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NFC Payments – Simplifying Payment Space

Jun 25, 2021

We have come a long way in payments starting from the barter system, coins, currencies, paper cheques, and plastic cards to one-click payments, e-wallets, and cryptocurrencies. Payment space keeps evolving at breakneck speed with new technologies that focus on bringing more convenience than ever before. Wallets and currencies are now out of action and considered obsolete by the millennials. Ever since the emergence of contactless payments, we are entirely freed from carrying traditional currencies everywhere. Technologies keep providing users with a better payment experience and NFC is one of them.

Here is a short story that illustrates the brief above.

One sunny morning, the grocery store’s aisle was my runway. I was excitedly grabbing all my favorite drinks and snacks for the ‘Netflix weekend’ scheduled with my friends. So, I head to check out with a happy face and a fully loaded cart. Unfortunately, that is when I found out that I forgot my wallet.

So, in this scenario, what was the state of action?

Scenario 1: I ran back home to get my wallet.

Scenario 2: Got a favor from the shopkeeper to pay him back later.

Scenario 3: Forgot all the fuss and used my phone to complete the payment.

And nowadays, Scenario 3 is the hero everywhere as people have their cards and applications loaded in their smartphones to make payments anywhere anytime. NFC is one of many such technologies that is smoothing the way.

What is NFC?

The abbreviation stands for Near Field Communication. It is a wireless technology that initiates the communication between two nearby electronic devices to provide the most convenient experience to customers globally. NFC makes the transactions and digital content transfer simpler by connecting the electronic devices using electromagnetic fields.

NFC initiates the connection at a distance of 4cm or less and operates at the frequency of 13.56 MHz to make secure transfers.

What are NFC payments?

NFC payments are popular contactless payments that use NFC technology to initiate the connection between the reader and the NFC-enabled devices. You can pay using smart devices like mobiles, watches, or simply tapping debit/credit cards. It initiates secured, convenient, fast, encrypted, and touchless transactions at the point of sale.

Mechanism and applications of NFC technology

NFC is a specialized branch out of RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification), a widely used technology for asset tracking, access control, attendee tracking, and much more.

NFC creates a short-range communication using electromagnetic radio fields between two devices — one to transit and another to receive a signal, just like how you connect your Bluetooth device.

The devices are differentiated into two- Passive and Active. Tags and other small transmitters are considered passive devices since they contain data that other devices can read, whereas active devices can read and transmit data. Such active devices are your smartphone that reads and helps share necessary data with other compatible devices if required.

NFC is now introduced in a chip format as well. A beauty salon in Dubai recently introduced ‘chipped nails’ where a tiny chip is embedded in the nails and used to transfer information such as your digital business card or social media handles by just tapping your fingernails on the device. These services can expand to contactless payment systems too.

NFC is used in three simple modes:

  • Peer-to-peer mode: Two active NFC-enabled devices can initiate a connection to read or transmit information between each other. The Android Beam Technology uses this mode to transfer information and enable Bluetooth devices.
  • Reader/writer mode: We can read/write information from a passive device (contactless smart card or RFID tags) using an active device(smartphones/smartwatches).
  • Card emulation mode: Here, NFC acts as a contactless card, and we can use our smart devices in place of debit or credit cards to make digital payments.

How do NFC payments work?

Contactless payments are now mushrooming with its wide range of options like EMV chip cards, mobile wallets, QR codes, and digital payment apps for the customers to experience ‘touchless and effortless’ check out and save time during their shopping spree. Moreover, they are a faster and secure mode of payments as there is no need to enter a PIN as it transfers the encrypted data to the NFC device instantaneously.

NFC links the payment and reader devices wirelessly when they are closer to each other. Once connected, the payment can be initiated from the payer’s devices like smartphones and smartwatches through the installed payment applications like Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, etc. Then, the payer must just hover the device near the payment terminal, and NFC chips exchange encrypted data for completing the transaction within few seconds.

How do merchants accept NFC payments?

All a merchant needs is an NFC-enabled reader to accept the payments, and that’s that. The shopper can make NFC payments through smartphones, smartwatches, and NFC-enabled accessories — wristbands, phone cases, or rings. These devices have a small chip that communicates with the merchant’s NFC reader via radio waves.

The shoppers have now picked their goodies- CURTAINS UP!

Now, the merchant ensures the NFC reader’s connection is good to go. The shoppers bring their NFC-enabled device closer, typically within two inches, or simply tap the cards (with contactless indicator displayed on them) on the reader. The shopper unlocks the app with the PIN/use biometrics and selects the card to complete the payment.

How are NFC and EMV connected?

EMV and NFC are closely connected in changing the payment landscape to hit the big time with secure and encrypted payments. EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa — named after the organizations found. EMV is the payment technology that enables transactions with chip-embedded cards, whereas NFC is the digital version of EMV offering contactless payments.

EMV payment is carried through the small computer chip embedded in the debit and credit cards. This chip communicates with the POS when dipped to authenticate the transaction successfully. These highly secured payments can be made using EMV-enabled devices and readers. To avoid any fraudulent activity, for every EMV transaction, a unique transaction ID is created, which cannot be replicated. Additionally, the cardholder must enter a PIN/ sign the receipt to complete the transaction. NFC is the technology that facilitates EMV transactions digitally using smartphones giving the ease of not carrying a physical card.

On the flip side, NFC payments are contactless and follow tap-and-go technology. As said, gestures like hover or tap are all you need to complete the transaction.

EMV is a bit slower when compared to NFC in processing a transaction. So, most customers still prefer opting for NFC to save time in a big queue as it is also as secure as EMV. So, merchants can opt for readers that accept both NFC and EMV payments to provide customers with a seamless checkout offering the latest and stress-free payment options.

Benefits of NFC Payments

These wireless innovations give a better user experience and prove anything can happen at our fingertips. NFC has changed how merchants and shoppers look at making payments. It has also made both merchants’ and shoppers’ life simpler.

(i) High-level security

NFC payments are incredibly secure when compared with cash or magnetic-stripe cards. This is because the payment transactions are end-to-end encrypted, and details are highly secured.

The customer can pay only at the POS terminal using their devices by providing the PIN/biometrics to unlock the payment screen. Another added security is that NFC payment readers can connect only one device at a time. This can prevent situations like customers paying for the wrong bill.

Tokenization also plays a major role here. When people use apps like Apple Pay to carry their transactions, their sensitive payment credentials are masked with random strings of characters (tokens) to battle online and digital breaches. This new token is generated whenever you make a new transaction.

(ii) Comfort and convenience

Shoppers don’t have to carry their wallets everywhere. They can simply use their smart devices for an easy checkout process. Another added functionality is to store multiple debit/credit cards in the payment apps and personalize the transaction according to their needs. Simple gestures like tap, wave, and hover are needed, and the payment is complete.

(iii) Saves time at checkout

Dealing with cash or using magnetic stripe cards consumes more time for both merchants and shoppers. Sometimes, shoppers skip purchasing in a few stores with a long queue in the POS terminal. To avoid such situations, merchants need to upgrade their POS terminal by providing a smooth experience to their customers, which increases their sales. So that, shoppers can save time in the checkout process when they opt for NFC payments. The less time it takes to complete the transaction, the more the customer is satisfied.

(iv) Touchless & contactless

The corona pandemic triggered the urge for contactless payments. This resulted in a steady increase rate of people opting for contactless payments. As a result, people are slowly opting for contactless payments that guard them against the spread of viruses when dealing with cash or card receipts.

(v) Cost-efficient

Since everyone’s best friends is their mobile phones in their everyday lives, NFC payments are cost-efficient for payee and payer sectors. So, the merchants must get an NFC reader and upgrade their payment terminal to seamlessly carry out the NFC payments. This even a small business merchant can afford to uplift their business. NFC reader is the better choice for merchants as it consumes less power too.

NFC payments and its rapid evolution

Contactless payments are omnipresent post the pandemic even though they were already a popular payment method before. Even exchanging money was considered a perilous task during this pandemic, but NFC has come to the rescue with its touchless feature. As a result, most people have upgraded to NFC payments helping businesses to drive their sales and ensure safety at the same time.

The stats further strengthen the payment space with all positive predictions.

  • The global market value of NFC payments is estimated to exceed $10.4 billion by 2026, with more than 14.5% CAGR from 2021 to 2026.
  • According to the report by Payments Journal, 30% of the consumers are making their payments contactless after the pandemic. Moreover, 70% who are new to this payment space wanted to continue making their payments contactless even after the pandemic abates.
  • The NFC’s market size is flourishing and is expected to touch $30 billion by 2023.

The future of NFC payments, as predicted, will remain on the rise and will shape the payment space for the better over the next few years. Fintechs further mold it by offering innovative resources to provide the most convenient payment method for customers.

One thing is sure, the NFC payments are here to stay, and the future holds more for payment space.

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