COVID-19 to fuel mobile payment adoption, product expansion by nonbanks

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted mobile payment adoption in the U.S. and led to record growth among multiple nonbank payment providers.

Nonbank mobile payment platforms are increasingly resembling broad financial services providers, positioning themselves more and more as potential banking substitutes, though significant differences remain. Banks have been augmenting their own mobile banking offerings and have mounted a more direct response to mobile payment apps in the form of the Zelle Network, a service from Early Warning Services LLC, which has grown rapidly since inception. Incumbents will continue to participate in the shift to digital payments in multiple ways, even as nonbank become larger players.

According to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Payment Choice, 38% of consumers made a mobile payment in 2019, up from 22% in 2016.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed even more customers to consider mobile payments. In-store spending contracted substantially in recent months amid state mandated lockdowns and general fears of contagion. Many of those lost transactions shifted into a digital environment, though, spurring growth in e-commerce sales. Card-not-present transactions, excluding travel-related payments, have served as a source of growing payment volumes for major card networks like Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. while card-present volumes have seen double-digit declines. Contactless in-store payments have also seen renewed interest from customers as a more hygienic and convenient means of in-store checkout, according to a recent survey conducted by 451 Research, which is part of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Digital wallet providers have benefited from the shift to digital. PayPal Holdings Inc. and Square Inc. reported record growth figures in the month of April across their respective mobile payment businesses. Customers could also have their stimulus payments from the CARES Act deposited directly into these mobile payment accounts, which may have driven further interest in the services.

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