MILAN (Reuters) - Italian payments systems technology and services group SIA expects its contactless mobile phone payment system to be launched on its home market in early 2014, its chief executive said on Tuesday, as mobile users look to a future with less cash.
Milan-based SIA, owned by a group of mostly Italian banks which according to recent media reports are looking to sell a controlling stake, operates the bulk of Italy's payment systems network and is present in around 40 countries.
"Mobile payments will be launched in Italy at the beginning of 2014, before the end of March, and we are trying to replicate this in other European countries," Massimo Arrighetti told Reuters on the margins of an industry conference in Milan.
"We take it for granted that 80 percent of smartphones and all shops will be equipped with the necessary technology in one or two years," he said.
In a study commissioned by SIA, research firm ISPO said that 94 percent of Italians liked the idea of contactless mobile payments for their speed and practicality and the fact that no cash or bank cards are needed as virtual cards are instead downloaded onto the phone using a special SIA app.
Arrighetti also said SIA will test a platform for mobile ticketing in three Italian cities next year with Telecom Italia. The platform - like the mobile payments system - is based on NFC (near field communication) technology.
Unlike early mobile payment deals, which involved one-to-one arrangements between single banks and telecom companies, SIA's mobile system has an open architecture and allows users to keep using the service even if they change bank or telecom provider.
"Our solution allows users to change bank without an interruption of service. This is why we think it is a winning card," he said.
SIA, whose technology managed 9.2 billion payments and 23.7 billion trading operations in 2012, saw revenues rising 4.5 percent to 348 million euros last year with core profits up 36 percent to almost 65 million euros.
A similar open-ended system is being planned in Poland, where six banks, including biggest lender PKO BP, have teamed up to create a payment system which could challenge the business model of credit card companies such as MasterCard and Visa.
SIA's mobile phone payment system has already been adopted by four mid-sized Italian lenders and by mobile network operators Vodafone, Vimpelcom's Wind and Hutchison Whampoa's Tre Italia.
Arrighetti said he could not rule out the country's biggest phone group Telecom Italia and its largest lenders Intesa Sanpaolo and Unicredit joining.
"It's a work in progress," he said.
Arrighetti declined to comment on reports about a possible ownership change at SIA.
Italian daily La Repubblica said this earlier month that state-backed fund Fondo Strategico Italiano and infrastructure fund F2i were in advanced talks to buy 65 percent of SIA for around 450 million euros from its four largest investors Intesa, Unicredit, Monte dei Paschi di Siena and BNP Paribas's Italian unit BNL.
(Reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Stephen Jewkes and Greg Mahlich)