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The unchartered waters of NFC and mobile payments

A recent study shows that online bill payment and mobile payment services are dramatically increasing among Americans. News that will bring music to the ears of traditional and emerging companies wishing to take advantage of this latest trend. But how trusted is that device and the network on which it operates?

It seems that every week – and sometimes every day – we hear of new schemes and scams that cause us to question our confidence in the data that enters and (specifically) exits our devices without our knowledge. With this uncertainty, how likely are we to adopt the new wave of Near-Field Communications (NFC) technology that will allow us to use apps that provide instantaneous access to - and debit from - our personal bank accounts?

Operators too struggle with this question. In a landscape where (almost) every operator offers near identical service, a new differentiator is emerging. Pretty much all operators offer devices that provide access to the web, Facebook, Twitter and thousands of popular applications such as ‘Angry Birds’ and ‘Words with Friends’. They all offer texting/SMS, Picture Messaging/MMS and even an oft forgotten ‘app’ called Voice Calling. They all have similar pricing bundles, nationwide coverage and - despite aggressive marketing to the contrary – download speeds that are often negligible to the human eye. They all offer the same range of operating systems and many have identical devices: phones, tablets, phablets and WiFi hotspot doohickeys.

So what is this emerging differentiator? The answer is simple - trust.

If the next ‘killer app’ is built around mobile payments via technologies such as NFC, then subscribers will flood towards operators that are built around trust. It’s the last bastion of what has become an increasingly level-playing field despite light-speed advances in network and device capabilities.

While some operators may elect to employ smoke and mirror tactics, trust is more than a marketing campaign. Trust is earned and is built from proactive measures to limit malicious data from traversing a network. Trust is being able to use your device, safe in the knowledge that your operator has filtered any and all malware, spam and rogue applications to ensure your phone is clean.

In this context, trust is an assured reliance on the character, ability and/or strength of the operator we rely on and cannot be earned by throwing subscribers another free ‘security app’. These apps may be great at finding the phone you left in the back of a cab but let’s face it, in the world of mobile payments it’s like throwing a Band-Aid to a swimmer in a bay of sharks.