The Bank ATM Deals With ApplePay Promise What NFC Needs: Normalcy

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When the news hit recently that Bank of America and Wells Fargo were preparing to integrate Apple Pay into their ATMs—on top of an existing deal with Android Pay—it promised a healthy dose of what NFC wallets need more than anything else right now: Normalcy.

At a practical level, the banks can position this as little more than an attempt to eventually phase out the plastic ATM card, not to mention then greenbacks they represent—which, of course, is true. But payment facilitators and others are relying on mobile wallets becoming more than a novelty for the geekiest of shoppers at a handful of the most tech-friendly retailers. For them, the ATM move has delightful potential.

And what is delightful about it is its low-tech perfunctory every-day feel. For mobile wallets to become an ordinary part of the payments landscape, consumers must get comfortable with using the wallets several times a day. When I watch Apple Pay transactions at the few local shops that accept it in my community, it’s still seen as a novelty. When Apple Pay goes through, “Hey, it worked!” says a pleasantly-surprised shopper. You really don’t hear that much when a Visa magstripe transaction gets accepted.

There is something wonderfully ho-hum about using an NFC wallet to withdraw digital cash from an ATM. Not only will it be used quite often, but it will signal that this is a non-exciting perfectly normal way to pay for things. That perception—among merchants as well as shoppers—is what is missing from mobile payments today.

Consider Starbucks, which gets payments kudos for its mobile app. (Yes, it’s just a picture of the barcode from the old plastic Starbucks cards and not nearly as complicated as NFC, but SBUX does it with such style that you can forget that.) Customers get dirty looks when they bypass the app and pull out a payment card or—Calamitous Cappucinos!—cash.

That’s what NFC need now. Normalcy is great, but we need those wallets to be outright boring. Only then will merchant acceptance and shopper usage start to sharply climb. Mobile payments today are still about getting consumers to change their behavior. Nothing like a few dozen ATM trips to flip that around.

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