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Barclaycard PayTag turns any phone into an NFC phone

Racking up your credit card bill contactlessly just got a whole lot easier, with Barclaycard's new PayTag thingummy.

Barclaycard has got tired of waiting for people to abandon cash and pay for every little odd and sod with one of its contactless credit cards. But it's not sitting back on its lucrative laurels, oh no.

The company has a cunning contactless plan: it's sending out miniature sticky-backed contactless credit cards (pictured above on the rump of an iPhone) -- which it hopes customers will slap on the back of their phones, turning any old mobile into a fancy NFC device.

Or indeed any old anything that you can stick a sticker to -- so if you've always dreamed of paying for stuff with your favourite teddy bear, or being able to headbutt a point of sales terminal to increase your credit card debt, Barclaycard is here to help. Although, it should be noted, the company is only encouraging people to stick tags on their phones, not on hairless (or hirsute) body parts.

"You could stick it anywhere you want," concedes Tom Gregory, head of digital payments at Barclaycard. "But it is designed for phones. It looks nice on the back of phones." But he adds it's not "a requirement" that the tag is stuck on a phone. Hell, you could even stick it on a contactless credit card, should you feel like crossing the streams.

Barclaycard's sticky solution to Brits' contactless indifference is called PayTag: and is essentially a second, contactless card for your existing Barclaycard account, giving you another way to ramp up your credit card bill.

The tag itself looks like a miniature credit card: it's about 5cm long and 2.5cm wide, so it's smaller than a credit card, but not so tiny you won't be able to ignore the plastic rectangle branding your dog and bone. It's not exactly a subtle addition either -- so if you like your phone's sexy backplate as it is, ie sexy, then you're not going to want to cover its nakedness with Barclaycard's branding.

Apparently people like these 'phone' things

Why, then, is Barclaycard targeting phones when there are already millions of contactless credit and debit cards sitting in Brits' wallets? The company reckons people are so wedded to their mobiles they're more likely to leave the house without their wallet than their pocket rocket. People are also becoming increasingly reliant on their mobiles, it says.

"People are now using phones for things they dreamed of doing five years ago," Gregory tells me. "Some customers like contactless cards. It's very much about giving customers choice. We want to make sure we're providing them with the right technology."

The PayTag can currently be used to pay for goods up to the value of £15 by swiping over a compatible, contactless reader -- just as you would swipe a contactless card. The transaction limit for a contactless payment is set to rise to £20 in June.

Whether it's massively more convenient to pay with a phone than with a contactless credit card is a pertinent question -- not least because your mobile phone is already pretty valuable, without turning it into a payment device too. But Gregory says Barclaycard doesn't mind which way you pay for small stuff, just so long as it's contactlessly.

But where can I use it?

In the UK, payments companies and mobile operators have been banging on about contactless payments for donkeys' years -- the technology has been around for about five years. But it clearly hasn't reached any kind of tipping point, not least because there's only around 100,000 point of sales terminals accepting swipe-based payments. Which means there's a whole lot of shops where, if you turn up cuddling your NFC-enabled teddy bear and asking, "Can I tap that?" you'll get some very odd looks.

Barclaycard's hope is that if more people start asking shops if they can pay with a swipe, this will encourage more shops to accept contactless payments -- which in turn should get more people using it (and accelerate the death of cash, a payment method that doesn't earn Barclaycard any transaction fees).

So the company is effectively co-opting its customers into the marketing of contactless payments, hence the PayTag being entirely free to you (the tech adage, 'If it's free, you're the product' applies here).

Barclaycard predicts that the number of contactless payment terminals in the UK will rise to 150,000 this year. Gregory admits that sticky-backed plastic is not a long-term solution for mobile contactless payments. "The end goal is to have contactless nicely embedded on a phone," he says. "But we're being realistic -- we're not there today."

Whether you want it or not

The company will begin sending letters to customers who have a Visa Barclaycard from today -- the "vast majority" of its 12 million UK customers, according to Gregory -- telling them that a PayTag will be winging its way to them soon. In keeping with the company's contactless pimping ways, its customers will be opted in to getting the sticky-backed plastic unless they opt out.

"PayTag will be available to every Visa card holder over the course of this year," says Gregory.

Of course, sticky stuff is only good for as long as its sticky lasts, so Gregory says people who upgrade their phones a lot should call Barclaycard to ask for a fresh PayTag, rather than trying to peel the existing tag off and trying to stick it down anew -- to minimise the risk of it falling off.

If your PayTag does fall off and someone else starts using it you'll need to call Barclaycard to let them know it's lost. The company says it will refund any transactions that you didn't make after a PayTag is reported lost or stolen.

Calling Barclaycard to report the loss of a PayTag if you've lost the phone it was stuck to could of course prove a little challenging.

Where would you stick your PayTag? Contact me in the comments below, or plaster your views all over our Facebook page.