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More consumers use smartphones for purchases

Patricia Sabatini
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh — Banks and other mobile payment providers should do a better job of explaining safety features of the technology if they want to convince more consumers to use it, according to a new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“It is something industry participants could and should talk about,” Pew research officer Joy Hackenbracht told reporters during a recent webinar.

Mobile technology allows consumers to pay for purchases at the register or online, pay bills, and send or receive money using their smartphones.

Concern about the safety of mobile transactions — including the potential for ID theft and loss of funds — “cuts across generations,” Hackenbracht said.

Nearly 7 in 10 U.S. adults own a smartphone. But millennials and Generation Xers are far more likely than older age groups to have a smartphone and to use it for mobile payments, Pew said.

Some 90 percent of millennials and 83 percent of Gen Xers own a smartphone compared with 56 percent for baby boomers and 30 percent for the silent generation, the study showed. Of those, millennials and Gen Xers account for 72 percent of mobile payment users versus 24 percent who are baby boomers and 5 percent for the oldest generation.

Mobile payment users also are more likely to live in metropolitan areas and have bank accounts and college or postgraduate degrees, Pew found.

The top reasons consumers say they use mobile payment technology is to receive rewards or discounts, and to avoid overdraft or checking account fees, Pew said. Consumers avoid fees by getting real-time alerts about their account balances.

Making a purchase was the most common mobile payment activity, Pew said, followed by paying bills.

Overall, 46 percent of U.S. consumers report having made a mobile payment, according to Pew’s survey.

Although people who embrace mobile payments tend to be younger, “across generations consumers are still very concerned about safety,” Hackenbracht emphasized.

“There needs to be more conversation about the safety of mobile payments technology,” she said.

Hackenbracht also said there was “a lot of uncertainty” surrounding regulation of mobile payments.

Federal and state laws “have not kept up with the technology,” she said.

For complete results of the survey, “Who Uses Mobile Payments?” visit pewtrusts.org/?mobilepayments and click the Research & Analysis tab.