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Look mum, no phone: Optus goes wearable with cardless payments

Optus wants to be a telco, a bank and a wearable tech brand all in one. Its new mobile payments wristband lets you shop without your wallet, and even without your phone.

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The Cash by Optus band can be used to to pay for things, without a phone in sight, at any contactless payments terminal.

Optus

It's been less than a year since one of the world's biggest names in tech launched the much-hyped Apple Watch and, since then, it seems every tech brand and their dog has jumped on the wearables train.

Now Optus has joined the fray, going down a very un-telco path with the release of what it calls a range of "lifestyle" products for mobile payments platform. That's right, your telco doesn't just want to connect your calls, it wants to help you pay for things, and it wants you to look like a snappy fitness blogger while you do it.

Optus launched its cardless Cash by Optus payments platform in November 2014, capitalising on the rise of tap-and-go shopping and the increasing consumer awareness around using a smartphone to make NFC payments at an EFTPOS terminal.

The big sell for Optus is the easy setup for its customers:

  • Download the Cash by Optus app
  • Load your account with said cash (either in-app or via online banking)
  • Order a Payment accessory: an NFC Sim for NFC-compatible Android phones, or a sticker for iPhone and other non-NFC compatiable devices.

But because it's all about wearables and fitness tech, Optus hasn't left it there. The telco recently launched the Payment Band, a colourful rubber wristband with an NFC tag slipped inside that can be used to make payments, even when your phone isn't within wireless range. That means you can take it to the gym without your wallet and phone, or wear it around on weekends when you've ditched your devices, and you'll still be able to make payments under AU$100.

We've had a play with the band and it works in the same way as a tap-and-go debit or credit card: Hold your wrist to the EFTPOS terminal and wait for the beep. You can then go into the app and view your recent transactions (they'll appear virtually immediately) and track the money remaining on your account.

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There's also a payments sticker for iPhone and non-NFC smartphones.

Optus

It's not a totally flawless system. Importantly, the band is not compatible with Optus' NFC SIM card. Also, because the app needs to be pre-loaded with money, you could find yourself caught short if you've forgotten to cash up.

Optus says transferring funds can take 1-2 business days for online banking transfers and as many as 3-5 business days for loading funds within the app. That certainly takes the shine off the 'take your wristband out for a quick run' immediacy of Optus' sell.

But the pre-load feature may be a selling point, especially for users who don't want to open up unfettered access to their bank account or even for kids who don't have a contactless debit card of their own. You can also lock down your payment accessory or dispute suspect payments.

As the mobile payments space grows apace in Australia, we're likely to see more non-traditional players enter the market with a cardless offering for customers. In the end, the winners are likely to be the providers who are already embedded in our lives -- our banks (no fund transferring required) or our smartphone manufacturers (no need for third-party hardware).

But in the meantime, Cash by Optus offers a simple way to go cardless with wearables -- if you have any space left on your wrist.