Dutch Banks and Telcos to Go to Full NFC, but Will They Use It?

Dutch banks and telcos seem determined to deploy full NFC phones, not bridge technologies, when they launch their planned mobile-payment services in 2012.

The country’s three largest banks and three biggest telcos, which announced this past week an intent to form a joint venture to roll out NFC nationwide, will not be using such NFC-phone alternatives as contactless microSD cards or flexible SIM antennas that wrap around phone batteries. As Arjan Bol, director of payments for ING bank told me, the JV partners had long discussions about whether to introduce the NFC alternatives and decided they would “go all the way for the right thing.” By that he meant full NFC.

That’s to their credit, since full NFC provides features most bridge technologies currently do not–such as enabling consumers to tap smart posters in stores to download coupons or product information or to touch their phones to other handsets to exchange offers, contact information, even money.

But the Dutch banks and telcos are only emphasizing payment at the point of sale–that is, only using NFC phones in card-emulation mode.

Inexplicably, there appears to be no real enthusiasm for taking advantage of the technology’s other major features, such as NFC’s reader mode or peer-to-peer communication.

I’m sure those additional applications, such as tapping smart posters for coupons or service discovery, will come. But the banks and telcos should highlight them right from the start.

It’s almost conventional wisdom by now that NFC will not fly with retail payment alone. That is especially true in the Netherlands, where Dutch consumers like their debit cards–and cash–just fine.

Dutch payments players have already seen two electronic purse schemes fail because their backers didn’t give consumers enough reason to use the chip cards.

For NFC payment to have a chance, acceptance would have to be widespread. But there are virtually no contactless point-of-sale terminals in the Netherlands, so building broad acceptance could take years.

And while it’s true that the new EMV terminals that Dutch banks and merchants are now installing can be more easily upgraded to support contactless than the old ones, it’s unclear what incentives merchants will have to go to contactless or, for that matter, for consumers to use the technology.

Dutch banks are not even planning a contactless card rollout to go along with NFC, which could offer merchants more consumers with the technology in their pockets. Even then, contactless payment by itself does not bowl over consumers, as the experience in the United States shows.

When I first learned of this Dutch “six-pack” NFC project several months ago, I had the same reaction as I did after Thursday's announcement: Why is contactless retail payment the sole preoccupation of project backers in a country heretofore devoid of contactless terminals at the point of sale?

There still has been no mention of putting the Netherlands’ national transit fare-collection application on the phones–perhaps because of business or technical reasons–much less real talk of retail loyalty, access control, entertainment-venue ticketing or any reader-mode or P2P applications.

The Dutch with their planned joint venture have proved that banks and telcos can, indeed, work together on mobile payment. They would do well to bring in other service providers sooner rather than later–lest their NFC launch suffer the same fate as Dutch e-purse schemes Chipper and Chipknip. Both of those seemed like good ideas at the time.

Article comments

robstlsecurity Sep 15 2010

"Why is contactless retail payment the sole preoccupation of project backers?" As someone who has spent 15+ years at both MasterCard and Rabo my answer is - because the target is cash. In a few years most vending machines like devices will all be able to process NFC. The target isn't replacing the cards as the exchange medium (although the banks would like that); the target, for now, is to get transaction fees on coin purchases. As a percentage of funds spent that is a huge market. When I was at MasterCard we used to say that "Visa is not the enemy, cash is."

"Touch their phones to other handsets to exchange offers, contact information, even money." I absolutely agree, but the money-laundering exposure will delay this for a long time.

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