding my card by simply sliding it along the back of my android phone. The authentication process felt secure, as I had to provide both my birthdate and my mobile phone number, and also got sent a confirmation text. However, my favourite part of the user journey was really setting up the payment procedure, because I was given the flexibility of choosing the way I could pay for things, with varying levels of security depending on my personal preference. These were the three options:

  1. Wake to pay
  2. Launch to pay
  3. Passcode to pay

Given my personal preference of simplicity, I naturally opted for option 1, where all I had to do was make sure that my phone screen was lit up before placing it near the POS terminal to make a payment.

NAB: My experience with NAB was also problem-free and straightforward. The reason why it ranks below ANZ on my list is simply because of the extra cool features and options that ANZ offered i.e., the automatic card-reading technology and the flexibility of having the option to choose how to pay. NAB bank provides the standard two security options for making a payment, one that does not require a passcode, and another one that does.

Commbank: One feature that did not score on my ‘simple’ criteria for user experience, was that I was required to open up the CommBank application, tap on ‘Tap & Pay’, enter a PIN (which was compulsory), before a payment was processed. In my opinion, why not save all that trouble and just go for my plastic card? This contrasted immensely with ANZ’s Apple Pay where I simply touched my thumb to the Home Button as I held the phone over the POS terminal.

Westpac: Unfortunately I can’t say much given that I never progressed past the screen that said ‘Please wait whilst we complete the setup’ and had to give up after hours in fear of the phone becoming overheated. However, I subsequently learnt, after some research and phone calls with Westpac, that my phone turned out to be incompatible with the Westpac’s ‘tap and pay’ app. From a user’s perspective, the user journey would perhaps have been more seamless if I had known this at the start of the setup process with this payment app.

Pros and Cons of paying with your phone

Once I was done with setting up the various apps on my phone, it was time to hit the shops (or, more accurately, often the 7-eleven downstairs where, for a time you could get two small Kit Kats for $3!). Many purchases (and several kilos of chocolate later) I’d become a mobile payments professional. So what did I think of the process?

After multiple purchases using the mobile payment apps, it’s inevitably led me to ponder over the pros and cons of actually using my phone to pay, over using a plastic card while I was waiting in line to make my next payment. This is what I have gathered:

Pros

  • The convenience: I usually always have my phone in my hand anyway, so waving that over the POS terminal is as effortless a user journey as it possibly could be for someone like me.
  • Speed: I did not have to take out my wallet anymore and decide on which card to use. Even better, I did not have to deal with any loose change.
  • User Experience: It did seem really cool to be the only person in the store to pull out my mobile phone to make a payment when everyone else had to rummage through their bags to find their wallets, take a second to choose which card to use, and then take it out to make the payment.

Cons

  • Security issues: Would the over-dependency on using my phone for pretty much everything that I do nowadays put my valuables at risk? On reflection, I do seem to be less careful with my phone than I am with my wallet. As I value my mobile phone more for its information-storing capability rather than its monetary value, it concerns me to think that there might be a greater risk of having such a powerful device land in the hands of a stranger than would be the case with my wallet.
  • Device failure: What if the mobile payments app was down, my phone was out of battery, or it simply wasn’t working? At times like these, having a tangible credit card in my pocket might probably be more reliable.

Concluding thoughts

To conclude, multiple questions sprung into my mind during that time of experimenting with mobile payments banking apps as a newbie in this field. Did the feeling of using my phone to make a payment beat that initial excitement when I laid my hands on my very first credit card? How large is that extra margin of utility that we as consumers really gain from using mobile payments applications?

Also, does the act of replacing tangible credit cards with virtual mobile payment apps truly provide us as consumers with a seamless user experience and improve our lives with effortless automation? Or, has our growing addiction to technology in this efficiency-driven age put us on the precipice of creating a craze, where the idea of possibly saving five extra seconds by paying with one’s mobile phone instead of taking out a credit card from a wallet seems like pretty good trade-off?

To me, the answers to these questions will be revealed with time and with the reception of consumers. For the time-being, however, this method of payment does appear to be on the rise in terms of popularity, as a growing number of financial institutions in various countries over the world are starting to adopt this method of payment. It seems that it could only be a matter of time before mobile payment solutions find a solid position in the marketplace and in the hearts of consumers. After all, the mobile phone is an incredible man-made phenomenon, being the only gadget that has surpassed the number of humans on our Earth over a short span of three decades. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that mobile payments technology would one day form a part of our everyday lives, as we see an increasing series of functionality that this all-encompassing device is capable of performing.