Mobile wallets: We’ve come a long way, baby

The dream of leaving your leather wallet at home and using other form factors for payments, primarily smartphones, has been the dream of analysts and prognosticators for many years. Every year, at least one publication stakes the claim that the next year will finally be that year.

  • In 2013, Mobile Payments World asked: “2013: The Year of the Mobile Wallet?
  • The following year, Kantar US Insights stated: “2014 Could Very Well be the Year of the Mobile Wallet.
  • In 2015, asked: “Will 2015 Finally Be the Year of the Mobile Wallet?”
  • And in 2016, Affinion titled an article: “2016: The Year of the Mobile Wallet?”

Given the inaccuracies of these predictions, it would seem that the use of mobile wallets has simply stalled for the past five years. But looking back a little further, it is amazing to see how radically the mobile wallet space has changed. Going all the way back to 2011, PC Magazine was already asking the question: “Could our wallets be replaced one day soon by our smartphones?”. That article contained an infographic depicting the top contenders at the time to replace credit cards with your smartphone.

Source: PC Magazine, July 8, 2011.

Back in mid-2011, the top four wallets that could be used from a smartphone were Google Wallet, ISIS, the Visa Wallet and Serve, none of which still exist in the same form they were in 2011. Google Wallet has morphed several times to become a stored value/prepaid card and a P2P utility (Android Pay later took up what was the mobile payment capability of the original Google Wallet). Serve, from AmEx, followed a similar path as the initial Google Wallet, morphing to become a Prepaid card.

The wallet that was called ISIS looked like it was on a track to success, and was named for the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom. It derailed when the name it had chosen became associated with a terrorist group; it relaunched as softcard, but never recovered.

The Visa Wallet also morphed, gave up trying to be an NFC wallet, and instead turned to become a token-enabled online payment “button” on e-commerce sites, with a new name, Visa Checkout.

So, is it true that everyone is still waiting for the year of mobile wallets? Yes and no. No, because we are still nowhere close to being able to leave home without a leather wallet; there are still many brick and mortar merchants that do not accept Apple/Android/Samsung Pay, and more realistically, you still need all the other items in your wallet – like your driver’s license, gift cards, loyalty cards, maybe some cash. But, yes, because mobile payments have started to infiltrate the way we pay, even if it is not so obvious. When you step out of an Uber or Lyft, you don’t swipe a card; a mobile payment is made behind the scenes. Buy something on Best from your phone and swipe your finger on the home button to pay, and the magic of mobile payments is at work, invisibly, but safely.

It will be interesting to look back on today from 2022 and see how far we’ve come. What do you think we’ll be looking back from?


Tom Davis

Tom Davis

Tom Davis is the SVP, Finance & Technology with CSCU. He joined CSCU in 2004 and today wears many hats as highly respected executive and tireless evangelist on new payment ... Web: Details

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