BREA, Calif.-Americans still are waiting for a practical way to use mobile devices to pay for things, mainly because of the tangle of technology and stakeholders.

That's why Matt Weidler's "Mobile Phone ATM Access" plan is so attractive. Weidler, IT asset coordinator at $1-billion Evangelical Christian CU here, wants to tackle mobile payments one step at a time.

Weidler's plan allows members to type text messages to get cash from ATMs. The plan, which won the CO-OP Financial Services first annual THINK Prize in April, could beat bogged-down NFC technology in the wireless payments race.

Instead of carrying the standard plastic card, members go to an ATM and text their PIN and location confirmation to the ATM from their phone, then use the ATM touchscreen as normal to complete a transaction.

Weidler's plan accommodates any mobile phone with text messaging-something more than 80% of American adults already have, according to The Pew Internet Project in Washington, D.C.

Mobile payments based on near-field communication (NFC) technology, in contrast, rely on big, long-term dreams: converting Americans over to new mobile devices that have NFC chips embedded.

"An NFC chip is a potential replacement for a debit card, but getting the entire population to change their mobile device to one that has an NFC chip isn't going to happen quickly," said Weidler.

If Mobile Phone ATM Access is deployed by CO-OP Financial Services "within the next couple years, the technology would give credit unions the appearance of being leaders in the wireless banking arena," he said.

Though Weidler won the THINK prize for his plan, he'll have little to do with implementation. "I don't know enough about ATM software or networks to go forward. My participation ended with the idea and business plan. But I would be surprised if CO-OP did nothing with this."

"We can't predict at this time when Matt's idea might be implemented," said Kathy Herziger-Snider, VP-product development, CO-OP. "We're taking a second technical review of the idea."

Of course, using a mobile at the ATM doesn't address every situation where people could exchange money wirelessly. But that's OK, Weidler said. "Sometimes we focus too much on the biggest impact and not enough on iterative implementation with smaller cost, like mobile ATM access. If you develop a successful idea for a niche, people are more willing to adopt. Perhaps the point-of-sale people will get interested once they see our success."

Using a mobile at the ATM is potentially far more secure than using a debit card, suggested Weidler. "Cell phones uniquely identify the user with their phone number. The credit union can text that number and receive a reply, which confirms the user is physically holding the authentication factor-the phone."

Weidler's plan would require members to initially register their device and a unique cell ATM access password with the CU. Cell phones have passcode locks, adding another layer of protection. The other issue: getting regulators comfortable with replacing PIN card security with a customer authentication factor and PIN.

As for the $10,000 prize, Weidler said he'll use it for a downpayment. "I'm grateful. I poured hours into thinking about the idea, meeting the contest's business requirements, and following-up with CO-OP."

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