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November 13, 2017

The Future of Wearables

My wife and I took our children to a Florida theme park for their recent fall break. While I would love to spend the next few paragraphs opining on why I think our school calendar is crazy or giving a review of the most phenomenal ride that I have ever experienced, it doesn't really fit the mission or purpose of Take On Payments. Fortunately, the trip did provide some fodder and thought for a blog post, thanks to a much-discussed and written-about wearable NFC—or near-field-communication—device that the theme park offers.

These bands were introduced in 2013 to create an awesome customer experience. This experience is much bigger than a payment platform and has absolutely nothing to do with a rewards program around which so many mobile wallet and payment applications are being developed. The band's functionality certainly includes payments, but the device also replaces room keys, park entry cards, and ride-specific tickets known as fast passes. As an additional feature, it is waterproof, which proves handy for a trip to the water park. I was able to spend the week without ever having anything in my pockets (yes, I even left my phone in the room). My wife commented how fantastic it would be to take the NFC band experience outside of the park because it was just so easy and convenient.

Ease and convenience–isn't that what a lot of us are after? If you have to give me something to get me to open an application and tap my phone in place of a payment card, is that really providing ease and convenience? I am now 100 percent convinced that rewards programs aren't going to drive mobile commerce to any significant degree. Experiences that provide ease and convenience will drive mobile commerce. Hello, mobile order-ahead. Hello, grocery delivery. And hello, wearable of the future.

It isn't hard to imagine a wearable device, like an open-loop band, transforming our lives. After my theme park experience, I long for the day when a wearable will be the key to my vehicle—which I won't have to drive, either—and to my house, my communication device, and my payment device (or wallet). Of course, we'll have to consider the security issues. Even the bands incorporate PINs and fingerprint biometrics in some cases to ensure that the legitimate customer is the one wearing the band.

Is this day really so far-fetched? I can already order a pizza through a connected speaker, initiate a call from the driver's seat of my car without touching my phone, or tap my phone to pay for a hamburger. The more I think about these possibilities, I have to ask myself, is it crazy to question whether or not using mobile phones for payments just might become obsolete before long? Or maybe mobile phones will provide that band functionality?

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed



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