What goes around, comes around

My watch

One of the nice things about being in the payment industry is that you if you have an idea that doesn’t work today, put it in the cupboard because things might be different in a few years time. There’s a few things that I’ve worked on over the years that were perhaps ‘ahead of their time’ or the macro conditions were not ready yet to launch – after all, payments typically are a reciprocal function of other actions in society such as trade and so are influenced to a greater extent by market acceptance than most other.

Take, for example, the original concept behind contactless cards and NFC – one of my former colleagues at MasterCard in 2001 uttered the immortal words ‘wouldn’t it be cool if instead of a card you could pay with your watch?’ Of course, back then (now over a decade ago) at the turn of the century most people wore a watch – mobile proliferation wasn’t anywhere near today’s levels and telling the time was a matter of looking at your arm and not in your pocket (unlike at the turn of the previous century when people kept their watches there!). Initial contactless efforts were hence focussed on the watch format – but as the noughties drew to a close, numbers of watches being sold was in decline (here) and so the associated card genii tried to work out what to do with their huge investment in contactless. The answer, it seemed, was in targeting the device that had replaced the watch – the ever-present mobile phone. And so in 2011 we had ‘the year of mobile payments’, and again in 2012, 2013 and probably next year as well. But what of the humble watch, did it give up it’s contactless ambitions? Not just yet. Indeed, there is growing evidence that the wrist-watch is making a comeback as a re-invented status symbol (here), and as mobile manufacturers look for the NBT, where is the first place that they run to? Back to the things that they sought to replace (here).

So what does this mean for contactless payments? We’re finally seeing some big issuance and acquiring programs in a number of markets globally – and the ongoing battle for customer ownership in mobile payments – but perhaps, as mobiles become more personal, and less likely to be left behind as they are now wearable, the original idea of contactless payments will now be the next evolution – and the guy at Garanti Bank can also call someone to bring him more pants…

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2 Comments Add yours

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