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Summoning NFC From the Vasty Deep


by on April 11th, 2014

Today I am going to talk about contactless payment. And Henry IV, Part I.

Granted, the two are not bedfellows that would spring immediately to mind, but the words  of old Bill Shakespeare are still pertinent in the modern age, even when it comes to tapping a smartphone on a point of sale terminal down at the supermarket.

Let us begin with contactless. Whenever I go to an NFC conference, or website, I am struck by the extent to which one word in particular crops up in relation to contactless payment.

That word is “can”.

Let me give you a few examples:

“The new mobile app can now make NFC payments via Commonwealth Bank’s Tap & Pay system.”

“The mobile app can be used with any merchant that uses MasterCard PayPass.”

“People can use their NFC enabled digital devices to pay for products and services.”

I could go on, ad infinitum, but you get my drift.

Now to Henry IV, Part I, and to my kinsman, Owen Glendower.

Glendower, in conversation with Harry Hotspur, states that he “can summon spirits from the vasty deep.”

In response, Hotspur says, “Why so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?”

Hotspur is pointing out a potentially critical disconnect: Glendower can summon all day and all night, but there is no guarantee that 24 hours later, a single spirit will have emerged to chew the fat with him.

That disconnect is equally true of contactless mobile: I can make a contactless payment with my mobile handset, or so can any man with an Xperia T (or any other brand of enabled handset), but will I make those payments?

At the present time, the answer is most cases will be identical to that which, in all honesty, Glendower should give to Hotspur, rather than promising to teach him to command the devil.

True, there are an awful lot of handsets with NFC controller chipsets out there, but that is simply the start of a fairly long journey between “can” and “will”, not least because a large chunk of those handsets don’t necessarily have a secure element, or because consumers don’t know that they have an NFC handset, or because they’re in a shop that doesn’t do contactless, or because they don’t know how to make a payment, or because – for any number of reasons – they don’t want to.

As it happens, I feel that NFC payments are currently getting a shot in the arm with the emergence of HCE (Host Card Emulation)-enabled secure elements, which means both that the secure element is remote to the handset and that any bank offering NFC payments retains full control of the customer rather than having to involve the network operator in the process: this makes it relatively easy for the bank to integrate the process into any banking application. This, allied with the fact that, in Europe at least, contactless infrastructure on the retail side has increased dramatically over the past year, should serve to fuel growth.

But there is an absolutely critical educative process which needs to go hand in hand with this: education both of the consumer and the retailer.

It is incumbent upon the stakeholders to address this issue: they should never, ever, confuse “can” and “will”.

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