Australia's top banks are moving forward with plans to support near field communications (NFC) despite Apple's decision not to support the contactless payment technology in the iPhone 5. A number of NFC-enabled devices running Google's Android mobile platform are available in Australia, including smartphones from Samsung, HTC and Sony.
"NFC and mobile payments is still an emerging solution and I still think it will be some time before all the interested parties are ready to come to the fore," Westpac head of mobile payments, Daryl Babus, told Computerworld Australia.
"We will continue to monitor closely what Apple is doing in this space."
The iPhone 5's lack of NFC surprised NAB, the bank's technology head of strategy and innovation, Denis Curran said at a recent conference in Sydney.
"We all thought that the Apple iPhone 5 would come out with NFC," he said.
"What will that do to adoption of NFC in Australia for mobile? How do we adapt our strategies to them?"
In a blog post last month, CommBank general manager of online banking, Drew Unsworth, said he was "a little disappointed" that Apple didn't include NFC in the iPhone 5.
"There are also other factors to consider which will potentially help with NFC adoption in this country," Babus said. That includes "the prevalence of contactless terminals and the familiarity of making contactless payments, and Australia is well positioned on these two fronts to still see NFC take-off."
For other banks, however, NFC may not yet have the customer base needed to support an investment. Suncorp Bank is looking at NFC but isn't ready to commit to the technology, said Suncorp Bank Channel Specialist, Simon Clarke.
"While the pace of mobile developments are rapid, in many cases consumers are still coming to grips with contactless payment systems," he said.
Here's a look at where some of Australia's top banks stand on NFC deployment:
"Westpac is committed to embedding mobile payments and progressive payment solutions including NFC into all aspects of our core business," Babus said.
Westpac is testing NFC as customers use mobile more and more for payments, Babus said. "Westpac currently has 200,000 customers who only use mobile banking," and no other channel, she said. "NFC is one of these important solutions that Westpac is working on to satisfy this demand."
A Westpac NFC trial with Optus and MasterCard "is continuing and progressing well," and the bank expects to roll out NFC "more broadly" in 2013, Babus said.
"It is definitely meeting our learning expectations with the feedback from participants on their experiences and expectations of an NFC mobile payment solution helping to define the next step in our journey and the final product offering."
CommBank has already invested in NFC with its Kaching platform. While the iPhone lacks NFC, CommBank has built a case called iCarte that adds the function to the iPhone 4 and 4S. CommBank also has integrated NFC into Pi, its new tablet-like payment terminals.
While iCarte doesn't support the iPhone 5, Unsworth wrote on the CommBank blog that the bank's mobile apps team is "already working on a holistic solution for all CommBank Kaching users (both iPhone and Android) who wish to make contactless payments with their smartphone." A CommBank spokeswoman declined to provide a release timeframe.
"Near Field Communication innovation is part of a broader evolution that include contactless payments and chip-enhanced cards," an NAB spokesman said. "NAB's strategy is to partner with global technology leaders to ensure our customers can benefit from world's best practice in payments."
NAB this week announced a partnership with VeriFone to deploy mobile payments technology, including a sleeve for iPhone and iPad that turn the devices into payment terminals for merchants. The companies will also be rolling out new EFTPOS terminals including an embedded contactless reader.
ANZ announced last week that it's trialling an NFC-based mobile wallet for Android phones as part of a $1.5 billion technology investments. The trial includes 25 ANZ employees and the bank aims to make NFC available to customers in mid-2013.
"While NFC is likely to play an important role in facilitating further mobile technology developments, it is only one component," Clarke said.
"We're certainly taking NFC into consideration when designing our native applications to enable us to adapt to and take advantage of the capability when it does become a reality, however our focus at this stage is on providing a top-notch mobile banking service for our customers using the best technology available right now."