Barclays has launched updates to its Pingit app that will expand the bank's reach into mobile payments, kicking off the race among financial services firms to deliver m-commerce platforms.

The latest Pingit features expand on the existing functionality of the app, launched in February 2012 after a six month in-house development period. The original version of the app focused entirely on person to person payments, though the service was subsequently extended to allow users to make payments to utilities companies by scanning QR codes on paper bills.

The app has been well received by users to date, with 1.8 million downloads so far according to Barclays figures, and a total of 2.3 million payments made so far.

The launch of new features means that for the first time Pingit users will be able to purchase goods directly through their smartphone or tablet, in-putting a five digit PIN code and clicking a 'Pay with Barclays Pingit' button to complete a transaction.

Barclays says that the mobile checkout feature will make mobile payments easier for customers by removing the need to enter full credit or debit card details, and benefit corporate users by reducing the drop-off rates of those customers which fail to complete transactions. Purchases will be made in real-time through the industry-wide Faster Payments system.

Potential to harness valuable data

The 'buy it' feature will also allow enable purchases in a small number of clicks by scanning a QR code via the Pingit app. This is aimed at enabling customers to purchase goods directly from an advertisement, whether on a poster, shop window, or directly from a TV screen. Meanwhile for corporate users this will mean the ability to gather data on the most lucrative advertising spaces, for example.

The service is also available to non-Barclays customers who will be able to download the app and top up their credit balance, like other mobile wallets such as PayPal.

"For mobile enabled businesses, this is a great way to increase sales conversion by reducing payment input errors and increased consumer assurance at checkout," said Mike Walters, head of UK corporate payments at Barclays.

"For new players to the market, it is an easy, low risk way to enter into mobile commerce."

The Pingit app runs on a OpenStack private cloud put in place by Barclays, powered by Dell kit including PowerEdge C servers and Compellent storage. The Pingit infrastructure is independent of the bank's core systems, although it interfaces with central current account databases.

The app has also gained ground with corporate customers Barclays, with utilities firm Severn Trent recently announcing that it would use the QR code payment function across its organisation.

Growing market for mobile payments

The launch of the new features highlights Barclays' intentions to stay ahead in the quick moving world of m-commerce, and gives the bank a head-start on some other firms which are preparing to launch their own mobile payment services.

Payment processing firm Visa, which is partnering with IBM and software provider Monitise to develop a mobile payments system, believes that by the end of the decade over half of transactions it facilitates will be made through mobile devices.

Although Barclays is the first high street bank to deliver a mobile payments solution, others are likely to follow suite in the next twelve months as they seek to add to the mobile banking services that most already provide.

The growth of mobile payments will also be boosted by an industry-backed mobile payments system which will go live in 2014, enabling customers of most major high street banks to link their current account to their mobile phone number.

However Barclays has already raised concerns over the presence in the market of Zapp, a company set up by Vocalink, the organisation which will oversee the running of the central mobile payment system upon its launch. According to the Barclays there is confusion over Zapp's place in the market, with a perception that the company has received backing from all the major banks. Last week Zapp announced a partnership with WorldPay that will see it offer mobile payments though numerous high street stores next year, including WH Smith and McDonalds.

Regulators are also attempting to keep pace with the changes, and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is in the process of conducting a two year investigation into potential risks related to mobile banking and payments, and is due to produce a final report during 2014.