Five banks in UK line up with Zapp

The mobile payments scene is getting more difficult to work out. For the past four years at least it's been the up-and-coming, the "absolutely about to be mega" interest area in mobile. Except it never gets anywhere - or at least only in one or two territories.

There's no shortage of mobile payment options for users to choose from. Could that be the problem? Too many players with different approaches, too many players happy to stall if it means nobody else can get ahead of them?

Or is it just that users aren't THAT interested. After all, you're messing with their money. People are very conservative (small c) about money.

Most recently O2 dumped its mobile payments play (see - Card rejected: O2 closes its mobile wallet) and then five banks in the UK pledged fealty to Zapp, a mobile payment application provider, to push things the other way. The banks said they would integrate the Zapp offering into their existing mobile banking applications when the service launches later this year.

Customers of the five - HSBC, First Direct, Nationwide, Santander and Metro Bank - will be able to use their bank accounts to make purchases in-store or pay their bills at home.

For in-store Zapp’s app uses near field communications (NFC) to interact with bank accounts. QR codes can also be used.

According to Yankee Group Analyst Jordan McKee the deal should put Zapp in a bit of a hotseat. IT provides the means and the banks provide the credibility for the users. But McKee is also wary, pointing out that that, like all the payment schemes, they have to do more than just work. They have to give users a good reason to switch payment method. Simply shouting "look how clever this is" is not going to get them there.

Ovum likewise thinks there are plenty o challenges for mobile payment systems. In its “2014 Trends to Watch” report it pointed out that in mature markets there was low consumer uptake and usage of m-payment and digital wallet services with customers leaning toward financial brands (not telcos).

According to Eden Zoller, principal analyst with Ovum’s Consumer Practice, “Overall revenue growth for mobile payments in 2014 will be slow and steady .. We expect to see much consolidation in the digital wallets space in 2014... Consumers will not adopt multiple digital wallets and instead will focus their loyalty and spending with one or possibly two services.

"The best positioned will be those associated with the financial brands that consumers trust most and are familiar with," he says.

And Ovum doesn't expect much push from NFC (near field communications) popularly thought to be the ultimate enabler of mobile payment services

"2014 will not be the year that near-field communication (NFC) takes off – and neither will 2015. A growing number of alternative enabling technologies are readily available, and at lower cost to merchants and consumers," says Zoller, although he does point out that "there is a chance that hosted card emulation (HCE) could help the case for NFC during 2014."

"HCE provides a cloud-based model for NFC that makes service provisioning much easier for issuers, developers, and other third parties. This has the potential to open the NFC market to more innovation and competition. However, this will happen only if the card schemes get behind HCE and security concerns are addressed," he claims.

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