update The Commonwealth Bank has today taken the covers off of its near-field communication (NFC) payments product called Kaching, which enables pay-anyone facilities via Facebook, email and MasterCard PayPass.
The Kaching landing screen
(Credit: Commonwealth Bank)
NFC facilitates the transmission of data over a range of approximately 10cm. An NFC-enabled chip in a mobile phone can interact with a proximity card reader to make mobile payments.
The Kaching product means that customers, via the app, can pay each other via email, Facebook or mobile, and via an iCarte case for iPhone or pay via MasterCard's contactless PayPass terminals. Users don't have to be Commonwealth Bank customers to receive payments either, with non-bank customers directed to an external collection site.
The app will be compatible with iOS 4.3 and above, according to the bank, with cases designed for the iPhone 4 and 4S.
Michael Harte, Commonwealth Bank's chief information officer, told ZDNet Australia that the Kaching app and the iCarte case has been designed in close consultation with Apple.
The iCarte 420, according to the manufacturer's website, contains an "embedded smart-chip" that can be configured for debit, credit and prepaid use and also has the ability to read NFC-enabled advertisements and transit systems. Whether the bank will enable these additional features remains unknown.
Andy Lark, chief marketing officer for the Commonwealth Bank told ZDNet Australia that he hopes to get the app and the case launched before Christmas.
He also indicated that the case would carry a cost, but the Commonwealth Bank has been at pains to stress that it won't seek to make a profit from the sale of the case. Lark said that the case would likely be no more than $40, while another source gave a price of $50. The final price is yet to be determined.
Commonwealth Bank says it is incredibly mindful of security with the new payments hardware. The app, according to the bank, will be authorised on one device only to prevent theft, and that unclaimed transfers will be refunded after 14 days.
Regarding the availability of Kaching, the Commonwealth Bank hasn't set down a firm date for either the case or the app. However, customers can register their interest online.
David Lindberg, executive general manager of Cards, Payments and Retail Strategy, wants Kaching to penetrate all markets across the Australian payments space — from businesses to individuals.
"Mobile and online social payment is the next step in transaction technology. Already, more than half our 10 million customers own a smartphone, and Australians are 65 per cent more likely than the British to bank on their phones.
"Now, for the first time, Australian consumers will no longer have to rely on cash or cards to make payments to family, friends or even businesses. The recent explosion in uptake of digital and smartphone technology has revolutionised how we all transact, interact and communicate with each other, and this new application will make the dream of mobile payments a reality," he said.
The bank also shared the staggering growth statistics around its online and mobile offerings, revealing that in August, NetBank saw 16 million log-ons via mobile devices — a 229 per cent increase from the same period last year.
The bank has had an NFC product incoming since July when a highly placed source within the Commonwealth Bank told ZDNet Australia that it would skip the limited trial phase favoured by other banks and go straight to market with a case-based NFC payment product. The unnamed source said that the NFC product would be revealed within three months.
The Commonwealth Bank also held an apps update earlier in the year, where it unveiled new versions of its mobile banking applications for tablets and smartphones.
NFC-based payment technology is gaining traction internationally after the US release of Google Wallet. While the search giant's Wallet product is officially only available in the US, a recent hack saw a trial of the service work for a limited time internationally.
Many industry spectators had expected the latest iPhone to carry a built-in NFC chip, with the head of PayPal's mobile division, Laura Chambers, saying that an iPhone without such a chip would see the NFC-based payments market struggle to catch fire.
More on this story as it develops.
Updated at 11:44am, 25 October 2011: Added comment from Andy Lark.