Payment Methods

Mobile Card Apps: The Future Isn’t Plastic

Mobile Card Apps: The Future Isn’t Plastic

It took 70 years for a majority of U.S. adults to possess a credit card, so the warp-speed adoption of mobile card apps has been a comparative blur. In surveying mobile card app usage for the December 2019 Bridging the Gap: Mobile Card App Adoption Report, PYMNTS found a vibrant, growing payments ecosystem. Among the revelations:

  • 1 percent of consumers use mobile card apps to better manage their accounts
  • 2 percent of app users cite fingerprint login as the most important in-app feature

Mobile card app adopters are an enthusiastic bunch. Although the apps deliver on promises of speed, convenience and safety, that’s only part of the story. Just beneath the smartphone glass, brainy new tech is powering payments in ways that emphasize security and speed, while keeping one eye fixed on customer experience.

App, App and Away

Based on a survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. consumers, the latest Mobile Card App Adoption Report finds that over 40 percent of American shoppers have downloaded a payment app onto their phone. That’s 102 million people with mobile card apps installed and significant upside, as 53 million plastic cardholders have yet to go digital. What’s more, mobile card apps get used: over six in 10 consumers who have pay apps use them several times a week, while 9.3 percent use the apps several times each day, and 20.1 percent use them once daily. Virtual card usage behavior tracks with plastic, say the researchers, hinting that consumers are using mobile card apps increasingly in place of plastic.

What are their reasons? Well, 70.1 percent of respondents want mobile cards to help sort out their finances (account management), followed by 63.3 percent who just love the convenience. “Spend control” is the clincher for about 57 percent of those surveyed.

Not surprisingly, mobile card adoption gets higher with younger consumers. Over 90 percent of Gen Z consumers report downloading card apps, in stark contrast to Boomers and seniors at 50 percent, according to our analysis. That makes sense given the satisfaction reported by mobile payment app users. Those who report using mobile pay apps at least once a week like the experience – a lot. Close to 85 percent of weekly users say they’re “very” or “extremely” satisfied with pay apps, as do 78.6 percent of infrequent users.

A View to Your Bill

Mobility in payments is at the heart of the matter, but mobile card apps do other things, and users also really like those features. Fingertip biometric login, for example, is staggeringly popular with about 30 percent of Gen Z users (it’s their favorite feature). Other cohorts have their partialities, too. Almost 22 percent of respondents said real-time transaction alerts are the most important feature. That falls off to 18.4 percent with infrequent users, but the pattern is clear enough. The more transparency and visibility into one’s money and credit, the better – at least according to millennials and Gen Z mobile card users.

Data in Bridging the Gap: Mobile Card App Adoption Report reveals a robust interest in security and anti-fraud measures. And while things like biometrics are more exciting to younger users, Boomers and seniors just want to be assured of safety without having to take a selfie to get their account balance. But these are early days for the mobile payment app, and as artificial intelligence (AI) is applied more broadly, next-gen mobile cards will certainly appear with feature sets customized for users of every age and preference.


Featured PYMNTS Study: 

With eyes on lowering costs to improving cash flow, 85 percent of U.S. firms plan to make real-time payments integral to their operations within three years. However, some firms still feel technical barriers stand in the way. In the January 2020 Making Real-Time Payments A Reality Study, PYMNTS surveyed more than 500 financial executives to examine what it will take to channel RTP interest into real-world adoption. Here’s what we learned.