Digital wallets slow to take off in Australia but more big banks are adopting the technology


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THE digital wallet revolution has been slow to start but, with more big banks caving in, will it finally be easy to pay for things with a smartphone?

THE technology is ready. Banks know how to use it. Consumers want it now.

So just when will we get the digital wallets we’ve been promised?

What seems like a straightforward question with an equally straightforward solution has become mired in ­politics, as tech companies and banks disagree on the right way to deliver convenient mobile payment exper­iences and Australia’s competition watchdog and courts are forced to step in to mediate.

But there have been small breakthroughs lately in what experts say is a sign that digital services will replace dog-eared wallets and overstuffed purses within years rather than decades.

While Google Android phones were first to add secure Near Field Communication chips for digital payments, it was Apple that debuted a branded payment solution in its phones.

Apple Pay arrived in the US in 2014, and in Australia the following year.

But the service, which securely turns your smartphone into a debit or ­credit card to be tapped at the cash register, was only compatible with ­directly issued American Express credit cards.

It’s now supported by 48 smaller financial institutions and one of the four big banks, ANZ.

Similarly, Google launched its Android Pay service with a host of smaller banks and credit unions, albeit many more of them. ANZ has since joined their ranks.

But it’s Samsung Pay, the last of the three to launch, that claimed a significant victory this month, slipping Westpac into its digital wallet.

More than nine million Westpac customers can now use Samsung Pay to buy goods with the tap of a smartphone or a Gear S3 smartwatch, in addition to Citibank and American Express customers.


Samsung Australia mobile division vice-president Richard Fink says signing up Westpac means “about a third of the market” can now use Samsung Pay in their smartphones rather than flash the plastic.

But he admits launching a digital wallet everyone can use will take time. The big banks are not adopting external payment systems quickly, preferring transactions delivered from their own apps.

“It’s still a developing space for everyone; for Samsung as a tech­nology provider but also for the banks,” Fink says. “The pieces are all falling together. We certainly have been ­engaged with all the big four banks since launch.”

Westpac’s move to Samsung Pay could be the start of a drift from the big financial institutions towards Android-based solutions.

It follows their failure to collectively ­bargain for access to payment technology within Apple’s iPhone, a move designed to let the banks, including the CBA, NAB and Westpac, deliver their own in-app payments rather than pay transaction fees to use Apple Pay.

A spokesman for the group, Lance Blockley, says the case had been “about consumer choice” and ensuring “the course of development for ­mobile wallets in Australia (was not) dictated by a single overseas corporation”.

“Mobile wallets are currently overwhelmingly focused on mobile payments but will soon take in loyalty programs, mass transit ticketing, access, identity, and a great number of other future innovations,” he says.

“Ultimately, there is no technical barrier standing in the way of our ­entire physical wallet becoming digital.”

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