General-purpose digital wallets started life in most parts of the world, including the U.S., as substitutes for physical credit cards at the point of sale — and promised to change how people pay.
In truth, as Jenny Cheng, vice president and general manager of Google Wallet, told Karen Webster, the adoption rate as a payment method is still relatively low — with less than 40% penetration in the United States for consumers over the age of 40, though that increases as generations skew younger.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the need to carry a physical wallet in a pocket or a purse — not only to store credit and debit cards there. The vast majority of us still lug the leather wallets and purses with us, chiefly because … well, people need a place to assemble the multiple access and identity credentials needed every day. Driver’s licenses. Tickets. Healthcare insurance cards. Building access cards. Name the ID, and the plastic form of it must be kept somewhere. And even though payments wallets may allow some form of identity or access credentials like boarding passes or movie tickets, the leather wallet remains the physical go-to.
That makes the greenfield opportunity for digital wallets to gain ground, said Cheng, as a means of lightening the load of the physical wallet while keeping those credentials secure.
“When you think about replacing your physical wallet, obviously, how you pay is an important part of that,” Cheng said. Google Pay, of course, exists as a separate app within Wallet that houses payments credentials, and can be used in-store (and indeed, as PYMNTS data has shown, as many as 13% of in-store payments in the aggregate are done using digital wallets).
But beyond, and separate from, the digital payments wallet, Google believes that the digital wallet can serve as a digital hub for all manner of personal credentials. Google Wallet announced new features Thursday (June 1) that broaden the wallet’s functions to make it easier to store more documents and a growing roster of passes that prove we are who we say we are.
“It’s another flywheel in a broader ecosystem,” Cheng told Webster.
The company said that beginning this month, consumers with a Maryland ID or driver’s license will be able to add their ID to Google Wallet. Cheng said more states will follow suit, including Georgia, Colorado and Arizona. Wallet users can also add their boarding passes directly from Google’s Messages app.
Google Wallet also said Wednesday that users can upload images with barcodes and QR codes and convert them into a Wallet pass. The wallet passes, as Cheng described, can be used to store digital copies of a range of physical badges — everything from gym memberships to library cards, transit QR tickets, parking passes, and so on.
The snapshot-to-digital function is applicable to what the company terms “private passes” that contain a user’s sensitive data. The passes, she said, offer security that is a magnitude above the standard practice consumers have embraced, where taking a picture of one’s insurance card has been the de facto method of “storing” that information on the phone.
The initiatives Cheng said, “are about making it easier to save things into your Google Wallet … without having to worry about opening up five different apps or trying to figure out where you have that pass.”
Cheng told Webster that the private pass function is also being enabled, via API, for third parties to access. Google and Humana, she told Webster, are jointly developing a digital version of their health insurance card, which in turn can be saved to Google Wallet. In a similar fashion in the U.K., healthcare patients will be able to save their National Insurance Number to their Wallet from the HMRC app.
Looking ahead, Cheng said, Google is also examining enabling corporate badge access via Google Wallet “so you don’t need to fumble and find badges as you move between buildings and floors.” In another example, renting or sharing a car becomes easier, with a validated license, in digital form. Transit is proving to be a use case that holds particular appeal. Google is partnering with airlines in Asia, Vietnam Airlines among them, and train operators in Europe, to sidestep the laborious process of downloading apps to devices (and erasing them once the trip is over).
“To have all of this in one place is what’s going to continue to allow that tie-in of payments, identity, and passes … so that everything you need to do, in the real world, is easier and safer,” Cheng told Webster.