My first experience with Mobile World Congress was from 5,000 miles away. For whatever reason I had opted not to attend the event several years ago. While mobile devices and their utility in commerce and payments was becoming a burgeoning topic, as an analyst covering payments and financial technology, I didn’t think I would miss much by not attending a “telecommunications conference.”
Then I started getting the press releases and news briefs. My inbox was inundated during the conference with stories about new mobile money programs launching around the world, and partnerships between financial services companies and mobile network operators. It was all fascinating and I was missing out.
Since then, the impact of mobile on financial services—how consumers use mobile devices to save and pay and shop—is already well established, and that impact will only increase. Frankly, that may not sound very insightful at this point given how we all rely on smartphones to access our bank accounts, buy online or pay at the point of sale. However, it does mean that there is little question as to why an analyst covering payments and financial technology would be at a conference covering mobile technology: payments and financial services are mobile technologies now.
But Mobile World Congress isn’t about how we do things now, it’s about showcasing what’s to come. How will mobile technology and financial services become even more tightly connected? Where will the new, fascinating developments happen?
Since payments and financial services have already transformed into mobile technologies, the answer to those questions will come from how mobile itself is evolving. And it’s evolving to encompass everything—literally.
Thanks to the Internet of Things, everything is now a mobile technology, and every thermostat, light switch, vending machine, garage door opener and more is a “mobile device.” Each one is now a potential endpoint in a web of connected devices. What’s more, every one of those endpoints may need access to payments and financial services. For instance, if a smart meter can now pay for utilities automatically, how does it access payment networks? Or a connected car paying for a toll? Or an office device reordering its own supplies?
The solution to connecting all of those devices to the financial system might appear simple, but nothing in payments is ever really simple. The speed and convenience we as consumers expect when we pay with a credit or debit card at the point of sale is built on a very complex system of well-orchestrated processes carried out by a network of partners all working together to complete that payment in fractions of a second. What happens when you replace one or both ends of a transaction with a device?
Beyond the technical requirements to make payments work, all of the parties involved in a transaction also understand the scale, security and risk required to keep the system functioning properly. It’s worth saying again: nothing in payments is ever simple. How that system will adapt to handle the scale, security and risks associated with connecting billions of new “mobile devices” to the financial system is what makes the discussion of what’s next in mobile technology and payments so interesting right now.
It’s also the reason why I don’t think I’ll want to miss Mobile World Congress any time soon.