Barclays beat Android to UK contactless payments

12 May 2016, 22:50   By Justin Schamotta

BARCLAYS customers with Android phones will soon be able to make contactless payments with them, as the bank's mobile app receives a boost in functionality.

barclays bank branch
Credit: Tony Baggett/

Barclays' "Contactless Mobile" payment system is expected to go live next month - which means the bank have beaten Google in the admittedly sedate race to give Android users the ability to tap and pay.

The bank have always been keen to go it alone regarding mobile payment services, and it was only as a result of customer pressure regarding Apple Pay that they finally agreed to support it, joining in April.

By developing their own Android payment system, however, they've not only beaten Google but increased how much it's possible for us to spend via contactless.

Tap and away

Currently contactless payments - whether using Apple Pay or a card - are supported up to £30.

Android-using Barclays customers will find that making payments up to this value are just as straightforward as they'd expect - they simply tap their mobile device on the retailer's terminal, as when paying with a contactless card.

However, Contactless Mobile also works for payments of between £30 and £100. To make these higher value transactions, customers will be required to tap their phone to the terminal, enter a PIN on their phone, then tap again.

The extra steps may provide people with the apparent sense of security we still seem to need when making more expensive payments - as research from the Co-operative Group has found that shoppers prefer to use chip and pin for transactions over £10.

Entering a PIN then tapping against the terminal again is only slightly less convenient, and certainly no hardship, but it will help prevent users overspending without thinking.

It could also get users used to the notion of spending relatively larger sums using newer payment methods, as it mimics a process we've already grown used to.

Not for everyone

Barclays say eligible customers will receive a personal notification when Contactless Mobile is ready to go.

They'll need the latest version of the Barclays Mobile Banking App installed - though as with Apple Pay, payments can be carried out without the app having to be opened first.

If users have more than one card registered to their account - a debit card and a Barclaycard, for example - they'll choose which is the default payment card by selecting it in the app beforehand.

Barclays say while their Visa cards are eligible, anyone with one of their IHG Rewards cards will find they're "currently excluded".

Customers will also need to have a device running Android Kit Kat 4.4.2 or later - which basically rules out phones made before 2014.

Like Apple Pay and the upcoming Android Pay, Barclay's Contactless Mobile service also relies on the device having a Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip to work.

It's this requirement that's made it possible for Barclays to strike out on their own with a contactless system for Android, but not for iPhones.

The NFC chip in Apple devices can only be used for Apple-developed services, such as Apple Pay. Third party developers such as Barclays can't access the chip - which means they can't develop apps that need NFC, such as contactless payment or secure property access services.

With Android there's no such issue - which means companies can develop their own NFC-based apps - and, as in this case, beat Google's timetable for rolling them out in various locations.

A contactless world

Mobile payments
Who offers them and how they work
Apple Pay's launch in the UK
Who will be able to use Android Pay?

For Barclays and the other banks, contactless technology has been a success: Visa have said that around three billion contactless transactions were made across Europe in the past year - three times as many as the year before.

Despite their research showing our reluctance to spend larger amounts contactlessly, the Co-operative Group still found enough evidence to suggest that contactless payments would lead to the death of cash "within the decade".

Figures from Juniper Research estimate that 16 million people will make contactless payments via mobile handsets in Western Europe during 2016 - approximately one in every 25 of us.

Apple Pay and the upcoming Android Pay will drive a large part of this traffic, with Barclays Contactless Mobile and the still-to-come Samsung Pay contributing.

If and when it arrives, the smartphone manufacturer's payment system will differ from the competition in that as well as using NFC, it'll make use of Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology.

In effect, MST allows a device to mimic the magnetic strip usually found on bank cards - so it will be usable with card payment terminals that don't support NFC.

Samsung say that this will enable users to make contactless payments in some 30 million merchant locations worldwide.

However, in March Digital Spy reported that while Samsung Pay might soon launch in the UK, Visa Europe won't be supporting the MST feature.

It wouldn't be the end of the world for Samsung Pay, but they could find their already limited market even more limited as a result.

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