QR Codes: More Than a Marketing Gimmick

There’s now a range of applications for what typically has been a marketing tool.

December 13, 2013

I sometimes think we’ve become so enamored of new tools that we embrace emerging technologies regardless of their validity.

That’s a mistake. New products should be seen through two prisms—one in the way they solve existing problems, the other in how they offer new capabilities.

To understand the difference, consider QR (quick response) codes.

A little context here: QR codes originated almost a decade ago with the automotive industry in Japan, and the system quickly gained traction by proving easy to read and having great storage.

There’s now a range of QR code applications on the market, from product tracking to document management, but that’s not how the tool is commonly perceived.

For most people, QR codes are a cool marketing gimmick; a secret key to discounts and giveaways. That’s certainly true, but if that’s the only value it brings, then it’s likely to be made obsolete by newer gimmicks.

However, there’s so much more to QR than that.

Take, for example, a major pain point for the financial services industry: exception items due to bill pay users entering incorrect information to set up a payee or when making a bill payment. These are avoidable human errors, but errors nonetheless, and they take a toll.

But what if a QR code could contain just the right amount of information for a mobile user to make an error-free bill payment?

This was the thinking behind the QR Bill specification, which was submitted to the NACHA Electronic Payments Association’s Council for Electronic Billing and Payment as a potential solution.

The response was almost uniformly positive. The council soon set about refining the concept and specifications, and sent it out for industry feedback and comments. Since then, at least 22 organizations, from financial institutions and billers to major technology providers, have agreed to participate in an industry evaluation.

NACHA says it has received calls from organizations around the world, all in the process of adapting it to meet their local needs.

This is a perfect example of a technology becoming embedded in one field (marketing), then gaining popularity in another.

The QR Bill makes it easy to add payees and make payments, and there is no manual keying of account numbers, addresses, or phone numbers. This should help boost the number of payees that get added to the system.

Besides, the better it works in this field, the more uses we’ll find for it.

Of course, we’re still far from broad-scale adoption. For that to happen, billers and their print vendors must print the QR Bill.

For their part, financial services institutions and their service providers should develop an app that can handle the QR Bill scan functionality and integrate with existing bill pay services.

The QR Code is no panacea—like any technology, it can’t do everything. But it can do much more than it’s doing now, and we can all benefit by making it work for us.




  DEEPTI SAHI is group product manager for Digital Insight, a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider.