Almost half of American consumers say they have made a mobile payment, and that number is bound to climb as smartphone technology continues to appeal to Americans looking for fast, efficient ways to manage their money.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 46% of American consumers have made a mobile financial transaction, as smartphone users make online and point-of-sale purchases, pay bills and send money from their smartphones.
Not surprisingly, age is the most predictive of mobile payment use, Pew reports. "Millennials and Gen X-ers use mobile payments most -- they make up 55% of the U.S. adult population, but are 72% of mobile payments users," the report states.
As for most favored uses on mobile payments, Pew lists receiving alerts, electronic receipts, rewards, discounts, and help with budgeting. The most common activity? Making a purchase through a smartphone web browser or downloaded app.
Barriers to usage include concerns about the safety of mobile payments technology, which might result in identity theft or the loss of funds and poor compatibility with cash-based transactions.
"Concern about the safety of mobile payments technology is the biggest obstacle to usage and is cited across generations as a barrier," notes Joy Hackenbracht, Pew research officer for the consumer banking project.
"There is a knowledge gap, too," Hackenbracht adds. "Consumers often don't know how mobile payments compare with other payment methods. We found 53% of consumers say they don't know whether mobile payments are safer than other payment methods. That's significant, because reducing this uncertainty has the potential to increase use."
As far as usage goes, convenience seems to really count with mobile payment users.
"Mobile payments are a great tool, especially if I'm worried that I've forgotten to pay a bill," says Andrew DeCotiis-Mauro, an educator at Mount Saint Dominic Academy in New York City. "That said, I find that a lot of the interfaces for mobile payments drive me to use the desktop versions of the page due to their often clunky design."
Generational demographics could be keeping smartphone payment technologies from gaining real traction. "One of the biggest complaints I see about mobile payments is from the older generation," says Scott Vance, a financial advisor at Trisuli Financial Advising, in Cary, N.C. "Older Americans are still not comfortable with handing over information about their accounts to apps and computer programs. I have numerous clients that avoid any sort of mobile app. Instead, I work with them using paper and pen, in a totally old school manner."
Ehsan Chaudhary, vice president of Merchant Services, at Charlotte, N.C.-based PrimePay, says that due to convenience and streamlined performance, mobile payments have turned a corner and there is no looking back.
"With mobile payments, there's no need to search for an ATM when needing to make a purchase," says Chaudhary. "Also, by making a purchase directly from the merchant eliminates ATM surcharges from the bank and the ATM being used, if it is one not affiliated with the consumer's bank."
"Also, there's no need for cash and no need to stop at a bank and take money out," he adds. "Credit and debit cards can be cancelled and locked down in the event of theft. Once cash is taken, it is gone forever."
Maybe the biggest reason so many consumers, at least younger ones, who are connecting with mobile payment apps, is the hip factor attached to smart phone apps.
"The cool-factor and trust are essential for mobile payment apps looking for an edge," notes Joe Kleinwaechter, vice president of innovation and design at Worldpay US.
According to Worldpay's 2015 Global Payments Report, consumers rated the "cool-factor," such as social media integration, as the strongest influencer when purchasing apps created by top tech companies. "However, once the initial excitement of the cool-factor wears off, cost and speed become determining factors for continued use," he adds.
Cool or convenience, e-receipts or efficiency, mobile payment apps are taking a front and center position in the consumer finance sector. For now, the benefits seem to outweighing the negatives for users, and that's only going to accelerate growth as the payment industry changes on the fly.