U.S. Bank Pilots Wristband That Can Make Payments

Thousands of the bank's employees are testing a MasterCard-branded wristband that stores customers' financial information and can be used to make payments; the wristband also stores emergency contact and medical information.

You may soon be able to make a purchase even if your wallet is sitting at home on your dresser.

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank is piloting a MasterCard-branded wristband that stores customers' financial information and can be used to make payments.

The wristband builds on an already existing product called the Vitaband-which stores emergency contact and medical information for users. Each person's customizable profile provides medical professionals with quick access to critical medical information in the event of an emergency. Working with various partners, U.S. Bank came up with a way to add payment technology to the wristband.

U.S. Bank began testing the payment-enabled wristband in multiple states, including Minnesota, in June among thousands of its employees. It claims to be among the first major U.S. card issuers to pilot the technology.

The wristband features a radio frequency identification payment chip. Employees can load and reload funds onto the chip via an online user account. But that's not to say that the wristbands couldn't be connected with customer checking accounts at some point down the road, said Dominic Venturo, U.S. Bank's chief innovation officer for payment services.

The payment technology is actually part of another pilot program that launched earlier this year. Under that program, U.S. Bank embedded “wave-and-pay” technology (the technical term is NFC, or near-field communication) in employees' BlackBerrys and iPhones, asking them to use the device at retailers with NFC terminals.

Venturo said that the pilot program for the wristbands will last a couple of months. Afterward, U.S. Bank will collect feedback and see how well it worked. He can't say how soon the wristbands might be available to consumers, but he said the technology “could be broadly adapted very rapidly.”

There are two major audiences that he believes will jump on the technology: avid sports participants and outdoor enthusiasts-like cyclers, runners, and triathletes-and those with a medical condition who already wear identification and may want the added convenience of being able to pay with it.

So-called “contactless” payments are becoming increasingly commonplace, Venturo said. Right now, there are “well north of a couple hundred thousand merchants in the U.S.” that accept such payments, and that figure is growing all the time. Among those merchants are quickservice restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, and pharmacies.

It's too early to say how much U.S. Bank would charge consumers for use of the payment technology, Venturo said. But they'd likely need to buy a Vitaband and then work with U.S. Bank to get that option enabled.

“We're constantly innovating,” said Venturo. “We're trying to test new things. . . . Pilots help us narrow in on what the ultimate consumer solution might look like.”