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Hey Britain, want to link your mobile to your BANK ACCOUNT?

OK, but what if it meant Visa and pals didn't get paid...

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VocaLink, not content with processing 90 per cent of UK salaries and almost all of the DWP's benefits payments, has launched a payments platform to turn mobile phone numbers into bank account keys.

The company's Zapp system is targeted at merchants who want to take payments without having to muck about with cards, and banks who are bored of paying the Visa and Mastercard cut. Zapp also, critically, comes from a company already trusted by the significant players in the value chain.

Seventy per cent of household billing goes through VocaLink, the company tells us, and as VocaLink provides the infrastructure for BACS (direct debits and credits) that's suprisingly easy to believe.

VocaLink is also the technology behind the Mobile Payments Council - a national scheme to facilitate peer-to-peer payments between banks. That will launch in the UK early next year, allowing services like Barclays' PingIt to address any mobile number and linked current account - but Zapp is targeted at merchants instead.

To use Zapp, the punter clicks the icon on a retailer's site and provides a mobile number: a process which can be automated if the site is mobile. Zapp's servers notify the Zapp smartphone app (provided by the user's bank) which pops up on the punter's phone and asks for authorisation, with an optional PIN authentication stage.

Once authorised, the payment is deducted from the customer's current account and the merchant is notified either directly or, if necessary, using a notification number displayed on the phone's screen for submission to the site. Credit cards are avoided and security enhanced by the addition of a physical factor.

Secure systems generally rely on two factors - something one has, and something one knows. The Chip'n'PIN system is a prime example as it requires possession of a card and knowledge of the associated PIN.

The problem with internet transactions is that all one needs is knowledge of the card details, and even where a password is used it's too easily compromised; a mobile phone offers secure communications and a (mostly) malware-free platform.

Taking payments via mobile is far from original: more than a decade ago websites were offering access to content on production of a password obtained using premium SMS. Without the backing of significant brands, however, it’s always been a niche technology.

The most obvious competitor to Zapp is PayForIt, the operator-backed platform which adds payments to one's mobile-phone bill, or deducts from one's pre-paid balance. in a similar fashion. PayForIt has been criticised for having a clunky interface, but recently improved its usability and remains a leader in the UK field.

Linking a current account to a mobile phone number, just as PayPal links to an e-mail address, is a worthy idea, and will probably happen to the detriment of PayForIt and the mobile operators. The Mobile Payments Council, whose P2P system launches next year with international aspirations, will ensure a good deal of media attention comes to the subject. Zapp's slick presence (really, scroll down to see Web 2.0 in action) will drive more to consider the idea, if they haven't already.

The days of sort codes and account numbers are already ending, with mobile digits being the numbers worth knowing. ®

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