Tom Gregory would like to relieve you of your wallet. No, he's not a pickpocket: Gregory is head of digital payments for Barclaycard and leads the team behind Quick Tap, its foray into mobile phone payments in collaboration with Orange.
Launched in May for Samsung's Tocco phone, the service expanded in September to a second device, the Samsung Wave 578, and will continue to roll out to other handsets. Essentially, the phone stores up to £150 of credit, which you can use to pay for goods and services worth £15 or less by tapping your phone on a reader like an Oyster card. Called NFC, for near-field communications, this type of payment has long been predicted as the coming replacement for cash.
"We were first to market on 20 May 2011," Gregory says, "and I'm pleased about that."
He doesn't, he says, hate cash. "Our customers at the moment are telling us they want more convenient products that will make their lives easier, more secure, and give them greater control."
If you lose your wallet containing £150 you lose £150; if you lose your Quick Tap phone, Barclaycard restores the missing balance. In addition, because consumers type an authorising PIN into their own phones rather than a terminal, he hopes it will feel safer and more secure.
The quest to replace cash with some form of electronic payment cheap enough for very low-value transactions has been under way since the early 1990s, when some of the sharpest technical minds began devising the cryptographic antecedents to Bitcoin. Those schemes failed; what succeeded were things like Paypal, which used existing currencies and structures to create something consumers understood and that added convenience.
Gregory's career began in publishing; he got into banking "by mistake" about 10 years ago when he wanted a change of environment. He began at Barclays in product development, looking into transaction products and how corporate customers might be moved from cash to digital for high-expense products. He joined Barclaycard in 2008 and moved into payments in time to work on developing Quick Tap.
"We wanted to break the chicken-and-egg cycle of what comes first, the card or a place you can use it," he says.
"It's fun and challenging because it's new. With a lot of what we're doing there's no defined industry. It hasn't been done before, there's no route to follow, no mass market. It doesn't exist in the industry at all, let alone within Barclaycard. There's a recognition that not everything we roll out is going to work – not everything of Facebook or Google will either. We'll have to find what resonates with customers."
When e-commerce began, one of the biggest shifts for retailers moving online was adjusting to the fact that their competitors were no longer the shop next door – or the shop in the same business at the other end of town – but anyone anywhere in the world offering a similar service. Something of the same shift is happening in the payments space, where Barclaycard faces a raft of new competitors. Traditionally, its rivals were other banks and organisations such as MasterCard.
"The competitive landscape has expanded considerably since then," Gregory says, adding Paypal and Microsoft's venture with Nokia to the list. "We're learning and getting a fresh perspective as customers engage with us digitally. This is a core area of expertise for Google and Microsoft."
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