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Barclays launches a new NFC payments app for UK customers

Contactless payments represent a paradigm shift in banking. Your checking and savings institution of choice, previously a neutral keeper of your hard-earned cash, now has the power to peek into your spending habits and recommend loans, accounts, and other products accordingly. Wells Fargo was one of the first last month to join the mobile-payments-data fray, and now Barclays has announced a bid of its own: a new NFC service that supports payment terminals in the U.K.

The app, Barclays’ Contactless Mobile, isn’t exactly packed to the brim with features, but it checks the basic boxes. You can complete transactions with your smartphone’s NFC chip at supported retailers, plus keep track of your cards and various balances in a unified interface.

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Setup is simple enough: select “Contactless Mobile” in the menu, choose the default card for making contactless payments, and, within Android’s “Tap and Pay” menu, choose “Barclays Mobile Banking” as the default app. Completing a contactless payment is fairly simple, too: tap your phone to the point-of-sales terminal, enter your account PIN number, and then tap a second time to finish.

That Barclays is launching its own payments app isn’t exactly surprising. The U.K.-based bank is a historic skeptic of Google’s Android Pay system — it has so far declined to join the service — but that is not the only reason. While most banks cap contactless payments to a maximum of 30 British pounds, the Barclays app handles transactions up to 100 pounds. And it features a persistent notification to let you know when tap-and-pay is enabled, and, more usefully, when it isn’t — a feature Android Pay and most other contactless services lack.

Barclays Contactless Mobile supports both Visa Barclaycards and Barclays debit cards, Barclays said. It can be used in lieu of an Oyster card for using London’s public transit, too, and will show “travel information” if you choose to link your Transport for London (TfL) details.

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Barclays’s timing is impeccable. According to industry group the U.K. Cards Association, contactless payments in the U.K. have surged in recent years. More than 179.6 million transactions were made in March of this year — an astounding 184-percent jump from the same period a year earlier. That growth has corresponded with a rise in supported terminals — NFC-enabled bank terminals now number north of 350,000.

Barclays Contactless Mobile is supported at over 400,000 locations across the U.K., said Barclays. It’s available for download through the Play Store, and compatible with Android phones running 4.4.2 KitKat.