Mobile payments have been around for a while, but they’ve really burst to the forefront of payments news within the last few years. Mobile payments technology enables consumers to pay for goods and services, pay bills and send or receive money, both in person and online, via their smartphones, an app or text message. The exponential increase in mobile payments usage is largely due to the increase in smartphone ownership. In 2011, 44 percent of cell phones were smartphones; just four years later, smartphone ownership increased to 76 percent. Not coincidentally, nearly half of U.S. consumers (approximately 114 million adults) say they’ve made a mobile payment.
So just who are all of these smartphone-owning, mobile payment-making people? If you guessed they tend to be younger, you are partially right. The largest group of mobile payments users are college-educated Millennials, those born between 1982 and 2004, making the oldest approaching their mid-30’s and the youngest not yet in high school. It’s no surprise, as this group is known to be pretty tech-savvy. This is the generation who has grown up with CDs, DVDs, iPods, cordless phones and cable TV, and has no idea what it’s like to only have three channels that you have to walk over to the TV to change.
But, interestingly enough, college-educated Generation X folks, which includes people born between 1965 and 1984, are also heavy users of mobile payments. In fact, a Pew Research study showed that a whopping 72 percent of mobile payments users are either Millennials or GenXers, while the biggest amount of non-users are in the Baby Boomer generation – 41 percent of them say they’ve never used mobile payments. The Pew study states that more than anything else, age is the best predictor for mobile payments use, particularly as it relates to smartphone ownership. Millennial and GenX individuals own more smartphones (90 and 83 percent, respectively) than do those in the Baby Boomer and Silent generations (56 and 30 percent). It’s still pretty impressive that 30 percent of the Silent Generation, which includes seniors over 70 years of age, own smartphones!
Regardless of which age group is using mobile payments, the purchase of a smartphone is generally the introduction to the service, and that purchase often has a lot to do with household income. Of those earning less than $25,000 a year, only 53 percent own smartphones, but 81 percent of people earning $50,000 a year or more have smartphones. But across all mobile payments demographics, safety is a concern, particularly the risk of identity theft or loss of funds. Older consumers tend to be more concerned about mobile payments safety, and they also tend to be the least informed.
Despite all these smartphones with preinstalled Android Pay and Apple Pay apps, the most common mobile payments transaction was not at a point-of-sale; rather, it was an actual payment. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to a Federal Reserve survey on consumers and mobile financial services said they paid a bill using their smartphone, followed by making an in-app purchase. Using mobile payments to purchase goods and/or services at a store was third, at 39 percent.
Mobile payments are here to stay, and if you’re younger than your mid-50’s, chances are you are a regular user, even if you’re just paying bills. With the ubiquitousness of smartphones, a growing number of people will have access to mobile payments and the ability to make paying with Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay or a payment app like PayPal part of their daily routine. While there are some concerns about safety, mobile payments remain more secure than credit card payments and much safer than cash. Once people discover just how easy and convenient it is to use mobile payments, not just for making payments and transacting, but also to keep track of purchases and receive rewards, discounts, alerts and receipts, adoption rates will continue to increase.