Consumers need reassurance about security of the virtual wallet, says First Data

The technology to provide seamless digital payments capability across all sales channels is already here, the challenge is to persuade the public it is safe and secure.

Speaking at this week’s Elman Wall Directors’ Summit Phil Curtis, general manager of First Data Solutions, said cashless mobile payments allow the travel sector to offer convenience for the customer.

He refuted the often repeated mantra that the driving force behind the adoption of technologies like tap and go and NFC payments is a response to customer demand for these forms of ‘contactless’ transactions.

“From where I stand the consumer does not have a clue [about these technologies]. The consumer is using what we put in front of them. To some extent you have to look forward and anticipate the needs of the consumer.

“A lot of what we need these days is predicated by time and how busy people are. A lot of these things are about making lives easier for consumers.”

Curtis said the proliferation of new devices like smartphones and tablet computers and increasing use of the internet to research and source recommendations from social networks is changing the nature of customer engagement for travel firms.

“But the danger with these devices is that it can allow others into your space. Look at the way PayPal has, on the back of eBay, come into the Mastercard Visa space. It would not surprise me if in time you will see them at the point of sale,” Curtis said.

First Data payments processing sits behind Google Wallet, the virtual payment system developed by the search engine giant that can turn the mobile phone into a device for paying for goods and services.

Curtis said this ‘universal commerce’ concept will offer consumers a seamless experience irrespective of what channel they are using and will help to improve customer service and therefore loyalty.

“Currently organisations tend to think channel, the store being the anchor, the website and sales tend to be in different parts of the organisation, offers sits with advertising, loyalty sits with marketing and they all have their own different objectives. But we have got to find a way of bringing all this together.

“The areas we have got to focus on is the infrastructure, the smart device, which is growing like fury, and being able to access all of the data is really, really important. Think about how you can engage with your customer, how easy can you make things for them.

“We are really having to go through a transformation in the way we operate and it’s really about getting people out of their silos.”

Curtis said he did not believe shopping behaviour had changes that much but that, despite the complexity in terms of the amount of information in the market, buying things had never been easier.

“I will leave it to you to decide whether universal commerce is here or not, but one thing is sure the technology definitely is. We are going to see more contactless transactions, more of this ‘tap and go’ stuff.”

The emergence of the electronic wallet means the move to a true cashless society can happen quite quickly as long as the consumer can be convinced about its security, added Curtis.

“People are a bit concerned that with the mobile phone if it can communicate and transfer data to a terminal over there that what is stopping someone walking down the high street with a kind of high-powered Hoover sucking up that data out of your wallets.

“The security is actually there and the challenge for the payments industry is to convince the public that it is secure. It’s a really valid question and we have to make sure in the payments industry that we convey this security aspect.”

Curtis conceded fraud is always an issue and the industry cannot always anticipate how systems will be compromised but that it has a good track record in dealing with such problems when they come along.

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