Visa's PayWave NFC at the London 2012 Olympics

Contactless spending tops �100m a month

Spending using contactless "tap and go" card payments has topped £100 million in a single month for the first time, industry figures revealed.

£109.2 million was spent on contactless cards during March 2014 - more than triple the £35.3 million worth of payments made using this method in March 2013, said the UK Cards Association, the trade body for the card payments industry in the UK.

Six payments a second are now made in the UK using contactless card technology, which allows consumers to pay for low-value items simply by swiping their bank card on a reader, thus obviating the need to remember or key in a PIN number.

Purchases up to £20 can be made in this way, although the average value of a contactless transaction is £6.46. The latest total figure for contactless spending in March is an increase of £22.2 million on the previous month.

More than 42.4 million contactless cards are in circulation in the UK. Approximately one in three cardholders owns a card enabled with contactless technology.

Some concerns have been raised about the security of contactless cards, but the UK Cards Association said instances of fraud are "extremely rare". Within the ICT industry the issue of NFC security divides opinion. While some critics insist the technology is flawed and security is a major drawback, supporters of contactless payment say the technology is secure and consumer awareness needs working on.

Graham Peacop, managing director of the UK Cards Association, said: "Contactless technology is a fast, easy and secure way to pay by card. Whether it's to buy a cup of coffee or pay for a trip on the bus, today's figures show that consumers are voting with their wallets and find contactless cards a very convenient way to pay."

Tami Hargreaves, head of contactless at Barclaycard, said the business expects Barclays and Barclaycard customers to spend nearly £600 million in contactless payments during 2014, double the amount they spent using this payment method last year.

Contactless payment transactions require close and sometimes physical contact using a contactless-enabled card or near-field communication (NFC) smartphone over a contactless reader. Credit card companies have issued their own contactless offerings, such as PayPass (Mastercard) and PayWave (Visa), while Barclaycard has taken things a step further and released PayTag - an NFC-equipped sticker that can turn any mobile phone into a contactless payment device.

NFC payment technology does not change the relationship between the bank, the cardholder or smartphone holder, and the retailer, but is simply an additional way to pass information between a buyer and seller.

The contactless announcement was made on the same day that the Payments Council launched its new Paym mobile phone payments service, which makes it easier for people to transfer money without needing a wallet at all.

Paym, pronounced "pay em", has been described as the first industry-wide collaboration in the UK which could potentially link up every bank account with a mobile number. People can use the service to transfer money just by using someone's mobile phone number and without needing to know their account number and sort code.

The service can be used by customers of Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Cumberland Building Society, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Santander, TSB and Danske Bank, meaning it is initially available to 30 million people. By the end of the year, a total of 40 million people will be able to access Paym, when more banks have come on board.

E&T magazine features on NFC payment

Contactless payments: the future for consumers?

NFC in mobiles vies for adoption beyond payments

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