Major Australian banks have made mobile payments a priority tech initiative and are in various stages of rolling out technology that lets customers pay with smartphones. Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are so far leading the pack, but ANZ Bank and National Australia Bank (NAB) say they are planning to make their own moves soon.
Mobile payments in Australia are largely based on near-field communications (NFC) technology, which can be embedded either inside a smartphone or a smart sticker that can be attached to the phone. NFC is included in many major Android, Windows and BlackBerry phones. However, Apple so far has not included NFC in the iPhone.
In this feature, which will be updated as the situation develops, Computerworld Australia takes a look at the status of NFC rollouts at Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ Bank and National Australia Bank (NAB).
CommBank has been the fastest mover on NFC. While the Samsung Galaxy S4 is currently the only phone the bank supports for embedded NFC payments, the bank also offers PayTag stickers for users to attach to other smartphones.
Customers can make contactless mobile payments of up to $100. The smart stickers cost $2.99.
CommBank rolled out the app update supporting NFC payments to Android and Windows Phone 8 users in December 2013. The iPhone followed, receiving the update on 16 January.
CommBank CIO Michael Harte has said the bank's foray into NFC will "deliver a whole new level of trust and convenience to the way consumers make mobile payments and manage their everyday mobile banking".
Westpac has announced plans to roll out mobile payments early this year through a partnership with Visa. The mobile payments service uses NFC chips embedded in Android smartphones, but Westpac has not said which specific devices will be supported.
Users will be able to store all of their Westpac debit and credit cards--Visa and MasterCard--in the existing Westpac banking app.
The impending release of the service follows a successful internal trial at Westpac.
Unlike CommBank, Westpac rejected the idea of using smart stickers. "Westpac has trialled the use of stickers for mobile payments but has decided not to roll them out to customers," Westpac chief product officer David Lindberg said in December 2013.
"Westpac continues to support all handset providers and will be excited to support them when they do develop payment solutions for their phones in the future."
ANZ announced an NFC pilot for Android devices back in October 2012. The trial began with 25 ANZ employees.
More than year later, an ANZ spokeswoman tells us that the "pilot is progressing well and we're continuing to work with industry partners to ensure that ANZ Mobile Wallet is available as soon as possible".
"Demonstration of the wallet at the Australian Open and the NRL Grand final confirmed customers want a simple to set up, easy to use and secure mobile payments solution," she said.
But ANZ fears the market may not be ready for NFC payments, she said.
"The NFC market is still evolving and has yet to reach a level of maturity that we would feel comfortable to launch a product that would meet our customer expectations and is available to as many customers as possible."
NAB is working on mobile contactless payments for iOS and Android, but has yet to announce specific details.
"Contactless payments on mobile devices represent an exciting opportunity for NAB to meet our customers' growing and ever-changing needs," an NAB spokesman told us.
"NAB is working towards a secure storage solution for devices so that consumers can shop online or in-store with their iOS (iPhone) or Android devices in a convenient and secure way."
"NAB has long recognised the importance of small business to our business and to the Australian economy -- small businesses are the lifeblood of Australian communities. That is why NAB has decided to prioritise its efforts in this area on innovative ways for mobile businesses to accept payments via their smartphone."
Smaller banks who have announced mobile payment trials include Bendigo Bank and bankmecu.
Bendigo Bank is trialling a mobile payments service called Redy with two small communities in Victoria. However, rather than NFC, the bank has relied on QR codes for greater universality among devices.
At the same time, bankmecu has an ongoing mobile payments pilot with 100 customers using NFC stickers. In the future, bankmecu would like to enable mobile payments without the tags, using NFC chips embedded in certain smartphones, according to Chris Newey, the bank's general manager of corporate services.
Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam
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