Today over lunch an ex-coworker and I were discussing the mobile payment systems that varous companies are working on. There is a set of initiatives within the mobile telephone operators as well as the credit card companies to deliver a infrastructure to enable micro-payments or even macro-payments using you cell phone. This isn’t a new concept, it has been in use for a while now in Japan and a few other Asian markets. But it has been slower to take off here in US and Europe.
Side View: About 10 years ago I was working with a German company who had developed the infrastructure to do payments via SMS on the European mobile phones. I always wondered what has been taking to long to bring that to market. One thing I found out from my German ex-coworker was that there was a legal decision a while back by the EU that essentially said if a mobile phone company wants to do payments via the phone, the phone company needs to apply to be a bank. That process has lots of hurdles and expense involved. That is the primary reason why this hasn’t taken off just yet.
At some point we started brain storming about features we would like to see in such a system. One idea was the ability to categorize your payments made via your cell phone. Some consumer credit cards automatically categorize your charges for you (i.e., automotive, groceries) and most business cards have offered this feature as a value add for a while. The idea form my ex-coworker, is to have the ability to provide one or two levels of customized categories that you could assign to payments.
Think of it as the ability to categorize expenses, like in Quicken or MS Money, but doing it in real time as the payment happens versus letting it pile up to the end of the month (or later) and never actually doing it. I’m a Quicken Addict and there are times when I have a few months worth of expenses to get into Quicken because I was too busy to do it; I end up loosing a weekend day or evening to get this done.
It isn’t technically possible to do this with credit cards today (the Credit Card Terminals don’t have a user interface you could customize to do this). But you could easily do this as part of a mobile payment service. Image the website you use to view your mobile bill would have an area to customize these categories. Then, when you use your phone to pay for something, on the payment confirmation screen you have those categories appear. If you’re in a hurry, you just hit “Make Payment” and move one. But you could also take one or two extra seconds to categorize the payment and have that category flow down to your bill and into Quicken or MS Money down the line.
This would be something truly revolutionary. From the technical capability stand point as well as from the fact that the mobile companies would be provided true customized value added services to their customers. In a time where most people complain about their mobile phone provider more often than they say anything good (and most of the time it has to do with poor customer service or the legacy long term contracts that the industry still uses), this would be the kind of mobile service that would add value for a change.
So there, the idea is out there…any mobile phone companies up to the challenge?