Mobile-payments are taking off – and it’s a lesson for us all


There’s been some bad news this month for mobile-payment sceptics. According to the 2016 Visa Digital Payments Study, in just one year the number of European consumers using mobile payments has increased by 200%.

Previous scepticism may have been prompted by the fact that it took mobile payments longer to take off than originally predicted. Bashing mobile-payments also became a favourite sport for some journalists. But that doesn’t change the fact that mobile has now reached its tipping point. And with companies such as Apple and Samsung now getting serious about mobile payments it seems a fair bet that the pace of that change is about to accelerate.

As I write this article, ApplePay is now rolling out to most major markets. And it’s doing so, as it turns out, exactly as consumers are starting to accept mobile payments. Given how often Apple has got it right before, particularly in terms of user experience, there’s every reason to be optimistic this time too. That can only be a good thing both for mobile payments and for the alternative-payment market as a whole.

And what about the PSPs and merchants who’ve been keeping their distance from mobile-payments? Well, the playwright Dürrenmatt famously said in his 1961 satirical drama The Physicists: “What has once been thought can never afterwards be unthought”.

Dürrenmatt was referring to nuclear power, and thinking of its potential to benefit and to harm mankind. While mobile-payments doesn’t come with the same potential for harm as nuclear power (we don’t think), the same principle applies. It’s here to stay. And anyone who listened to the sceptics and didn’t make mobile a priority needs to start playing catch-up — fast.

Merchants and PSPs need to work out how to offer the best possible mobile user-experience, fast. There may be different ways to implement mobile payments — some better and some worse — but it is no longer about whether to include mobile or not. Those players that fail to do so will pay the penalty in the market. At the same time, the Darwinian principle will be in action, sorting out the good mobile-payment implementations from the bad.

A lesson for the future

On a more wide-ranging note, this is a lesson for all of us in the industry. New developments invariably go through the whole of the hype cycle — including what Gartner refers to as the “trough of disillusionment”, when everyone is pointing to early failures and disappointments and saying “it will never work”.

As an industry, we’ve got to get better at recognising this cycle for what it is. We need to stick with good ideas, even when they don’t seem to be fulfilling their early hype. Because good ideas don’t go away. And no one wants to be the late adopter when, suddenly, everything starts coming together at last.

Let’s remember that, the next time we hear someone poo-pooing NFC, chatbot payments, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, or any one of the many other game-changing ideas that will one day change the industry when their time comes.