U.S. Bank launches pay-by-phone program

The bank began a pilot program in Washington state last week with MasterCard and Nokia.

Kelly Gulbrandson

With so many things to remember on a daily basis, students can sometimes feel they have too much to carry – literally.

A new program was launched last week by U.S. Bank, MasterCard and Nokia, allowing customers to pay for items with a phone provided through Nokia rather than using a credit card or cash. People with this service will be able to scan their phone at various stores in the same way that a U-Pass is used on a city bus.

The program began in Washington state last week and, if successful, will move to other parts of the country.

Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer for the mobile payment division of U.S. Bank, said the pilot program is for existing customers who have used automatic transactions before.

“Contactless transactions have been around for a number of years with the antenna embedded in the card,” he said.

He added that a goal of the program is to make purchasing faster.

People in the program will use Nokia 6131 phones equipped with the technology needed to communicate with magnetic readers.

The participants, who already have credit cards with U.S. Bank, have their personalized information embedded into the phone they receive. This allows for the payment process to go through, Venturo said.

A text message then confirms the sale, he said.

Venturo said although young people, including college students, were not specifically targeted for the program, the high number of young people using mobile phones will make them a potentially large group of customers.

According to a U.S. Bank press release, other types of mobile payments – such as online banking on cell phones – are on the rise in the U.S. and will be available to a growing number of U.S. Bank customers in the future.

Since last November, more than 80,000 merchants now accept the MasterCard PayPass system, another mobile payment plan offered through MasterCard. Now, this type of service will be extended to cell phones.

James Anderson, vice president for Mobile Center of Excellence, MasterCard Worldwide, said the PayPass program started in late 2004. The company’s partnership with U.S. Bank is an extension of the PayPass program to advance mobile technology, he said.

“We see enormous potential in the growth of electronic payments – including mobile payments – to better serve our customers,” Anderson said.

Associate computer science professor Loren Terveen said since more people today have a mobile phone than a computer, in some ways cell phone technology makes it possible for people to do things they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

While Terveen said advancing mobile technology will eventually make it possible for a phone to know your exact location, it can lead to problems.

“You will have information delivered to you based on where and who you are, allowing for spam texts and more distractions,” he said.

Geography graduate student Andres Munoz said he uses his phone to check his e-mail and text message. He uses Skype to stay in touch with his family.

“As an international student, I can chat with family members through my phone on Skype without having to connect to the Internet,” he said.

Although he said he is not exactly sure how a mobile payment plan like U.S. Bank’s would work, he would be “open to new technology.”