Mobile payments: a guide to paying with your smartphone

If predictions by the experts ring true, the days of paying with cash and coins could soon be a thing of the past. In fact, a report by Westpac shows a cashless society could be as near as 2022.

And if further research proves correct - which tips Australians will be early adopters of smartphone payments - the next big payment trend could be mobile wallets.

Haven’t joined the digital wallet party yet? Here's a roundup of the major smartphone payment options available now, to help you decide which one is right for you.

But first...what is a mobile wallet?

A “mobile wallet”* simply refers to an app that gives you the ability to make purchases with your smartphone at point of sale (POS) terminals accepting contactless payments. How it works is, mobile wallet apps communicate with POS terminals through technology dubbed "near field communication" (NFC).

*We could jump down the rabbit hole by talking about loyalty card storage apps for your mobile like Stocard, but today we’ll stay on the smartphone payment route.

Apple Pay

Apple Pay uptake is booming in Australia! But don’t just take our word for it, the tech giant says Aussies use its digital wallet more frequently per month than users in any other country. Apple Pay is compatible with iPhones (depending on the model), plus you can also use it to make in-app purchases on most Apple devices such as your Apple Watch and iPad.

Key facts:

  • While AMEX and ANZ were the first providers to start offering Apple Pay in Australia, a range of banks and credit unions have followed suit since. They include ING Direct, Bank of Sydney, Australian Unity and People’s Choice Credit Union. The exception however, is one group of banks (comprising of CommBank, NAB, Westpac, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank) taking Apple to the ACCC so they can access the tech giant’s NFC and make their own third party mobile wallets for customers with Apple products.
  • Apple argues that its mobile wallet is safer and more secure than a physical card issued by your own banking provider. That’s because when you make a purchase, your card details are completely hidden from the merchant in the form of an encrypted code.

How to use it on your smartphone:

1. Download or open the app from your Apple “Wallet”, using your existing Apple ID. Then you’ll be prompted to set up your fingerprint password.

2. Upload the details of any eligible debit and credit cards you have in your name by taking photos when prompted with your smartphone.

3. Pay with Apple Pay online or in person at a terminal that accepts NFC transactions (anywhere you can use payWave and PayPass)! Access the app with your fingerprint, choose the card you want to pay with and hover your phone near the merchant terminal. Payment complete!

Android Pay

Google’s mobile wallet dubbed “Android Pay” entered the scene a little later than Apple Pay in Australia, but it’s still going strong. And given that the search engine giant now offers its very own phoned dubbed “Pixel”, we’ll probably see the number of Aussie Android Pay users steadily increase.

Key facts:

  • A range of Aussie financial providers support Android Pay including ANZ, American Express and ING Direct (at the time of writing there are around 30).
  • It’s compatible with Android operating systems, making the app suitable for smartphone users who aren’t Apple enthusiasts.

How to use it on your smartphone:

1. Download Android Pay from Google Play, then set up your account. 

2. Upload your compatible cards. 

3. To make a purchase with your phone, hold it over a payment terminal supporting NFC. Unlike Apple Pay, you don’t need to open the app with your fingerprint. Just unlock your phone as you normally would and hover away!

Samsung Pay

Samsung has been under fire since launching its mobile payment app mid 2016, after a number of customers complained that their devices burst into flames! With the embarrassing setback now behind them, the electronics company continues to offer its own mobile wallet, otherwise known as Samsung Pay.  

Key facts:

  • So far AMEX and Citibank are the only two card providers offering Samsung Pay to their Aussie cardholders.
  • Samsung Pay not only works at terminals where contactless payments are accepted, it can be used at older merchant terminals which read magnetic stripes too. That’s all thanks to “Magnetic Secure Transmission” (MST), a technology that can release magnetic signals from your phone. So the unique thing about Samsung Pay is that it has both NFC and MST capabilities. Impressive!
  • The app can require fingerprint authentication if you opt in for it, just like Apple Pay.

How to use it on your Samsung phone:

1. Open Samsung Pay from your home screen, apps menu, or lock screen.

2. Swipe to choose the card you want to pay with.

3. Verify yourself with the touch of your finger (alternatively, you can tweak your settings to not include your fingerprint, but a pin number instead).

4. Hover your phone over the merchant terminal to make the purchase!

Optus Pay

Optus partnered up with Heritage Bank back in 2014 to deliver Optus Pay, a payment method allowing mobile customers to make purchases under $100 with their Android powered phones, NFC-enabled wristbands or coffee cups. Sound intriguing? Read on for details.

Key facts:

  • It’s strictly available to Optus mobile customers. But the good news is that users can deposit funds into the mobile app from any Australian bank account.
  • NFC payments through Optus Pay work for purchases under $100.
  • While three out of four accessories are free to order from Optus, caffeine lovers craving the smart coffee cup will have to buy it from Frank Green online for $39.95.

How to use it:

1. Download the app and register for an account, which you’ll use to track transactions and check your balance. Keep in mind, your account balance cannot exceed $500.

2. Choose your free NFC enabled sticker (that attaches to the back of your phone), one of two wristband styles via the app, or buy your smart cup through the Frank Green site.

3. Once your accessory has arrived in the mail, you’re good to go. To make a purchase, simply tap your accessory at a compatible merchant terminal.

What the big four banks offer

CommBank PayTag

While the major hasn’t jumped on the mobile wallet bandwagon per say, CBA customers can use an alternative method. Enter PayTag, the electronic sticker you can attach to the back of your smartphone to Tap & Pay.

ANZ Mobile Pay

At the time of writing, ANZ is the only big four bank offering customers Apple Pay. And in a win for Android users, it also has its own digital wallet dubbed Mobile Pay. The app works with all ANZ Visa payWave credit and debit cards, plus ANZ issued AMEX credit cards (or at least until they become extinct for cardholders on August 5, 2017). The main difference between the app and others mentioned on this page is that you can use it to withdraw cash at contactless enabled ANZ ATMs.

NAB Pay (plus PayTag for iPhone)

If you’re a NAB customer there are two ways you can pay with your smartphone:

1. Nab Pay (compatible with Android powered mobiles): Once you’ve downloaded the app and set up your account, you simply press a button within the app to Tap & Pay at a merchant terminal that accepts contactless payments. Or, depending on the setting you choose, making a purchase can be completed by unlocking your home screen and tapping to pay.

2. PayTag (designed for iPhones): Just like CommBank’s own version, the NAB PayTag is a sticker you can place on the cover of your phone or the iPhone shall itself. To complete a transaction, all you need to do is place it against the reader until you hear a “beep”. The cost for the tag is $3.99.

Both payment methods work with NAB credit and debit cards.

Westpac Pay

Westpac offers mobile banking and a digital wallet rolled into the one Android app. Most Westpac credit cards are eligible with the exception of its “Handicards” and business account cards. Aussies with iPhones miss out when it comes to mobile payments with Westpac for now, but you never know what 2017 will bring.

Mobile payment apps on the way...

Mastercard Selfie Pay  

If you’re a tech geek and shameless selfie snapper, Mastercard’s Selfie Pay coming soon could be right up your alley. The card payments provider promoted it throughout the Australian Tennis Open in 2017 without announcing the actual launch date. From what we gather, the concept is as simple as it sounds where you take a selfie to complete a Mastercard transaction. But here’s the catch - all that effort adds an extra layer of security rather than replaces your actual password or fingerprint to authorise your Mastercard payment.

eftpos Tap & Pay

In November 2016, it was announced that Eftpos was working with providers to build Tap & Pay into a range of existing mobile wallets using its unique “tokenisation” technology. It’s expected to be highly secure and may even provide a cheaper alternative to consumers, due to payments not travelling through the credit card network but Eftpos’ instead (which are known to have cheaper merchant surcharges).

So that was a roundup of the mobile wallets currently available to everyday spenders in Australia (and the ones in the works). To find out more about how this innovative technology works, read our guide here.