RBC, Visa prepare to jump mobile payment hurdles

TORONTO – RBC and Visa say they are still in the process of figuring out areas of responsibility around the upcoming trail of mobile payment technology slated for later this year.

Speaking at the Canadian Institute’s Mobile Payments conference on Tuesday, Anne Koski, head of payment innovations with RBC, said the trial, which may spill over into 2009, has raised a number of unanswered questions. “Who’s responsible for liability issues?” she said. “You use a credit card or fob, and then there’s the mobile world with Bell, Telus, or Rogers, but who’s responsible for what? Our legal team is fully engaged!”

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Visa and RBC have yet to announce who their mystery telco partner will be, but it should be “soon,” said Zack Fuerstenberg, director of new channels with Visa.

Putting the consumer in control of the technology is key, said Koski. But customers can be fickle. “To change consumers’ habits is no small feat. Research is great, and they say they love something, but then it doesn’t go anywhere,” she said.

One thing that consumers are concerned about is security. Said Koski: “They have a lot of fear about contactless payments around data breaches and misperceptions about identity theft… Then they like the concept of securing it with a PIN and that.” But they do like the convenience aspect, she said, as their phone is already with them, and how fast they can make a purchase. Secure and fast? “And, to me, these two ideas bump up against each other,” said Koski.

Visa’s global head of product innovation Pamela Zuercher pointed out that, in other trials being run, consumers often ended up just leaving the program on all the time, unlocked. “Consumer choice is key,” she said.

The technology boasts a variety of choices, according to Fuerstenberg. “New chipsets enable the power and application to keep running, and you can set your preferences, so that, even with a clamshell phone, it should be able to work (contactlessly),” he said. They are currently working on improving power consumption for the application.

Other possible features include the ability to check the user’s last few transactions and current bank balance. These features are being rolled out in other trials worldwide (such as in Korea), and are being tweaked on the RBC-branded models now.

Another obstacle is the short-term gap in the availability of handsets, which could result in a lopsided market and customers being forced to choose certain carriers to get the contactless capability. “Some banks and telcos are more active than others in this space, so there will be a period, probably, where it won’t be industry-wide,” he said.

For those who do get on board in the beginning, the newness of the space and the public’s privacy fears should be assuaged by the recognizableness of the Visa brand name, Fuerstenberg hopes. “But that trust is also a burden,” he said, referring to the brand possible brand fall-out of a security failure in the contactless payment space.

With so many contradictions and uncertainty flying about, it’s no wonder that the regulators can’t keep up, either. Tracy Molino, legal counsel for the Canadian Payments Association, said, “It is extremely difficult for us to keep up to date with these technologies because they happen so fast. And, if you regulate too early, you don’t catch the relevant technologies, and they could be obsolete soon.”

The Mobile Payments conference continues on Wednesday.

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