After a week with a phone and wearable that can be used as a credit card, the answer is clear: more telcos need to do what Optus has done with its cashless initiatives.
When this journo was younger, he was told of a society that would be cashless. That’s not moneyless — we’re not that “Star Trek” yet — but rather one that wouldn’t be dependent on bits of paper or plastic being carried around and handed over for goods and services.
In Australia where the coins require the heaviest material used for wallets and purses, going cashless is a dream.
Hands up all of you who like carrying Australian coins?
It’s not hard to admit that our local coins aren’t the friendliest things out there, weighing more than most currencies around the world and driving those of us not a fan of a clumpy and heavy coin pockets to something that is light, easy, and doesn’t risk tearing your clothes asunder.
Enter debit cards and credit cards. When these bad boys popped up years ago, suddenly people had a way of paying that didn’t involve needing to hand over chunky change.
In recent years, the debit card has grown even more powerful, with chip-based technologies sitting inside catering not just for code-based security, but also tap-and-pay technologies, which is what consumers are beginning to migrate to in droves.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, you’re in a minority in this country, where take-up of tap-payment technologies is so much that it’s easy to place Australia as one of the early adopters of the technology.
Still, in case you’re not, we’re talking about paying for goods and services with a simple tap of the card. The technology is essentially contactless, operating in a field above the payment terminal — the EFTPOS machine — but it’s easier if you just tap your card to the system to make it work.
Amounts of up to $100 can be used without a passcode on tap and go systems, allowing you to buy that bottle of milk or bunch of bananas simply by tapping the card to the terminal, waiting for the approval, and walking off after finding out you’ve paid, grabbing your receipt if you so choose.
Anything more than $100 and the tap and go service will still work, but you’ll be asked for a PIN code, which is the same one you’d need to use if you had swiped or used the chip in the card.
None of this is all that new, mind you, because the technologies associated with tap and go — MasterCard’s PayPass and Visa’s PayWave — have been around for a few years now.
What is changing now, however, is how we use these contactless payment technologies, as companies move to build them into our phones and other gadgets.
This started a couple of years ago in phones, but Australia hasn’t seen much from the whole Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Wallet side of things, with very stores and local card companies or banks embracing contactless inside a smart gadget.
As it stands, American Express supports Apple Pay in Australia as does Catch of the Day, while the Commonwealth Bank provides contactless payments built into a phone provided you’re using Android or if you add a PayTag sticker.
That’s a fairly limited selection of options, and if you don’t have an American Express card or a CommBank account, you might feel a little stuck in the past.
But if you’re an Optus customer, you needn’t feel quite as stuck, because the telco has recently found a way to bring tap and go to all of its customers, whether postpaid or prepaid.
The idea works like this: you download an app connected to your account and deposit money into it. The money can be loaded in the account by way of your banking details and can be automatically loaded in when you’re running low, kind of like when you keep money in for an Opal account on public transport.
With money in the app, you’re given either a wearable with a little Visa contactless card inside or a sticker to attach to the back of your phone, and this pairs with the app and the device.
Regardless of which one you opt for, you’re able to pay for goods and services simply by tapping either the wearable or the phone-mounted sticker to a Visa PayWave-supported terminal when it asks for payment.
And just like that, the sticker or wearable contacts the nearby phone, checks with the app and the available amount of money, and tells the terminal whether you can pay for things.
This worked at every PayWave terminal we tried it on, and with both variants Optus let us have a play with, and you get the choice of three depending on the style of payment gadget you want and what phone you’re currently using.
On the one hand, there’s a sticker for your phone that sits on the back and allows you to tap your phone to the terminal for some of that PayWave action.
On the other, there’s something that sits close to your hand, with a little “Cash by Optus” Visa card that sits in a wearable wrist strap. This is a silicone strap that you wear like a watch, but it only serves one purpose: paying for things.
It’s a shame it isn’t a watch or something that can attach to a Fitbit or Jawbone, because the last thing we need to wear is more wearables.
Finally, there’s a “Cash by Optus” SIM card made for people with Android phones, though it does lock you out from being able to use either the wearable band or the rear sticker.
We suspect most people will opt for the sticker, though, since it means just paying by waving your phone over the band, though for runners, we can see the wearable being a great idea since a wave of the arm could literally get them a bottle of water on the way back from a jog.
We do need to point out that you have to be an Optus customer to get “Cash by Optus” to work, but that you don’t need to be a customer of nay specific bank.
That alone could bring some customers to Optus, especially since the accessories are free.