Contactless payments will become ubiquitous in the next five years and the British mobile operator O2 is set to be heavily involved in this growth market, according to Head of Financial Services at the company James le Brocq.
Talking to Retail Gazette the finance boss suggests that when this technology properly enters Britons’ psyche, it will catch on very quickly, bringing benefits to retailers and shoppers alike.
“There are a number of triggers that will bring about an explosion in contactless opportunity, which O2 and other mobile operators are supporting,” he said.
“London buses and the Olympics will be contactless in 2012, which will result in the technology becoming far more omnipresent, and financial service providers are planning more products.”
With this in mind O2 will launch a mobile wallet payment application in the second half of 2011, and one that supports near field communication.
As part of the focus on this new technology, the company is seeking an e-money operating licence from the Financial Services Authority, paving the way for peer-to-peer money transfers.
Accompanying these financial services will be the option for people to use their phones to make small payments, as le Brocq foresees this as a real growth area.
“I believe that a lot of the contactless experiences will be undertaken using the mobile, either for payment or accessing services or venues or even just downloading information on items of interest,” he notes.
The launch of a mobile wallet system will be a landmark moment in le Brocq’s career at O2, having joined last year with the task of building up the financial services division.
It was a natural goal for the new recruit to work towards, having spent the majority of his career in the finance sector at companies such as Barclaycard and Alliance & Leicester, as well as a period between 2009 and 2010 helping Northern Rock during its initial split into two businesses as the financial crisis took hold.
“After I arrived it emerged pretty quickly that the big opportunity for O2 was in the mobile space,” he states.
“2011 is an important year to get the O2 Money brand out there and to get customers familiar with using their mobiles to buy things and access financial services in readiness for the contactless explosion as the year draws to an end.”
The emotive talk surrounding contactless is not just provided by le Brocq; it is widely felt across retail that it is the next big technological development for the industry.
Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, said last year that he believed it was an area of great potential, and the UK’s number one supermarket has since been trialling the technology at one of its UK stores.
“If one of Tesco or Sainsbury’s for example were to implement contactless systems in their Express or Local stores it would be great, and would help build the ubiquitous experience for consumers.”
Retailers such as Co-op, Spar and Wilkinson have also experimented with it, with a growing belief in the sector that both retailers and consumers can benefit from its presence.
And with the popularity of smartphones growing all the time, it seems natural that these products could play a central role in the further roll-out of contactless payment.
O2 conducted a survey recently that showed 32 per cent of people said they were already using their mobile to peruse retail websites, while the same percentage said they intend to use their mobile for this reason.
It is feasible that using phones to pay for goods, which would involve tapping into a reader not unlike how an Oyster card is used on London buses and train network, could soon take off.
“The main idea for contactless technology is about providing convenience - consumers are increasingly using their mobiles to access retailers’ websites for instance,” le Brocq comments.
“The technology is enabling customers to do more and more on the go.”
But it is not just about keeping customers happy - there are many reasons for retailers to adopt cashless systems.
The O2 finance boss predicts that the redemption of coupons and vouchers could be increased if they are stored on mobiles, and argues that customers may favour mobile receipts over the pile of papers they are confronted with today.
“The removal of cash will reduce the need for security and the cash-carrying cost, while shoppers will be able to collect and redeem loyalty points using a mobile,” he explains.
“If you imagine the whole checkout experience I think there are a number of ways that it could be speeded up by contactless technology.”
Working for mobile provider O2, le Brocq naturally promotes the benefits of a mobile-led cashless society, but all the indicators suggest that mobile payment methods - and particularly contactless technology - will soon be a familiar part of the everyday retail landscape.