How to increase usage of mobile payments amongst older adults? Towards an inclusive Fintech for the older generation

Michal Halperin Ben Zvi & Dr Ira Sobel

Despite the growth in the use of smartphones in the US, many older adults experience barriers in adopting mobile payments. This article demonstrates how payment providers can increase their market share in the 65+ segment of the population by deploying a more inclusive strategy to develop electronic wallets and payment apps.

The digital transformation in the financial sector manifests in a shift from traditional banking to digital banking. This trend has often led to the marginalization of older users from their daily financial routines.

As the use of cash and credit cards is decreasing worldwide, the issue of accessibility and usage of mobile payments by older users also becomes relevant to the broader issue of financial inclusion. Digital and mobile banking can help older adults improve their own sense of control and ownership over their finances and improve their well-being. Hence, it is essential to understand to what extent older users adopt mobile payments and the barriers affecting accessibility and usage of these tools.

The pandemic was a driver of technology adoption among older adults

Looking back to 2019, the use of technology by older users has grown dramatically. A recent survey conducted by the AARP shows that the 50+ population in the US has increased its use of technology. This was driven by the need to be socially connected with others and is also manifested in online shopping and online financial transactions. As a result, as the figure below shows, device ownership among mid-life and older adults rose dramatically from 2019 to 2020. Specifically, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, have demonstrated the highest growth, with smartphones leading this trend up to 85% in ownership rates.

Source: AARP

The potential market for Proximity mobile payments among older users

The rise in smartphone ownership is driving the use of mobile payments across all age groups. However, it is important to distinguish between the different methods of mobile payments. Mobile payments are divided into two groups: remote payments and proximity payments. Remote payments are a remote or e-payment scenario where users can shop online, pay their bills, or send and receive money to and from another person (for example, PayPal, or another P2P platform).

By contrast, proximity payments are made through a point-of-sale (POS) terminal, which can fully replace cash or credit cards (like Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay). The uniqueness of the proximity payments is that they require a close physical distance between the buyer and the terminal by using Near Field Communication (NFC) or barcodes. While remote payments have already been around for quite a long time, it is projected by eMarketer, that the number of proximity mobile payments users in the US will increase to over 50% percent in 2025 with significant growth from 40.1% in 2020.

Significantly, as we already know, the 50 plus population in the US (not less than 110 million people) is driving remarkable economic growth. In the US alone, by 2030, this segment is expected to contribute to the US economy more than 50 percent of the GDP. If life expectancy will continue to rise, there is no doubt that the spending power of this age group will manifest even more than before in mobile payments.

The onboarding stage of using a new app is the “Achilles heel” for older users

Proximity payments are especially useful for older adults. By permitting payments at shops, restaurants, pharmacies, and daily transportation, proximity payments may be drivers of independence and self-efficacy for older users.

Despite the salient growth in the ownership of mobile payments among the 50+ segment, there are still many barriers in the accessibility and usage of mobile devices, smartphones and mobile payments. As we will describe in the next section, the onboarding stage of using a new app is the “Achilles heel” for older users.

Barriers in the use of digital payments by older users

Let’s focus now on the major barriers experienced by older people and discuss each of them separately: privacy concerns, status quo bias, and motivation.

1.Privacy concerns

A significant explanation for the lack of mobile payment adoption may derive from privacy concerns, often causing older adults to prefer tangible means of payments over the use of a “machine”. To better understand their privacy concerns, we should look at how trust and risk adversity change as we age. In contrast to the use of cash, which provides a direct sense of control for older users, the latter perceive technology to be somehow more threatening. Often, getting older means that our risk-taking perspective tends to change. Recent studies have shown that age is correlated with the preferences of winning a sure gain over a chance to win a more significant gain. Put it simply, older people are more risk-averse and hence they are less likely to choose risky adventures.

Given this tendency, they are more likely to pay cash compared to taking the risk of paying with a mobile payment because there is a chance (in their own perspective) to be exposed to scams and frauds. This finding is in line with other studies which have shown that seniors are becoming savvier about privacy and technology as they age.

The issue of privacy, therefore, should be addressed by marketing professionals as the first priority especially in the onboarding stage of any new mobile payment app.

Older adults are more likely to adhere to things they are familiar with

2. The status quo bias

From a behavioral economics point of view, the status quo bias is explained by our preference to adhere to things we are well familiar with. One of the drivers of the status quo bias is the sunk cost effect, which describes the general tendency to continue consuming or pursuing an option if we invested time, money, or other resources in it. One could think of a person who spent half an hour driving to his bank branch, looked for car parking and waited in line for the cash machine. When he is free to shop, at last, he is less likely to try using the app after all the former efforts brought him to the shop.

3.Motivation = importance+effort (usability)

Besides the privacy concerns, and the status quo bias, the issue of motivation is not less important. Motivation is an outcome of two major elements: How important it is for the user to perform a certain task and what effort that this task requires. Marketing professionals should focus on the first element and therefore provide knowledge on the benefits of using proximity mobile payments. Regarding the question of effort, the answer is highly related to UX/UI convenience. Adjustments in both importance and effort can help deal with unknown user experience and installation (which 24–29% of older adults rated as barriers).

Exploring usability improvement would increase the motivation to use mobile payments. Recent studies have shown that spending 10% of the product development budget on usability can improve the conversion rate by 83%. Nevertheless, deploying a user-centric approach and an inclusive design is a “must” but not enough. Only by deeply understanding older adults’ needs, abilities and desires can we adjust the digital tools for this specific population. Such adjustments need to be flexible (considering new knowledge, trends, regulations, and guidelines) and relate to the diversity in older adults’ perceptions, along with their cognitive, emotional, and physiological challenges as they are. In addition, their level of digital literacy should be taken into account too.

Given the privacy concerns, the status quo bias, and motivation, to reach the full potential of older users in proximity mobile payments, payment providers should relate to this topic across all the product’s lifecycle; from R & D, design, training sales, to marketing. At the same time, payment providers should take a “walk the talk’’ approach and put their words into action.

However, it’s important to note that attrition rates could still be very high, especially during the onboarding stage. Therefore, mobile phone providers should ensure that the onboarding process fits the older user’s needs, desires, and abilities.

Compliant digital tools are far from responding to older adults’ abilities

We suggest more contrast between the text and the background screen

From a regulatory perspective, most digital payment providers comply with accessibility guidelines. Nevertheless, it turns out that the level of compliance guided by the law is far from compliant with older users’ needs. Compliance-based cashless payments, for example, are not inclusive enough for older users, a situation that can be exacerbated over time as cashless payments become more broadly adopted.

Accordingly, seniors are almost twice as likely to give up on a digital task. Among all users who quit a task without completing it, seniors gave up a digital task 30 seconds before the younger users.

So what are we suggesting to mobile providers?

In the last part of the article, we show how even minor modifications to mobile payments could make a big difference for older users. In many cases, these modifications can ease the usage of their younger counterparts too. Based on our vast experience with start-ups and scale-ups, and a profound understanding of older adults’ abilities, we suggest minor modifications to the most popular electronic payment app- Apple Pay.

The following examples suggest minor adjustments that could increase older users’ engagement and convenience, especially during the onboarding process. The adjustments include changes in two domains: visualization and interface, whereas these two domains are usually the first among many other domains which our customers choose to take care of.

1. Visualization: As we get older, our vision tends to deteriorate. Therefore, visualization is tremendously essential. When the contrast is too low, users experience eye strain as they try to decipher the words. Moreover, people are less likely to trust a text that is hard to read — a carryover from the age of fine print and therefore, we suggest more contrast.

An example of the problem of contrast is shown in the picture attached, in the “Get started” screen on the Apple Pay application. We suggest more contrast between the text and the background screen.

Scrolling and too close buttons may be very challenging for older users

2. Interface: Another element that should be taken into account is the level of motor function. Loss of manual hand functioning in this age group is often driven by natural age-related deterioration. This deterioration is often implied in the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, especially among those in the age of 70 years and above.

To operate any technology, hand function skills are needed. Technology-based devices such as tablets and smartphones require fine motor skills to interact with a touchscreen interface. Small and often too close buttons (like those in the left picture) may make it more difficult for older users to use a digital product. Therefore, we suggest using other features that do not require scrolling, so that lower functionality will not prevent older users from using them.

Changes to the interface such as these are apt also in other fields and products, however, because mobile payment products necessitate a large amount of trust and create apprehension, there is a stronger need for a more easy and user-friendly interface.

To summarize, the use of technology and mobile payments has increased dramatically in the past year. Nevertheless, there are still many barriers faced by older users. This article focused on the significant barriers preventing older adults from using technology and suggested two minor modifications that demonstrate how these barriers could be easily mitigated. Adjusting mobile payments to address the needs of older adults is a win-win situation for payment providers and older users alike. Understanding the needs, desires, and abilities of this age group and developing better products for older users will lead to more inclusive financial services for all.

About the authors:

Dr Michal Halperin Ben Zvi is an expert on building and adjusting digital products for older users and an expert in the psychology of aging. She worked with big software companies and start-ups to develop an age-friendly interfaces and user experience and in recent years, she consulted on the development of dozens of services oriented to the older adults’ needs and abilities, including digital health and banking services. Nowadays, Dr Halperin Ben Zvi ,leads a national project aiming to formulate guiding principles and standards for adjusting digital services to the elderly population.

Dr Ira Sobel is the founder and CEO of Fintech For Longevity, a unique research and consulting platform helping the financial sector to be well prepared for the demographic trend of aging through Fintech and inclusive digital designs. Dr Ira Sobel is an expert on Fintech and Fintech-for-Aging-and-Longevity with a particular focus on promoting inclusive financial services to older adults and their family caregivers.

For more information please visit our website at: www.fintech4longevity.com or contract us at sara@fintech4longevity.com

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