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Millions of Americans could see big changes soon in how they get cash, pay bills and manage their money, according to a spate of recent reports by researchers.

The biggest and fastest change will happen in regards to the use of mobile phones to pay bills. According to a report published last week by Visiongain, a British market research company, the number of people worldwide using smartphones to make payments will grow from 120 million today to 658 million over the next five years.

As more people gain access to mobile banking, the total value of those transactions will grow, from $150 billion a year now to $556 billion in 2016, Visiongain estimates.

Other analysts have less rosy predictions, especially in the short term. Gartner, a technology research company, estimates that the number of people worldwide with the ability to make mobile payments will reach only 141 million in 2011, and they will rack up “only” $86 billion in transactions, according to a report published last month by Gartner.

[Related article: Manage Student Loans With Your Smart Phone? Eh.]

Even with those lower estimates, the growth of smartphone payments is still happening fast. The number of people making mobile payments will grow 38% this year over 2010, Gartner says, and the value of their payments will skyrocket 76%.

One way that growth will continue is through “Near Field Communication” (NFC), which sends simplified data messages for complicated transactions. Gartner says that even with this helpful technology, most people will still prefer using cash and credit cards instead of their phones for years to come.

“(C)ompanies are trumpeting the prospects of Near Field Communication (NFC) without realizing the complexity of the service model. We believe mass market adoption of NFC payments is at least four years away,” Sandy Shen, Gartner’s research director, said in a press release. “The biggest hurdle is the need to change user behavior by convincing consumers to pay with mobile phones instead of cash and cards.”

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Meanwhile, don’t expect your old-fashioned ATM to sit back and take all these changes without putting up some kind of fight. According to a survey published last week by Aite Group, a consulting firm for the financial industry, 41% of bank leaders are looking to modernize their ATMs with more modern features, like ads personalized to each individual user.

Manufacturers of ATMs have come up with all sorts of innovations that banks have been slow to adopt, partially because running an ATM network is costly enough already, according to the report.

“The U.S. bank ATM channel needs to catch up to the level of technology available in the market and provided by the vendor community,” David Albertazzi, who wrote the Aite Group’s report, says in a press release. “Moving forward, creating a more personalized and integrated ATM experience that leads to … increased customer retention will drive ATM infrastructure, hardware, and software upgrades.”

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