The most common criticism of the mobile payments industry is that the ability to make a payment with a phone or other mobile device is “a solution in search of a problem.” Which to some extent is indeed true: As we have been arguing for years, to get consumers interested in mobile money it generally needs to be about more than just replacing cash or plastic at the point of sale.
At the same time we are seeing an explosion in the number and variety of already-deployed and potential applications for mobile payments around the world. This diversity of use cases demolishes the standard tech world understanding of problems and solutions, which often holds that what works in Brussels or Bangalore must work – and work as identically as possible – in Beijing or Boston. In short, when it comes to payments the world is still a big place, and wherever you go you are likely to find different mobile solutions to different payment problems.
One good example of this is offered by the Cellum-developed service called “QCard” we offered a glimpse of a couple of weeks ago. While the demonstration video we published focused on QCard’s ability to help consumers speed up checkout at retailers with compatible POS devices, a perhaps more intriguing capability is its support for peer-to-peer provisioning of dedicated “cash coupons.” In this use case, individual “QCards” of a fixed value redeemable at a specific retailer can be created on the fly by a third party and sent to another user.
What’s so interesting about this application is how it might play out differently from market to market, with the dominant use case in some markets being gift cards and in other, less affluent markets simple household budgeting (sending a teen to buy groceries and making sure they don’t spend the cash somewhere else). Either way, the “solution in search of a problem” mantra is becoming ever more problematic, especially if one looks beyond the world’s most developed markets to the larger global mobile money growth map.
So for merchants, POS providers, financial institutions and other institutions considering the possibilities offered by a bespoke mobile payment app, in 2016 the difficulty shouldn’t be finding use cases or customer problems, but in figuring out which ones to tackle first.