– 11 September 2013

“Tap-to-pay” systems are taking off in the UK where consumers use smartphones to literally tap and pay for their products and services at select outlets. Internationally, the mobile wallet market has been littered with the corpses of failed mobile payments firms, which could be why South Africa has been slow on the uptake.

What is “tap-to-pay”? Well, it’s a system that uses the near-field communication (NFC) capabilities of your smartphone to make debit- and credit-card transactions without having to swipe your credit or debit card. Basically, your SIM card ‘becomes’ all your bank accounts and credit-cards. It’s more convenient and more secure, as the data is encrypted and no-one has access to your card. PINs and OTPs can add a layer of security in case your phone is lost or stolen.

In South Africa the idea of “mobile money” hasn’t really taken off, compared with the success of, for example, Safaricom’s M-Pesa in  East mobile walletAfrica. Late last year MTN launched a project in collaboration with Pick ‘n Pay and Tyme Capital, which allows users to receive an authorisation code on their cellphone which would then be used as a means of payment at a till point. It seemed a bit of a mission though, involving a process of sending USSD (MMI) codes and getting SMS verification, and required the user to have an  account at Pick ‘n Pay’s in-house bank offering, which is run under the licence of the Bank of Athens.

People want simplicity these days, and in terms of technology, there is no reason SA shouldn’t have the same convenience as our UK and US counterparts. But previous attempts at replacing cash and physical cards with cellphones have fallen foul of South Africa’s stringent banking regulations.

Another issue that could have dampened the market enthusiasm for mobile money is SA banks’ efficiency at deploying ATMs. There’s an ATM on just about every street of every town which means local banking is truly convenient. In tandem, the numbers of ‘unbanked’ individuals is falling.

For the middle-to-upper classes, who have several accounts, true convenience would be having everything in one place: on their smartphones. The latest ad from MTN, announcing the ‘MTN Wallet’ seems to be aimed at this segment.

It’s an artful piece of stop-frame animation that traces the history of the wallet, starting in 1692 with a leather draw-string purse, right to the present day. The core of the message is in the voice-over: “Now that your SIM card can replace all your other cards, you can put the wallet into the mobile phone… where you can keep more cash, cards and contacts than the humble wallet ever could. So say goodbye to the wallet, and welcome to the new world.”

This would imply that this product is not exclusive to one vendor, as in the Pick ‘n Pay Mobile Money case, but rather something that would approximate the more international, tap-to-pay systems. Unfortunately, the website mentioned in the commercial, doesn’t give any clues.

The ad is elegant and artistic, with every detail carefully thought out and painstakingly executed. Stop-frame animation requires taking between 12 and 25 frames (individual shots) for every second of screen-time, and the animator has to move the items in the frame by miniscule amounts in order to create the illusion of motion.

The team at Am I Collective and Killer Robot VFX, along with Xyzoo’s Lindsay van Blerk have made a real gem here, right down to details like light sources, different leather textures and even cash and identity cards that all change appropriately according to the era – ending up with a modern wallet that transforms into a cellphone, built from the inside out. All in under 30 seconds. The agency was MetropolitanRepublic.

Exactly how the system works, whether it uses NFC or not, is still to be revealed in future communications from MTN. At least one would hope so, because this ad is not so much a message as a teaser – something to make us sit up and take notice. It’s beautifully crafted, and worth watching several times to appreciate all the little details.

Watch the ad on YouTube at: 
or on Vimeo at: