Business Columns & Blogs

When will new fashion accessory, wearable payment devices, come to us?

Nancy Napier
Nancy Napier

A decade ago, I often traveled to Denmark for work. On one visit, the hotel clerk refused to take my credit card because it had no “chip.” We finally worked out a deal so I could pay, but it made me wonder why in Europe the chip cards were so widespread, and had been for years, and we were not using them in the U.S. I was lucky enough to have a banker husband who was able to check into it when I returned; because of that, I received one of his bank’s early versions of a chipped credit card. Of course, today such cards are everywhere. But still, why were we so late to the table?

I gather that part of the answer was that our banking procedures and infrastructure simply were slower to move on the technology than the Danes and others in Europe and Asia. At one point I asked one of my Vietnamese colleagues whether he could help me get such a card in Hanoi – we never went down that path but he claimed it would be quite easy. But it took several years for most of the U.S. to catch up.

On a recent trip to Australia, I noticed everyone using “contactless cards”: You take your credit card and tap one corner onto the payment device, and boom, you’re finished. And then, the Sept. 24 edition of The Wall Street Journal reported on another advancement in contactless payment: In Australia and the U.K., customers can pay using “wearables” – rings, watches, or key rings – that they just hold up near the cashier’s desk, and payment is done.

Wouldn’t that be great, to have a bracelet or ring that you wave before a payment device, rather than having to dive into a pocket or purse to find the credit card to swipe or slide in? ABN bank out of the Netherlands is testing wearables as well and found that 80 percent of customers prefer them to traditional bank cards. In Australia, Bankwest has sold 10,000 wearable rings and reports no trouble.

So when will we see payment rings in Boise? Even a tech slowpoke like me might jump on that one!

Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State University.