Number of mobile payment users to increase 70% this year

The mobile payment industry will experience steady growth, as the number of mobile payment users worldwide will total 73.4 million in 2009, up 70.4% from 2008 when there were 43.1 million users, according to Gartner.

Gartner predicts that the number of mobile payment users will reach more than 190 million in 2012, representing more than 3% of total mobile users worldwide and attaining a level at which it will be considered “mainstream.”

Sandy Shen, research director at Gartner, said: “Momentum in the mobile payment market gathered further in 2008 with a number of high profile launches of mobile money transfer services in multiple markets, participation of major global institutions in near field communication (NFC) payment trials, as well as new payment solutions entering the market. However, at the same time, security concerns, an inadequate ecosystem and undefined areas in banking regulations remain challenges for mobile payment.”

Gartner defines a mobile payment as paying for a product or service using mobile technology such as a SMS, WAP, unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) and NFC. It includes transactions that use banking instruments such as cash, bank accounts or debit and credit cards, as well as non-carrier stored value accounts, such as travel cards, gift cards or Paypal. It does not include transactions that use mobile operators’ billing systems, such as purchase of mobile content or telebanking by mobile to the service centre via an interactive voice response (IVR) system.

“Mobile payment has very different user cases and impact on developing markets to that of developed markets,” Shen continued. “In developing markets, together with mobile banking, it allows people to use financial services in a more efficient way, and sometimes the only way, at more affordable costs, and can greatly improve standards of living. In developed markets, mobile is more of an extension of the existing payment infrastructure that allows people to deal with their financial needs on the go and in a timely fashion.”

This disparity leads to the presence of different products in different markets. For example, many services in the US rely on a full browser and credit card, but this won’t work in developing markets, as many people don’t even have a bank account or bank card. On the other hand, Shen said USSD banking wouldn’t be acceptable in the US as mobile operators have never made use of this for customer services and users may find it very awkward to work with.

In terms of both number of users and transaction volumes, Gartner expects Asia-Pacific and Japan to maintain a larger share of the market through 2012. While mobile payment penetration in Western Europe is expected to rise from 0.9% in 2009 to 2.5% in 2012, and from 1.7% to 3% in North America, penetration in Asia-Pacific and Japan will rise from 2% in 2009 to 3.8% in 2012. Mobile payment penetration in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Latin America is also expected to exceed 3% by 2012.

“The most profound impact of mobile banking and payment services is that they provide the non-banking population with access to modern financial services, giving them tools to improve their living standards,” said Shen. “For mobile operators, mobile payment can help attract and retain users and generate new revenue streams. For financial institutions, mobile payment is an opportunity to reach users who may have been previously unreachable, due to a lack of retail infrastructure.”

Shen said that overall, the market will see fragmentation in both technologies and business models, meaning that services need to be adapted for individual markets, even when deployed with the same partners, and that long lead times will be needed for deployment. This, together with the time required for creating user awareness, leads Gartner to believe that mobile payment is at least three years away from entering the mainstream market.