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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Riverstone and Interpret the Future team up again with OpenKnowledge at the Social Business Forum 2016

06 Jul

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Now in its ninth year, the Social Business Forum, Europe’s premier speaker and networking event dedicated to social business, will take place in Milan on the 6-7 July 2016. Organised by OpenKnowledge, the management consulting company focused on social and digital transformation, and held once again at the Marriott Hotel in the capital city of fashion and design, SBF16 will bring together features a unique offer of visionary keynote speeches, success stories and discussion panels organized in a Free and Premium Conference. The Free Conference includes the keynote speeches in the mornings of July 6th and 7th delivered by outstanding and internationally-known experts.

The theme of this year’s Social Business Forum is the Platfirm Age: Plug your Business – Play your Future. The focus of many of the keynote presentations will be on how platform-companies, such as Airbnb, Facebook and LinkedIn, have revolutionised traditional business models and developed continuously-evolving structures where value is co-created with users / customers.

All the keynotes will be simultaneously translated by Interpret the Future, the Social Business Forum’s longstanding specialist interpreting partners. This year, the team includes ItF founder members Loredana Nano and Alice Bertinotti. Daniela Negru will also be in the booths helping the team to provide a highly professional conference interpreting service. The project is managed by Robert Dennis, director of Riverstone Language & Communications.

Find out more…

by Robert Dennis

Robert has created an online Business English course on WiziQ. Sign up for the free edition!

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Delivering on its promise: e-commerce in Italy is growing – and now even comes with free coffee

10 Sep

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Report by Sonia Trubia and Robert Dennis

“E-talia” bucks the downward trend

At their annual “E-commerce in Italia” conference, held earlier this year at the Milan Chamber of Commerce, Casaleggio Associati, presented their regular snapshot of the state of the mouse-driven marketplace in Italy (pdf available here, in Italian). It certainly makes for interesting reading; despite the continuing economic crisis and generally disappointing growth in the economy, e-commerce in the Bel Paese is growing, with the market for online sales in 2014 showing an 8% rise on the previous year. However, when set against the bigger picture of the global e-commerce market, with growth worldwide expected to reach just over 20% this year, it is clear that there is still room for improvement.

Growth 2014

The fact remains that online shoppers play an increasingly significant role in the Italian economy (with total turnover for e-commerce worth just over 24bn euros last year) and this is being driven progressively by mobile, which now accounts for 13% of online sales (up from only 5% three years ago).

The two online behemoths, eBay and Amazon, with their vast and ever-expanding range of products to tempt the consumer, their competitive pricing and above all their reputation for reliability – essential for wary purchasers flexing their plastic or using online payment services such as PayPal – continue to dominate the Italian e-commerce market. (63% of Italian online shoppers use Amazon while 57% of customers use eBay.) Despite their relatively much smaller presence, other players, such as the French Pixmania (PixPlace) and Buy-me.it (part of the Mail Boxes Etc. group) are making themselves felt. Additionally, China-based Alibaba and Etsy (which focuses on handmade and vintage items) are gaining a toe-hold.

casaleggio-associati-e-commerce-italia-2015-i-mark

 

We called while you were out…

Overall then, the proportion of consumers using e-commerce in Italy is up and the trend is set to continue. But making purchases online is actually only half the story. The really tricky part is getting those products into the hands of the consumer after they have pored over the screen selecting from all the desirable goods on offer and clicked on the final “PAY NOW” button. Completing orders and delivering the merchandise should be straightforward, but this is often where the real frustration begins – both for the vendor as well as the consumer. Most couriers, for example, only deliver parcels during working hours, which, obviously, is inconvenient for most people, especially workers who won’t be at home to take the delivery. If no one picks up the parcels after several visits, then the courier the has to return it to the closest post-office or the delivery centre where it was dispatched from – and the hapless online buyer will have to go and pick it up themselves.

What’s Indabox?

logo_IndaBoxThis was exactly the dilemma that two friends from Turin, Giovanni Riviera and Michele Calvo, wrestled with – and came up with a uniquely Italian solution to the problem. At the end of 2014, they launched an app called Indabox, which allows users to look for a convenient delivery spot in their area and have the parcel delivered there, without having to worry about anything else. Indabox now has a steadily expanding network comprising more than 2400 drop-off points, including bars, supermarkets (they are in a partnership with Carrefour) and tobacconists. These business were chosen as drop-off spots because they can be found throughout the country, thus giving users a much greater chance to find a convenient place to have their purchases delivered. Bars are the most popular option, because, unlike other shops or supermarkets, they often close at 10pm, if not later. RelaisColis, the French equivalent of Indabox, is a very successful enterprise, and has a huge network of drop-off  and pick-up points (over 4000).

Come_funziona

The service offered by Indabox is also affordable. The first Indabox pick-up is free, but from the second time onwards you have to pay a €3 fee (€1,50 goes to the business and €1,50 to the startup itself) each time you pick up your parcel. It’s a price users are willing to pay for the added convenience.

Of course, Indabox is not the only option e-commerce customers have. A less personal alternative is that of using a “locker”, similar to the luggage lockers that used to be a feature of every central station and airport. In Italy, the most active network of lockers is operated by Inpost. Inpost is a “click-and-collect” service allowing online buyers to have deliveries made at specific locations with automated lockers, where they can collect them 24/7. However, while in other countries the locker system works very well, in Italy it hasn’t proved that popular or practical. Inpost, for example, only works with one courier and its network is not as extensive as that of Indabox.

Inpost

Moreover, Indabox and RelaisColis have a twofold advantage over other apps such as Inpost.  On the one hand, they have an interesting social angle, which is not only a key component in disruptive technology startups but also a critical factor in this highly socialized country. Popping in to your local bar to pick up a package naturally enough leads to personal contact, however short or shallow, with shopkeepers, bartenders and other customers. But most importantly for the drop-off points themselves, they can have a knock-on effect in terms of sales. As one of the Indabox founders recently told Wired Italy:  “Maybe someone decides to pick up their parcel, which was dropped off at a bar, during their lunch break, and then perhaps they decide to eat a sandwich there or to have a coffee, hence boosting the bartender’s turnover and making a contribution to the domestic market.”

Thanks to startups like Indabox, gaps in the online shopping experience are being filled and the whole process of buying and receiving goods is becoming that much more comfortable and convenient – it certainly avoids the need of staying at home in case you miss the courier or making an unnecessary to pick up your products from an out-of-the way warehouse or post office. And if collecting your online deliveries is also an excuse to enjoy a drink and chat, then so much the better. (Indabox even has an “IndaCoffee Card” which allows you to get every fifth coffee free from participating bars in the network.)

(c) Milan Business English Network, 2015

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About the authors:

Sonia Trubia is a freelance writer and translator based in Genoa. She speaks Italain, French and English and is currently completing an MA about the British novelist A.S.Byatt.

Robert Dennis is the founder of the Milan Business English Network and Director of Riverstone Language & Communications, which provides English language training and translations.

 

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An evening of networking and discovery at the first-ever Teachers’ Lounge in Milan

02 Jun

Last Thursday the first-ever Teachers’ Lounge event was held at Fiori Oscuri bar in Milan. The event’s organisers, Robert Dennis of the Milan Business English Network and Russell Lewis of Pearson, were both surprised and delighted by the positive reaction from guests and feedback on the event, which was attended by over 30 teachers and professionals involved in language training.

The Teachers’ Lounge combined the networking and socialising of a typical MBEN event with a unique opportunity to discover more about Pearson’s dedicated range of specialist ELT materials, including a wide selection of online resources as well as books covering everything from grammar to exams to English for Special Purposes (ESP).

In a relaxed and stylish setting, the Teachers’ Lounge allowed guests to mingle and chat (with free refreshments provided by Pearson) while Russell and his team of experts from the world’s largest education company showed off the latest in blended learning solutions, such as MyEnglishLab and the online and offline versions of bestselling courses including Speak Out and Market Leader.

Attendees were also given an interactive card equipped with a NFC chip and a QR code which provides access to special offers from Pearson. These are updated regularly and can be accessed using the Teachers’ Lounge card simply by tapping it with an NFC-enabled smartphone or by scanning the QR code.

During the evening, Robert introduced Russell, who made a short speech thanking everyone for attending and introducing the NFC/QR card to guests. Both organisers thanked Andrew Shearn of Fiori Oscuri for providing such beautiful accommodation: the stunning lower ground floor lounge, complete with tropical plants, sofas and some lightly-chilled ambient beats.

Following the success of the launch event, another Teachers’ Lounge is currently being planned for the autumn. Watch this space for more details or contact Robert Dennis or Russell Lewis to find out how you can register for the event.

Looking forward to seeing everyone again – plus some new faces – at the next Teachers’ Lounge!

Contact details:

Robert Dennis, Milan Business English Network
Russell Lewis, Pearson

 

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Introducing… the Teachers’ Lounge!

20 May

Staff meetings were never like this: what happened?

The revolution will not be televised, but it may well end up going viral on YouTube: launching later this month, The Teachers’ Lounge will be quite unlike any teachers’ meeting you have ever attended. An evening of great networking in a fabulous setting and the latest edtech ideas and hands-on demos, it’s guaranteed to be a night to remember for the teachers who make their way to the Fiori Oscuri bar on Thursday 29th May at 7:30pm.

Organised by the Milan Business English Network, in association with PearsonThe Teachers’ Lounge will feature a laid back and leisurely look at some of the best teaching materials currently on offer – especially the new apps and online resources that are driving the move towards digitalization in the classroom. The evening will also be a chance to mix and mingle with other colleagues in the elegant surroundings of Fiori’s subterranean lounge.

Russell Lewis, an Education Consultant with Pearson based in Milan, will be on hand with his team to allow teachers to experience first-hand some of the latest innovations in classroom technology (and in fact, mobile tech that goes beyond  the classroom itself). While you may have heard about platforms such as MyEnglishLab or are familiar with some of Pearson’s vast range of titles for all levels of learners, the Teachers’ Lounge will provide the ideal setting in which to see these in action – guided by experts who will be delighted to explain the benefits and efficacy of the products and services.

As well as having the chance to see online learning on an iPad you can discover how to simplify many of your everyday teaching and administrative tasks – and save time and energy – while ensuring that your students’ learning outcomes are improving.

At the same time, attendees will be invited to sign up for some exclusive freebies and offers – plus a few other surprises that will be revealed on the night itself. Milan Business English Network events are always a great way to expand your range of contacts as well as meet up with old friends and have a great night out. The combination of MBEN plus Pearson should give you not only access to ideas and resources, but also help boost your professional teaching career. Running parallel with the live event, The Teachers’ Lounge will provide access to a wealth of tips, links and solutions to make your teaching life both easier and more rewarding.

Teachers who have registered on the Eventbrite site can enjoy free drinks, courtesy of Pearson and for anyone who has never been to Fiori Oscuri before you will be surprised and delighted at this hidden gem of Anglo-Italian chic located right in the heart of the trendy Brera art zone.

There will be a strict limit on numbers at this event, so if you haven’t signed up already, you’d better skates on: we’re filling up rapidly!

For more details and any queries relating to the Teachers’ Lounge, please contact either Robert Dennis of the Milan Business English Network or Russell Lewis at Pearson.

School’s out. The Teachers’ Lounge is in. See you there!

THE TEACHERS’ LOUNGE

Thursday 29 May 2014, 19:30 – 22:00

Fiori Oscuri (Sports Bar S.R.L)
Via Fiori Oscuri, 3
Milano

Dress code: smart casual

Click here to register (Eventbrite)

 

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Cracking the mobile payments code: Danielle Dalkie of Network Roma scans the horizon to discern the shape of things to come

25 Sep

Danielle Dalkie

It’s never easy predicting which technology will win out in a fast-growing and ever-changing sector crowded with players who are all touting their latest innovation as the future. And that’s especially true when it comes to working out exactly how people will eventually use their phones to pay when they shop. In this article, specially written for NetworkMilan, entrepreneur and social media strategist Danielle Dalkie considers the implications of PayPal’s ongoing tech spending spree. She also hovers her iPhone over the current state of QR codes and scanning technology to take a snapshot of developments in this rapidly-evolving market. Her conclusions may surprise you…

PayPal’s recent tie-up with Discover Card barely a month ago was yet another in a long line of strategic moves which show the growing importance of mobile as a payment option. Discover (which has just agreed to pay back $200m to millions of consumers who were charged for add-ons such as such as credit score tracking and identity theft protection), allows customers to access their PayPal account in-store by using their mobile phone number and PIN.) PayPal also snapped up credit card scanning service card.io earlier this year. However, while Paypal (which is owned by eBay) would like to think it is leading the mobile payments space their strategy so far seems to be more about acquiring interesting bits of technology to supplement online payments while trying to make it “mobile”. And let’s not forget Zong, another of their acquisitions last year, which also allows consumers to pay using their phone.

Card.io is just one of the many different mobile payments technologies PayPal is pinning its hopes on

Card.io provides mobile software that lets consumers use their smartphone cameras to scan credit cards for information, thereby simplifying the process of loading those cards into a digital wallet. Many mobile payment application developers have partnered with card.io to take advantage of its card scanning software, and according to PayPal’s Hill Ferguson those developers will continue to be given access to card.io’s technology.

Rather than backing one technology, PayPal is hedging its bets by backing various players. It’s also keen to head off competition by either controlling the technology used or matching it with something similar, if not indistinguishable, in all but name (and shape). PayPal’s Here, for example, allows merchants to accept a payment on any mobile phone using a detachable card-reader. The service presents a head-on challenge to Square, who have a virtually identical technology. The two systems are so close I think we will leave it to them to hash it out amongst themselves to see who wins this particular battle.

Early last year PayPal endorsed peer-to-peer NFC [Near Field Communication, which allows customers to pay by tapping or holding their phone near a counter-top device. Editor’s note.] Then came the big announcement towards the end of 2011 of their closed loop solution for the consumer, which seemed subsequently to have been completely refocused. Their agreement with Discover seems to complicate the picture even further.

PayPal’s NFC solution for mobile payments can hardly be called agile. Paying with your phone is supposed to be streamlined – so why would I want to have five different apps for my favourite stores? And then the scanner app as well?  It’s clunky. This is where Google Wallet shows itself to be the true leader in the field. The NFC wallet is simple and really does cut down the time spent at the check-out. That said, the prospect of NFC as a universally-available function of the mobile phone is still a few years off. So we have two options: QR codes or tags? Whilst the code solution is much cheaper it is not that secure. The problem is that QR codes leaves users vulnerable to hackers who may use the code to lead them to a malicious website or application. And with less than 5 per cent of people having any form of security on their mobile phones, it potentially leaves them wide open to fraud.

This type of technology allows for closed loop solutions – a topic which I covered in a recent blog post here on NetworkMilan, explaining that this is good for merchants but makes it more complicated for the user. So, regular readers will already know I don’t think the current payments systems and solutions on offer are ideal. However, there does need to be a universal solution.  The fact that your Google Wallet has Visa – which is accepted worldwide – is convenient. And until the industry can settle on an alternative, multiple closed loop solution, any challenger will always come second to the Visa and MasterCard network.

While scanner apps and barcodes are not without risks or issues, around 21 million American adults used mobile barcodes in 2011, a figure that grew by 147 per cent from the previous year, according to a survey carried out by eMarketer. This positive trend expected is expected to continue over the next few years and it tracks, of course, with the wider take-up of smartphones. (Around a quarter of smartphone owners use mobile barcodes, a figure which is set to continue rising, reaching nearly 40% by 2014). In this survey, consumers said they would use the technology to access discounts, offers or coupons, whereas only 23 per cent of respondents said they would want to use mobile barcodes to actually complete a purchase.

Since the number of consumers using the technology is growing, it makes sense that the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) has developed a standard for handling 2D barcodes that it hopes will direct mobile phone users to websites more easily. By standardizing the specification for encoding, decoding and the resolution of 2D barcodes, the OMA has said it wants to stimulate the usage of the codes.  Hopefully, standards like this will help to protect consumers and reduce the inherent security risks of these payment solutions. For the consumer, such an initiative can only be of benefit to them.

Ultimately, it really all comes downs to the basic economics of supply and demand. Consumers do want to be able to make mobile payments, but the technology we need to provide a universal, seamless and secure service is still a good few years off. I am not saying that QR Codes and scanners are not a great bit of technology; they are. However, it is just not a viable long-term solution.

QR codes for mobile payments? Consumers are not yet sold on the idea (Image: Frank Edens via Wikimedia Commons)

Online retail sales increased by 14% last year to more than £50bn, with predictions that the growth will continue to hit high streets, according to a new report. The increasing popularity of mobile devices, combined with the growth of mobile-based retail sites, is directly related and affected by the increase in online sales generally. Mobile really is the “missing link” between online and retail stores. It is going to be key, and business is fully aware of this. The challenge remains, however, to find a solution that is reliable not only in terms of technology and security, but one which also meets consumers’ increasingly important demands for services that don’t add unnecessary complication to their already busy lives.

Danielle Dalkie is the co-founder of Waspit, an innovative mobile payments service that provides social banking for students. She is based in Rome and works with clients based in Italy, the UK and the US. Danielle has recently founded Network Roma, a LinkedIn group dedicated to facilitating networking opportunities and collaboration among freelancers and companies with a Roman connection.

Still confused by the plethora of mobile payment technologies out there? Check out The Most Important Mobile Payment Infographic Ever created by MobilePaymentsToday.com.

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Nothing ventured, nothing gained: Danielle Dalkie finds the rules for raising startup capital are (gradually) changing

01 Aug

Fuelling the digital economy: options for startups (Image: Stock.xchang)

I have first-hand experience of raising capital; pounding the pavement and listening to people tell you that something you have put your heart and soul into doesn’t really interest them: sorry. Then, just when it seems you are about to give up , when you have spoken to every investor – twice – you suddenly stumble across someone who is actually willing to invest.

In the current economic climate it seems this process is even more arduous as people are less willing than usual to part with their hard-earned cash.  When it comes to venture capital, the conventional wisdom has been that if you want money the Americans are pretty much giving it away. Finding investment in Europe, however, while far from impossible, isn’t exactly easy either (particularly in Italy). Take for example the Italian startup wunderkind, Mashape, an API marketplace for cloud-based services: they spoke with every VC and investor in Italy – all without success. And then (miraculously) after just 19 days in the USA they found funding in San Francisco.

According to Marco Palladino, one of the founders of Mashape (along with Augusto Marietti and Michele Zonca) it’s entirely cultural. He told TechCrunch: ‘in Italy, the investor community is smaller and has less money than in Silicon Valley. Therefore, they don’t want to take a risk by investing in a new and innovative model – they want to invest in something proven and secure. Thus, they fund models that already exist, which ends up slowing down local innovation as a consequence’.

However, you can find venture capital if you’re in the right industry.  A recent report states that there has been a 37 per cent increase in investments in the US this quarter. Not surprisingly companies in the mobile sector have been the main beneficiaries, including seed funding for startups. In fact, 22 per cent of all deals have been at the seed stage this quarter.

Even though the Italian investments market still trails its main European counterparts it has been growing and an increasing number of opportunities are available.  In the past three years, 183 startups have received financing, according to a survey by “Startup Numbers”. The combined investment capacity of the funds for 2012-13 is about 320 million euros, aimed at supporting around 160 new businesses. The average lead time between the issuing of the business plan and the actual investment is about 6 months. Some firms can manage it in 3 months, while others need up to 10 months. The average share of capital controlled by investors is 30%.

There is also growing interest in the Italian startup sector, attracting not only homegrown VC funds, but also foreign money. Government support in the form of a Task Force to propose new laws more favourable to startups has also helped to spur optimism, as we reported on NetworkMilan recently.

Kickstarter: the world's largest funding platform for creative projects

However, while the traditional funding route for startups remains hard just about everywhere there is a new trend in the form of online funding networks.  Depending on which site they use a startup can raise whatever amount they need to get their business off the ground.  Whether you’re a one-man-band with a brilliant idea, or a small company seeking further development funds, this seems to be where most people are getting angel funding. Kickstarter is the one most people have heard about, creating a community for people with money to invest: anything from $10 up to $1 million, as was the case for Nano Wristbands (which convert an iPod Nano into a watch).

I also came across Payable.com as well, which takes a slightly different approach.  You share your idea on the site, which then gets funded by the ‘investor/s’.  Payable’s own developers step in to get you up and running and the software is sold via their online store, which is how the investors make their money back.  One disadvantage with this model is that you don’t own the IP.

And there’s Kabbage.com, which, according to its website can ‘provide working capital to online sellers to help their business grow in less than 10 minutes‘.

I like the idea of startups funding startups.  It makes sense; they understand the risks involved and are generally more in tune with the way entrepreneurs think.  And it is these companies that have been the driving force behind the growth in seed investment, as I mentioned above.

Certainly, the times they are a-changin’ for the investment sector. I personally do not believe you can say one location or market is better or worse than any other, especially since the dire economic outlook affects everyone equally (at least in the West, still languishing in recession). (According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. government spending relative to GDP is 36%, which is very close to that of Spain. And the US debt-to-GDP ratio is 103% whereas Spain’s is 68%.)

But while times remain tough, the growing diversity of funding sources for startups is one of the factors helping to get new high-tech businesses through these tough times.

By Danielle Dalkie, Social Media / PR Consultant and Co-founder of mobile payments startup Waspit.

BREAKING NEWS: Danielle has recently founded Network Roma, a sister group of the Milan Business English Network. You can become part of Network Roma by joining their group on LinkedIn.

Racing ahead: venture capital is available for startups with real potential that explore every funding route (Image: Formula One by Mark McArdle via Wikimedia Commons)

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Money in motion: how mobile payments technology is changing the face of retail

18 Jul

Danielle Dalkie is a Co-founder and Director of Social Commerce & PR at Waspit, the groundbreaking mobile payments service. In this series of blog posts for NetworkMilan she will be writing about  mobile payments technology, social commerce and trends in the tech startup sector with a focus on the Italian/European market. To kick off the series she Danielle starts by looking at the big picture of what the mobile payments environment looks like from her uniquely well-informed perspective!

Danielle Dalkie

Payments and mobile technology in Europe have always been ahead of the American market. I am not sure when the idea started that the US is better known for adopting technologies at an early stage: stateside mobile networks are about 10 years behind those of Europe – and their payment methods also lag those of the “Old World” by a decade, too.

US society still seems to be largely cash-based. Compare that with Europe, where today 6 out of 7 transactions are made using a card. But the difference goes even deeper. The technocrat government of Italy, in particular, has declared a war on cash: Prime Minister Mario Monti wants the country’s vast army of self-employed entrepreneurs, including landlords, plumbers, electricians and small businesses to stop making large transactions in cash, which critics say simply facilitates tax evasion. On 4 December 2011, the Italian government reduced the maximum limit for cash payment from 2,500 euros to 1,000 euros. The rationale for this reduced limit on movements of cash is that Italy desperately needs to increase its tax revenues and views its anti-cash measures as a means of cracking down on tax evasion, which “costs” the government an estimated €150 billion annually. However, with an eye-watering €1.9 trillion of public debt to its name, some commentators have described this kind of punitive measure as “too little too late”.

Against the backdrop of a general tendency towards the “cashless society”, the recent announcement by American Express that they have just released their roadmap for Europay MasterCard Visa (EMV) got me thinking about the state of the payments environment and how this technology could develop in the coming months and years.

Now, let me stick my neck out and say that I for one didn’t actually think the US should have made the switch over to EMV, since it has been used in Europe for the past six years and the technology itself – at over 10 years old – is well past its sell-by date. It would have made much more sense for the US to bypass EMV altogether and move straight to near field communication (NFC), which allows consumers to make electronic payments by simply waving their NFC-enabled phone near a payments terminal . Yes, EMV has security benefits, and it has helped to substantially decrease fraudulent transactions throughout Europe, but this should have been apparent to the US retailers and federal authorities 6 years ago. Why wait until now when more flexible and innovative technologies have superseded it?

One saving grace is that at least this switchover will force merchants to upgrade their terminals. Each of these upgraded system devices will also accept NFC and mobile transactions, which is a fantastic opportunity for companies operating in this space, especially startups and smaller, independent companies who (unlike the credit card giants) do not have the funds or capacity to influence terminal and Point of Sale (POS) technology or upgrades.

Waspit: social banking for students

The innovative startup company I have been involved with over the last 18 months, Waspit, uses MasterCard PayPass technology and will be accepted by card-capable merchants in the US by 2017, by which time the proposed switch-over will be completed. This is clearly great news not only for consumers but for mobile payment startups, such as Waspit, generally. With merchants on board, socially-oriented financial services like ours will be able to focus on winning new customers and offering a wider range of related services and benefits

However, not all mobile / NFC payments technology are problem-free. PayPass, for example, and other card networks for mobile and micro payments, charge merchants 0.15% plus 0.025 Euro in the interchange every time a transaction is made. This means that if you’re buying a relatively low-value item , such as a 2 Euro ice-cream, the merchant is not actually making a profit. These increased costs may force small businesses to raise prices, or face margins being squeezed as they are unable to compete with larger retailers who enjoy greater economies of scale. (The European situation could also be affected by the recent $7.25 billion settlement by Visa and MasterCard of a class action brought by retailers in the US over interchange fees.)

From the merchant’s point of view it makes sense to bypass the credit card networks completely and go with the closed loop solution. The market has woken up to this fact with every tech company and startup offering some sort of mobile wallet, or mobile payment solution. You can now buy a latte with your Starbucks app , and even use your PayPal account in selected stores. But here’s the irony: all of this cashless technology is supposed to be making life simpler – except it’s not!

Behind the scenes, the situation is even more complicated, with the reliance on technologies such as those of the Trusted Service Manager (TSM) and over-the-air personalisation. When NFC handsets go mainstream and there is no longer a need for plastic at all, that is the moment when we will truly be in the era of mobile payments. But at present TSM is also in a state of flux. The mobile networks themselves are going to be the main players, but will Vodafone, Three, Orange (3 of the main UK operators) and the others be more flexible than the credit card companies, who currently control the scene? And the system will still rely on the infrastructure of the credit card companies, so interchange is still a factor. It is going to take a lot of hard bargaining, regulation and hammering out standards the key players in the industry can all agree on. No-one can say for sure how the situation will pan out – or how smaller players are going to get access to the chips that are vital for mobile payments to become the norm.

Mobile payments

Consumers want to use electronic and mobile payments – and when the technology is fully rolled out I don’t think it will be hard getting them on board. However, in the industry we have been talking about this for a while. The flip side is that this is not good for merchants , especially small ones. Either the credit card companies need to come to the party or something needs to shake up the whole space. There needs to be more unity and maybe regulation, but this should not be dictated by the giants who dominate this space.

Consumers are clearly voting with their smart-phones: there is increasing demand and enthusiasm for making mobile payments more widespread and easier. Retailers – especially smaller, independent ones – could stand to benefit; and even government revenue-collecting agencies governments would welcome the introduction and greater use of this type of technology (with concerns over privacy being taken seriously, of course). There is also an urgent need for business itself, trade and consumer bodies, as well as national governments and the EU to co-ordinate their efforts to ensure that the consumer has a choice of easily accessible, safe and efficient payment methods to choose from. And, of course, there needs to be a level playing-field for innovative creative startups such as Waspit to develop services that give consumers the flexibility and freedom that this revolutionary technology could bring to people’s lives.

Read Danielle Dalkie’s next blog post on NetworkMilan – coming soon!

UPDATE (AUGUST 2012): Danielle has recently founded Network Roma, a sister group of the Milan Business English Network. You can become part of Network Roma by joining their group on LinkedIn.

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