Cash, credit or cloud?

With Apple Pay on its way to Canada this year and Samsung Pay and Android Pay soon to follow, mobile payments are set to take hold in a big way.

According to the latest MasterCard Mobile Payments Readiness Index, Canadians are "extremely" ready and willing to make mobile payments — they just don’t have all the necessary tools to do it.

That is about to change. Mobile e-commerce is expected to take hold in a big way when Apple Pay comes to Canada this year. Of course, Apple isn’t the only player — Samsung Pay and new apps using Google’s Android Pay are also coming — but it will likely be the first. Here at home, RBC has developed a breakthrough proprietary cloud-based system that connects smartphones to the cloud to approve and process payments, minus any exchange of client data with retailers, phone makers or wireless service providers. This is a big differentiator and one the bank hopes will help it take a global leadership position in the space.

It’s not surprising that everyone wants a piece of the action: mobile payments are expected to hit US$721 billion by 2017. That’s why Rogers Communications has a Schedule 1 banking licence.

So get ready to wave your smartphone over a merchant terminal soon, Canada. Mobile payments are about to come on strong. Unprepared? Here’s what you need to know. What are mobile payments/digital wallets? Simply put, these systems securely store information to process credit or debit payments, as well as loyalty cards and digital coupons, eliminating the need for physical wallets, credit and debit cards.

How it works: A payment app uses near field communication (NFC) combined with a newly released security chip called the secure element to safely transmit via tokenization (a technology that substitutes an ID number for the credit and debit card details and stores the data in virtual vaults) to point-of-sale terminals. The terminal finishes the payment the same way it would with a traditional credit card swipe transaction. You may be asked to scan your finger or enter a pass code or PIN to approve the transaction. (More to come on NFC, secure elements and tokenization in a future column.)

Why it’s necessary: Mobile payments are safer than using physical credit cards. While data breaches are front-page news, the fact is that mobile transactions are pretty safe. I say this knowing that Apple Pay, which is available on the iPhone 6, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 and the recently announced Apple Watch, was hit with a string of fraudulent transactions. The fault, however, wasn’t with Apple or its mobile-payment system. Fraudsters input stolen credit card numbers to go shopping, so the bank’s verification protocols were lacking. In fact, Apple Pay never shares your actual credit or debit card numbers with merchants. Any breach would result in hackers getting fake data. Plus, if your iPhone or iPad is ever lost or stolen, you can use Find My iPhone to quickly put your device in Lost Mode to suspend Apple Pay, or you can remotely wipe your device clean.

In an interview with PYMNTS, a B2B platform and a source of information for all things payments related, Linda Mantia, executive vice-president of digital, payments and cards at RBC, said, "In the next couple of years, we will see a convergence of mobile and online. We will see the consumer having the ability to go beyond just payments. Consumers will also have a single-stream solution that enables them to use their loyalty points (earn and redeem), access gift cards online (add, reload, check balance), opt-in to merchant offers at retailers they are loyal to, digital receipts, etc. Ultimately, the consumer will never have to carry plastic or paper again."

I can see it already. You’re in line at the checkout. The person in front of you is talking on her smartphone confirming some last-minute shopping list alternatives suggested by her tablet. How will she pay for her purchases? With her watch, of course.