Payment technology perfectly fits the well-used metaphor of a swan. It’s calm and elegant on the surface, and there’s furious effort underneath the waterline. Shoppers experience payments as a simple tap or a click to complete a transaction in seconds or less. Underneath all of that is an extraordinary amount of data, technology, and constant work to improve and innovate. Here are some of the efforts to keep the swan swimming, sometimes against very strong currents.
Fingerprints and facial recognition are common features of payment verification now, mainly on mobile devices. It’s not a huge step from payment security measure to payment method and the first efforts in that direction are well underway.
Chinese tech giant Tencent has been trialling palm recognition payment for WeChat Pay. The technology allows shoppers to present their palms to a scanner instead of using any card or personal payment device. Tencent believes the technology is almost ready for the mass market.
At the 2022 World Cup, Qatar National Bank, Visa, and face recognition tech business PopID trialled facial recognition payment at selected coffee chain branches.
It’s not hard to see the appeal to businesses or to consumers. Shoppers need absolutely nothing with them in order to pay — no wallet, card, or phone that you need to carry in a pocket or retrieve from a bag, and protect from loss or theft. Businesses get even quicker transactions, which means more turnover.
The ethical concerns are just as obvious. If people are nervous about giving personal details to tech giants, then their biometric details will be beyond the pale. Those methods are also ripe for advanced tracking and monitoring by governments and businesses, and many consumers will be deeply concerned about their privacy.
Speaking of WeChat, there is a real chance that similar ‘super apps’ might start to appear outside of China. Recently self-appointed ‘Chief Twit’ Elon Musk publicly stated that ‘Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app’. An ‘everything’ or ‘super’ app is simply one app that can perform the tasks of many. For example, a super app might include a news feed, music streaming, messaging functions, and of course payments.
It seems that Musk’s ambition is that Twitter will become, or become part of, such an app. Arguably Amazon or Google could easily head in the same direction. The question for payments companies is whether super apps represent more of a threat or more of an opportunity. That depends on many things, not least of which are your business’s proposition, your ambitions for it, and the capabilities of the businesses behind super apps.
Some may need a great deal of support and collaboration, and so will need deep payment partnerships. Others will be insular and prefer to keep all payment expertise and development in-house and proprietary. Your business may be well-placed to become a super app of its own and compete directly. Alternatively, super apps might be impossible to establish in western society like WeChat has embedded in China.
Speaking of grand projects that may or may not come to fruition, it’s a difficult job to separate hype from reality when it comes to the metaverse. Investors have poured billions of dollars into its development, but so far it hasn’t changed the world or replaced the internet. Of course, it still might, and in a way whichever attitude you take is a gamble — if it takes off as promised, it might leave you behind, but if you invest heavily in it and goes nowhere, you’ll have nothing to show for it.
As it stands, Meta’s own metaverse, Horizon Worlds, is rolling out payments for virtual content:
“We’re beginning to roll out a test with a handful of creators that will let them sell virtual items and effects within their worlds. For example, someone could make and sell attachable accessories for a fashion world or offer paid access to a new part of a world.”
Games like Fortnite have proven the ability to generate incredible revenue from purely cosmetic virtual products or ‘skins’. If the metaverse can sustain and grow a user base, it represents vast potential for the most creative and commercial minds in payment tech.
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