Opinion

What Americans Get Wrong When It Comes To Mobile Payments

Apple Pay. Samsung Pay. Android Pay. Chase Pay. Walmart Pay. Target Pay.

It seems there are almost as many mobile payment systems out there as there are stores in which to use them. The thing is, however, there’s still a problem: Americans don’t think any of them are good enough.

Consumers have said over and over that they want mobile payments to be more convenient than just using their old plastic credit card. That’s going to be a difficult hill for companies to climb, since using a credit card is still a pretty easy, reliable way to pay for things.

More than anything, however, Americans want mobile payments to be safer than using their credit cards. Right now, people don’t think they are.

Here’s the thing, though: they’re wrong. And that doesn’t bode well for the short-term future of mobile payments.

If your credit card is used fraudulently through your smart phone, you are no more liable for that cost than you would have been if they had used it any other way. That means that, at a minimum, mobile payments are at least as safe for consumers to use as a plastic credit card. Factor in tokenization, fingerprint authentication, secure elements and other technological advancements baked into most of the major mobile wallets and the security battle between a plastic credit card and a smartphone becomes no contest.

Most Americans don’t see it that way, though. In a November Bankrate.com survey of mobile Internet users, security concerns were the main reason given for not using mobile payments to buy items in-store during the 2015 holiday season. Thirty-six percent said that was the main reason, while 31 percent said mobile payments weren’t convenient enough. No other reason came close.

That skittishness is understandable. Credit card security issues have been all over the news in recent years. Data breaches have impacted millions of Americans, as has the switch to EMV chip technology. Add it all up and many people just aren’t ready to put too much trust in the safety of mobile payments.

So what can banks and mobile wallet providers do? How can they shift the narrative around mobile payments to convince people that their safer product really is safer?

My chief suggestion would be to drive home the point about zero-liability. People generally understand they don’t have to pay up when their plastic credit card is used fraudulently, but they may not realize that the policy extends to mobile use, too. It’s a crucial point for consumers to grasp, and it’s simple enough to be conveyed in some clever advertising – far simpler than complex concepts like tokenization and multi-factor authentication.

Beyond that, the best weapon is time. With time, many Americans have come to realize that fraudulent transactions on their credit cards are more nuisance than disaster. No one wants to be inconvenienced and spend time calling their bank when things go wrong, but by and large, people know the routine and realize that they likely won’t be out any money when bad things happen. People haven’t reached that point yet with mobile payments – there’s still the uncertainty that can come with new technologies and new ways of doing things – but I believe it will come.

I’m confident that people will grow to understand just how secure mobile payments can be. There’s a good story to be told about how technology is being deployed to make your credit card information safer. In fact, I feel it will ultimately be easier to convince people of the safety of mobile payments than to convince them of the convenience. That’s because the leap in safety from plastic to mobile is quite significant, while the leap in convenience is far less so, at least today.

Matt Schulz is Senior Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com. He is also a regular contributor to USNews.com’s My Money blog.

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