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Imagine a world without wallets

By Chris Atchison | June 13, 2013
Imagine a world without wallets
Frank Maduri

If Frank Maduri of BlackBerry has his way, cash and card-filled wallets will go the way of the dodo, and the very act of carrying cash may seem downright old-fashioned. That’s because ultimately most payments and transactions, he believes, will be made using a smartphone.

He’s well on his way to realizing that vision. As BlackBerry’s Senior Director of Product Management, he is responsible for mobile payments, mobile wallets, location-based services, travel apps, WiFi services and near field communications (NFC). NFC is a short-range wireless technology that allows smartphones to transmit credit card information to point-of-sale terminals with a tap. Maduri and his team have done a great deal of research, working to better understand how consumers interact with retailers or service providers. That could be anything from buying coffee at a local Starbucks to the checking in at an airport or hotel.

As he sees it, his job isn’t just to set BlackBerry’s mobile payment and mobile wallet strategy and produce the kind of game-changing innovations that differentiate its latest BlackBerry smartphones, such as the BlackBerry Z10 or BlackBerry Q10. His objective is much broader. “As BlackBerry, we have to continue to deliver on the expectations customers have of the BlackBerry brand, which is about helping people get things done while they are on the go,” explains Maduri, a mobile and financial services industry veteran and former chief executive officer at Mint Technology Corp. “BlackBerry is rallying around ‘Keep Moving.’ Everything my organization does is about keeping people moving, not hesitating or slowing down. We are focused on things you do frequently like buying coffee, buying a movie ticket, checking into your hotel or hailing a cab. How can you do all of that without taking your wallet out of your pocket, or even taking your phone out of your pocket?”

Maduri is well aware that BlackBerry has to work hard to win new customers and remind the market that it is still the world’s leading productivity-focused technology company – but he says they are getting there. “In my organization, as across BlackBerry, we first focus on the customer experiences we want to change and improve. Then we identify the features and technologies we need to implement to make these experiences a reality. Technology is just the means and not the end. For mobile payments and wallets, it’s about simplifying the experience and adding value for both the consumer and the retailer, and that’s where we’re taking this.”

Maduri says that even though the company needs to deliver products that are sleek and cutting edge, they also need to be practical and useful. “If all we do is take the mess of your wallet or purse and turn it into a digital mess on your smartphone, we haven’t really improved things,” he says. “We have to create order and flow for our customers. We have to bring value to both the consumer and retailer, particularly since there is an investment required to make this all happen.”

In fact, creating the technology, it turns out, is the easy part, according to Maduri. “What’s challenging is aligning the needs of the stakeholders of this emerging and complex ecosystem, who are in some case strange bed fellows.” For instance, take paying for a morning coffee using an NFC-enabled smartphone. “To make this simple transaction possible requires the collaboration of the mobile network operator, bank and coffee retailer itself. The retailer needs to upgrade point-of-sale systems with contactless readers. The mobile network operators and banks need to connect their back-office systems to enable virtual credit/debit cards to be stored securely on the SIM card in the smartphone. It’s not a simple task.”

Maduri uses this to reinforce his point. “If these players are going to go through all this trouble, it better be well worth it because existing credit/debit cards work just fine,” says Maduri. “Whereas the mere act of tapping your smartphone to pay may appeal to some, the rest of us will be expecting a lot more, such as new ways to track loyalty points and receive timely and relevant offers and coupons from retailers. There’s a difference between what consumers and merchants expect.”

Fortunately, there is good news for Canadians. Canada has ranked second in MasterCard’s recent Mobile Payment Readiness Index – its report on mobile payment adoption in 34 countries, in which Canada placed behind only Singapore, and ahead of the United States in third place. “If you look at quick service restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores, and movie theatres, most currently accept contactless payments. That means these locations are ready to accept mobile payments from NFC-enabled smartphones,” says Maduri. “Canada has the opportunity to be a world leader and we are working with Canadian banks and mobile network operators to create a ‘made in Canada solution’ that can be exported to the rest of the world.”

He has also worked diligently to allay fears over security by emphasizing BlackBerry’s security pedigree, and by pointing out that credit card firms such as Visa and MasterCard have established mobile payment certification standards for smartphones. But any discussion around mobile payment and mobile wallet opportunities inevitably starts and finishes with the potential to improve the customer experience. “The value for me as a consumer is that I don’t have to carry a wallet and I’ll always get my rewards points,” he explains of technology that will one day allow customers to both order and pay for goods within seconds of walking into a location. “For retailers, it gets more people through the queue faster. There’s a strong value proposition in terms of experience, value, customer retention and loyalty, all of which is driving the need for the players to align.”

Maduri feels BlackBerry’s message is resonating with key stakeholders, many of which are rediscovering the iconic brand has the tools needed to boost productivity and make people’s lives easier with the tap of their phone or the swipe of an app. “I think mobile convenience will attract a whole new generation, and I think both consumers and retailers will embrace it,” he says. “But first we need to make sure the experience is faster and better.”

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