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The Mobile Wallet: A Guide to Paying with your Smartphone

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Curious about what a mobile wallet is and how it works? Our guide to mobile wallets offers the perfect introduction to this increasingly popular technology. From the basics of setting up a mobile wallet to the pros and cons of the payment method, you’ll find everything you need to know to get you started.

Accessed through an app installed on your smartphone, a mobile wallet is a virtual wallet that can store duplicates of your debit cards, credit cards, loyalty cards and more. The technology allows you to use your smartphone to make in-store transactions without needing to carry your physical cards with you. Mobile wallets are sometimes referred to as digital wallets or electronic wallets and have grown in popularity in recent years.

There are many different mobile wallets on the market at present, with some of the most popular mobile wallets including Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay. Some mobile wallets, including Fitbit Pay and Garmin Pay, are also compatible with smartwatches and other wearable devices.

Mobile wallets make use of a technology known as near-field communication (NFC), allowing your smartphone to send your payment information from your mobile wallet to a payment terminal. The nature of the technology permits easy, contactless payments.

When you upload a credit card or debit card to your mobile wallet, your information is encrypted and a randomly generated number, also known as a token, is assigned to the card. This helps to keep your payment details secure by not sharing your actual card details with the payment reader. The payment reader is still able to understand which account it is charging, but will not have access to the 16-digit card number shown on your physical card.

Setting up a mobile wallet is typically quite easy to do. Although the process will vary for each of the different apps available, the main steps involved are:

  • Choosing your mobile wallet of choice and downloading the relevant app. Your smartphone may have a mobile wallet preinstalled, so it’s worth checking the list of your installed apps first.
  • Launching the app and setting your security preferences, including any passcodes, fingerprints or face scans
  • Adding your cards of choice, including any credit cards, debit cards or loyalty cards you use regularly

Once your mobile wallet is set up, you can start using it to purchase goods and services in-store. Be sure to check that the correct virtual card has been selected before you make your payment. After you’ve double-checked the transaction details and that you’ve selected the right virtual card, payment is simple. All you need to do is to hold your smartphone a few centimetres above the payment terminal and wait for the payment to be approved.

They’re convenient

Gone are the days of rummaging through your wallet or bag to find the right credit, debit or loyalty card. Mobile wallets allow you to store all the cards you use regularly in one handy spot. If you’re planning to head out on a walk and want to pick up some milk and bread on the way home, you only need to carry your smartphone with you rather than your whole wallet.

They can be useful if you’ve accidentally left your wallet at home

Whether you’ve left your wallet at home or haven’t been able to find yours in the rush to get out the door in the morning, mobile wallets can be a useful tool to have on hand. You can buy lunch, petrol, groceries and your other day-to-day purchases without needing to have your physical cards with you.

You won’t be able to use your mobile wallet if your smartphone runs out of battery

Although the technology used to support mobile wallets is impressive, if you don’t charge your smartphone or it happens to run out of battery when you’re out and about, you won’t be able to use your virtual wallet. It’s important to be mindful of your battery level if you’re planning on using your smartphone to make a purchase.

Not every retailer supports contactless payments

While many retailers in Australia’s major cities and towns do support the use of contactless payments, a portion still doesn’t have the technology to support the payment method. Although your mobile wallet is handy in many situations, you may not be able to use it everywhere you go.

Mobile wallets can be used at any retailer that offers contactless payments as a payment option. In Australia, this includes most supermarkets, fast food restaurants, petrol stations and department stores. If you are unsure whether contactless payments are available, look for the contactless payment symbol. If the payment terminal supports contactless payments, the symbol should be easy to spot on the terminal itself.

Mobile wallets are generally quite safe. Not only are your virtual cards protected by a passcode, your fingerprint or a face scan, but the data stored within the mobile wallet is also encrypted. These protections make it harder for criminals to access your mobile wallet or carry out fraudulent activities using your virtual cards.

It’s also more difficult for someone to access your mobile wallet if you were to lose your smartphone than it would be for them to use a physical card found in a lost wallet. Without your passcode or your unique biometric identification information (fingerprints or face scans), it can be harder for someone else to gain access to your mobile wallet.

Although you can theoretically leave your real wallet at home if you use a mobile wallet, it can be a good idea to still have your physical cards on hand. Mobile devices, including smartphones, can run out of battery, potentially leaving you unable to pay without access to your device. There may also be times when a retailer’s contactless payment reader isn’t working or contactless payments simply aren’t available, making a physical card or cash your only option.

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