Nearly half of adults under 35 could be making payments with handheld devices within 10 years, according to a report Mercatus LLC issued Monday.

Consumers older than 45 will be much less likely to adopt mobile payments, said Robert B. Hedges Jr., the Boston financial consulting firm's managing partner.

"It's going to be an excellent new-customer acquisition tool among a category of consumers who are willing to consider an alternative provider," Mr. Hedges said in an interview Monday. "The more you're dialed into it as a segment play for customer acquisition, the greater the benefit."

Only 1.5% of U.S. consumers have ever used their mobile phones to make a payment, but almost 50% are aware that they can do so, according to a Mercatus survey of more than 2,500 adults. The percentage of people who have made payments with their mobile phones is likely to grow to 15% among those 18 to 30 by 2013 and close to 50% among those under 35 by 2018, the firm found.

The survey was conducted in June through an online panel managed by the San Francisco research firm MarketTools Inc.

Mr. Hedges said the few people making mobile payments today tend to use services based on text messaging, because such transactions require no support from banks or phone companies.

The Mercatus study is part of a body of research showing growing business opportunities in mobile financial services. Last week Javelin Strategy and Research of Pleasanton, Calif., reported that 45% of consumers who use mobile banking make expedited payments at least once a month.

"In the next five years there is going to be real strong adoption among young adults" as they continue to increase their use of handsets' data-processing capabilities, Mr. Hedges said. "It's all about their cell phone, anyway."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.