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Article published in Issue Number: 061201

Mobile payment trials launched

Using cell phones as a payment form factor is a growing trend in Asia. But will the United States follow? Trials launched here recently will tell the story.

"In Asia, you have 800 million debit cards and [nearly as many] cell phones," said Paul R. Garcia, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Global Payments Inc., at a Morgan Stanley conference last month. "You link those two together, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that could be a payment [method]."

In five years, the United States may "start to see traction" in some emerging payments form, probably involving the mobile phone, either as a direct debit from a checking account or as a bankcard chip embedded in the phone, he said. A first step in that direction is delivering promotions such as coupons to cell phones via near field communication (NFC) technology.

A recent Visa U.S.A. online survey found that 61% of respondents between the ages of 25 and 34 are interested in making purchases via mobile phone. Sixty-four percent of all consumers are interested in receiving coupons on their mobile devices.

Following are some recent payment trials and service launches:

On Nov. 15, Visa announced an NFC trial at its California headquarters, testing the delivery of mobile payment coupons and rewards via text message, graphics and bar code images direct to consumers' mobile devices. The trial begins with 500 Visa employees, who will redeem the coupons at cafes on the corporate campus. Visa plans to expand the trial to the general public during the coming year.

Also in November, MasterCard Worldwide, working with Nokia and 7-Eleven Inc., launched a six-month trial involving 500 participants from 7-Eleven's Speak Out wireless program. Participants will receive NFC-enabled Nokia mobile phones, enhanced with PayPass functionality. They will be given eFinity prepaid accounts that can be accessed either by a PayPass card or phone. The users can then use the phones for purchases at any location accepting PayPass.

Dan Schatt, Celent Communications Senior Analyst, said of the trial, "We've already seen the tremendous value other countries are deriving from contactless mobile commerce, and we expect this initiative to have a significant impact on the way U.S. goods and services are paid for at the point of sale in the future."

Bank of America Corp. also reportedly launched a mobile phone payments trial with employees at its Wilmington, Del., campus. "BofA employees will be using the cell phones within the bank's ... vending machines, an internal convenience store and in the BofA cafeteria," noted Thomas Weisel Partners LLC in a recent report. A bank spokesperson was not available for comment.

BofA has partnered with USA Technologies Inc. to enable vending machine operators to deploy e-Port cashless payment terminals to accept both swipe and contactless payment devices.

For more information about NFC-enabled mobile phone payments, read "Pay phone redux: Are cell phones the new payments frontier?" (The Green Sheet, June 12, 2006, issue 06:06:01).

Article published in issue number 061201

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