The oldest Millennial hadn't even been born the last time a majority of Americans experienced rising incomes. That was the first factoid Omar Green, mobile strategic initiatives director at Intuit, laid on an audience at SXSW Interactive to support his argument that current visions of the mobile wallet lack compelling utility.
Basically, Green (pictured) said, the last thing most of us need is something to help us spend money faster. We need something to help us spend money better. That’s where he thinks mobile wallets could help. But first we’re going to have to change our idea of what a mobile wallet is.
“We're tickled pink we have people working on making this mobile wallet happen,” Green said. “But we think they're working on the wrong problem.” Mobile wallets today aim to use devices, mostly mobile phones, to accelerate the speed of transactions, he argued. “We think the problem is bigger than this,” he said.
Instead of being a portable electronic repository of a customer’s available funds, mobile wallets need to be programmed to account for a customer’s personal financial objectives, preferences and limitations, Green argued. What he is suggesting is a device, perhaps a phone or perhaps a watch or something else, that looks at geospatial, temporal and even cognitive and emotional contexts. “How does mobility add value within the context of a financial transaction?” he asked.
Generally, it doesn’t, he said. But it could. Green painted a picture of a mobile wallet that helped us increase our enjoyment rather than helping us spend our money.
To do this, mobile wallets need to do more than store and transmit value, he says. They need to know, for instance, that we should use a particular credit card rather than another for the current transaction, perhaps because it gives more rewards or has a better interest rate. They should process an offer of life insurance a broker has just presented, and let us know on the spot that the term is too short and the premium too high to meet our financial goals and wherewithal.
Some of these capabilities will require big changes, Green notes. For instance, we’ll need to get used to the idea of shared financial objects, making some personal financial data more or less public. That could let the insurance salesman easily give our mobile wallet the data it needed to analyze his offer. Then based on feedback from us, he could sweeten the deal in a way that would help us address our needs.
Essentially, Green envisions a mobile wallet as a personal financial advisor, able to perform on-the-fly calculations of everything from which credit card to use right now to whether we can really afford that new tablet right before our kid’s college tuition is due.
People tend to spend impulsively, based on intuition and unconscious thought, rather than consciously using rational analysis, Green says Intuit’s research found. If mobile wallets could do some of the thinking for us, in addition to merely dispensing funds, maybe we could spend smarter and it wouldn’t matter so much that we make no more money than when Jimmy Carter occupied the White House.
“If we did that and stuck it in a mobile wallet, a mobile wallet could do something for you,” he said. “It would become an active participant making sure you got the most value from every dollar you spent.”
But this is all in the future, Green says. There will be plenty of mobile wallets to choose from, he predicts, and one may fulfill his ambitious vision. But not yet. “This has been a consistent theme with our customers,” he says. “They just don't see what's on the market as being compelling.”
Photo credit: Courtesy Mark Henricks