The Future of Zapp and Other Musings on MasterCard and VocaLink

Yesterday, my colleague Gareth shared on these pages his first thoughts after the announcement that MasterCard is buying VocaLink. I agree with his points, but also wanted to add some of my own observations.

As someone who closely follows the developments in digital payments, one of the questions following the acquisition to me is what happens with Zapp, a solution that VocaLink has been working on for the last few years to bring "mobile payments straight from your bank app." To me, it boils down to two considerations:

  1. Would MasterCard want to kill off Zapp?
  2. If not, can MasterCard help accelerate Zapp's launch?

My view on the first question is a resounding "no". Yet, the question is not as silly as it might seem. At Celent, we have been talking about the "battle of rails" in payments, i.e. between pull-based payments running on the cards infrastructure, and push-based payments, such as Zapp, built on top of new faster/ real-time payment networks. Given the cards' dominance in merchant payments today (at least in the UK, US and quite a few other markets), solutions such as Zapp may be seen as a threat to card-based transactions. Buying off a competitor only to shut it down may be an expensive strategy, but would not be unheard of.

And yet, I believe that such logic would be completely flawed. By buying VocaLink, MasterCard becomes a rail-agnostic payments company, and stands to benefit from cards and non-cards transactions. Furthermore, specifically in the UK, Zapp could be MasterCard's ticket to regaining ground in everyday consumer payments. As I discussed in another recent blog, Visa controls 97% of the debit card market in the UK. I would imagine that a Zapp-like solution would have more of an immediate impact on debit card transactions rather than credit card spend.

So, if that's the case, can MasterCard help accelerate Zapp's launch? Perhaps. We first heard of Zapp in 2013, and even included a case study in a Celent report published in September 2013. Yet, three years later, despite announcing a number of high-profile partners – from Barclays and HSBC, to Sainsbury's and Thomas Cook, to Elavon and Worldpay – Zapp is yet to go live. I don't claim to have any insight knowledge into the reasons for a delay, but I would imagine that changes in the competitive environment had something to do with it, particularly with Apple Pay showing how easy mobile payments can be when paying in-stores or in-apps. While I have no doubt that VocaLink and Zapp have great technologists and User Experience design specialists, I would expect that MasterCard's Digital Enablement Service (MDES) should bring helpful experience of integrating mobile payments into the banks' apps. And MasterCard's relationships with both acquirers and issuers should help convince the remaining skeptics and bring more partners on-board.

Zapp aside, I think the deal is good for both organisations for a number of other reasons, such as for example:

  • Not every payment is particularly suitable for cards (e.g. B2B, government) – now these payment flows become accessible for MasterCard.
  • Visibility to a much broader pool of transactions should be very helpful when developing risk management, loyalty and other value added services.
  • MasterCard's global reach should help bring VocaLink's experience in faster payments to markets which would have been harder for VocaLink to access by themselves.

In closing, I woudl like to go back to another announcement MasterCard made last week – the one about rebranding, the first in 20 years. MasterCard has changed its logo – it still has the interlocking circles in the colours which are widely recognised, but the company's name is spelled "mastercard" (although the company's legal name remains MasterCard):


According to MasterCard, in addition to a more modern look, there was a conscious desire to reduce the emphasis on "card." That particular announcement was combined with the re-launch of Masterpass, and of course, digital payments will over time reduce the reliance on cards as a physical form factor. However, yesterday's announcement diversifies MasterCard away from card rails, and not just the plastic form factor, and is an important step in the company's journey from a cards network to a payments network.


Cardless ATMs and disappointing mobile wallet adoption

While I’m an outspoken advocate of financial services technology, I have been a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to mobile wallets. My skeptical attitude reached an apex when I dropped my smartphone in a glass of merlot several years ago and hasn’t recovered. Had my smartphone been my mobile wallet, embarrassment would have been the least of my problems. Said simply, I just don’t see a compelling use-case for most consumers. Until they arise, I expect industry press to continue to publish stories of lackluster adoption. There have been many. One in particular caught my eye. A recent article in Digital Transactions makes my point in its opening statement, “The introduction of cardless ATMs, which rely on a financial institution’s mobile wallet instead of a debit card to make an ATM withdrawal, could help further the adoption of mobile wallets and mobile payments.” Said another way, if the industry offers consumers enough reasons to configure and use a mobile wallet, adoption may eventually result. This doesn’t sound remotely compelling to me. I can hear the rebuttals now. In defense of Bank of America, BMO Harris, Chase, Peoples Bank and other institutions that have invested in cardless ATM access, physical debit card usage at the ATM could pose an annoyance to mobile wallet adopters, few that they are. With ATM usage roughly twice the customer penetration of mobile banking (below), the last thing banks need is a reason for customers to be dissatisfied with their ATM experience. In my opinion, that’s a more compelling rational for investment than some vein attempt to bolster mobile wallet adoption.

US P12M Channel Usage 2014Source: Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2015, U.S. Federal Reserve, March 2015

In the article, one banker summed up the challenge associated with mobile cash access this way: “We found the biggest struggle is explaining what it is and the benefit it offers.” If the biggest struggle is communicating a compelling value proposition, then maybe the value proposition isn’t compelling. I don’t think it is – at least not yet. Please don’t misunderstand, I think cardless cash ATM access is a reasonable initiative, but not for the reason stated in the article. I applaud efforts to better integrate retail delivery channels, and ATM cash access is a baby step in that direction. Combine cardless ATM access with other capabilities such as broader P2P payment mechanisms, geo-location and a merchant-funded rewards program, and mobile wallets begin to look compelling. Until then, banks have a bevy of higher priority initiatives to deliver in my opinion. But, even if my bank enabled cardless cash access, I still wouldn’t abandon my physical wallet. In the event of another tragic merlot mishap, traditional ATM cash access might be a real life-saver.

Looking back on Money 20/20

Last week my colleague Dan Latimore and I were at Money 20/20, which in four short years has become a “must attend” event in payments and Fintech. I’ve been there at the very beginning and it has been exciting to watch it grow from about 1,000 of us in the first year to over 10,000 this year. Congratulations to the Money 20/20 team for this incredible achievement! And thank you to all of those who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. As I was reflecting back on the last week, I realised that it’s no longer possible to take in all of Money 20/20. In the first year, even with parallel session tracks, you could absorb a lot of what was happening “by osmosis”, just walking the floors of Aria. As the event grew and moved to a much more spacious Venetian, somewhat paradoxically, the experiences got more individual, depending on which sessions and keynotes you attended, which booths you visited and which people you met. Here are some of my key takeaways:
  1. Perhaps the biggest and most talked-about announcement of the show was Chase Pay and its partnership with MCX. Chase is developing a wallet that will be available to all of its 94 million cardholders to use in-store, in-app and online. The wallet is not planning to use NFC at the POS, with QR codes set to be a most likely method, and as a result will be available on any smartphone device, irrespective of its operating system. On the merchant side, Chase is offering a fixed fee processing which will make merchant costs more reliable and predictable with an opportunity to “earn it down” based on volume. Partnership with MCX gives Chase Pay access to the largest merchants in the country. In addition to a stand-alone app, Chase Pay will also be available as a payment option inside CurrentC, the wallet that MCX has been piloting in Columbus OH, the results of which were presented and greeted with a tentative applause during another keynote at Money 20/20.
  2. Mobile payments market in the US is only getting more complex, with Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay already there, more “Pays” on the way (e.g. LG Pay), and now Chase Pay and revived expectations of CurrentC. Make no mistake – while most “pays” look similar, they offer a different customer experience (e.g. how to trigger payment, where it is accepted, etc.) and require issuers to adapt their processes to each of them. At the show, I picked up strong signals from issuers that they want to have more control over digital payments and are looking at various options, including HCE wallets, to achieve that.
  3. The Tokenisation panel was one of the best sessions I attended with panelists from the networks, issuers, merchants and processors sharing their views how tokenisation is going to evolve. It includes tokenisation for cards-on-file and e-commerce transactions (both Visa and MasterCard announced tokenisation of their Checkout and MasterPass wallets respectively), new approach to 3D Secure, introduction of Payment Account Reference (PAR) – a non transactable ID that ties together all the tokens, and tokenisation for DDAs which The Clearing House is working on. According the panelists, tokenisation is the much-needed “abstraction layer” that will be a “foundation for the next 20 years of innovation.”
  4. Biometrics are entering mainstream, with FIDO alliance laying the groundwork for how to deploy biometrics for authentication. Sorting through a myriad of biometrics providers and approaches (e.g. fingerprints, hands, voice, eyes, etc.) is a headache and eventually, it will be consumers that will decide which approach works best for them. FIDO alliance delivers a standard irrespective of what the consumers choose. Looking into the future, the panelists envisaged a behavioural approach where the providers use a number of data points to constantly verify that the user behaviour is consistent with a typical pattern and authenticates automatically in the background, a process called “ambient authentication.”
  5. Conversations about cryptocurrencies have matured enormously over the last 12-18 months. The focus is now very clearly on blockchain technology and how the financial services industry can best deploy it. A number of exciting partnerships are emerging in this space, from TD Bank and RBC working with Ripple on domestic and cross-border P2P payments as well as more efficient transfers between subsidiaries, to Nasdaq’s partnership with Chain, to the R3 consortium. Perhaps the most exciting demo I’ve seen was Visa’s connected car experience, where the driver could review the new leasing document on the screen, sign it, register it on a blockchain and drive off. Time will tell if this is how we will be getting to drive cars in the future, but it only shows the opportunities out there.
Finally, I’ve been asking others at the show what they thought were the key themes. Interestingly, two themes came up very consistently – innovation and focus on customer experience. The latter manifests itself in so many different ways, from making it easy and intuitive for consumers to pay to solving very specific merchant problems, whether it’s around acceptance and security (Verifone, Ingenico, Poynt), conversion rates (BlueSnap, Affirm), lending (PayPal, LendUp) or seamless integration of payments into the overall proposition (Stripe, First Data). The third theme seemed to be a little more contentious. Some said it was all about disruption, while others talked about collaboration. I actually agree with both – to me they are two sides of the same coin. The disruption in FS is real, but many find that the way to deal with it is through collaboration. Few, if any, have talked about demolishing the world as we know it today; instead, all are focused on how to make it better. I know I only scratched the surface here. For example, there were also some very interesting announcements about domestic P2P/push payments such as Early Warning buying clearXchange, Dwolla partnering with CME Group, and The Clearing House working with Vocalink. And companies like Earthport, PayCommerce and Ripple are making an impact on cross-border payments. But as I said, it’s impossible to take it all in, and no write-up can do full justice to Money 20/20 – you just have to be there… See you next year in Vegas or perhaps even in Copenhagen at Money 20/20 Europe!

As conference season rolls on, here’s what I’ll be looking for at Money20/20

We’re smack in the middle of conference season and the team has been traveling all over the world. We’ve been busy with Sibos and BAI (unfortunately held at exactly the same time), AFP, and next week, Money20/20.  In only its fourth year this new conference had to move to a new venue so that it could avoid running afoul of the fire marshal. Given the excitement around the payments ecosystem, we think it will be an exhausting whirlwind of a week. What will Zil Bareisis and I be looking for? Three main topics top the list:
  • What’s the view on blockchain? There was a lot of discussion at Sibos on the corporate side (we don’t think retail will be leading), but we’d like to find out if there’s heat behind the light.
  • What sort of value added services around the payment are in production or on the drawing board?
  • Is the apparent stall in mobile payments adoption temporary, and what can be done by ecosystem participants to jump-start it?
There will, of course, be many other payments topics covered, and we’re looking forward to plunging in to soak up the zeitgeist. What will you be looking for? If you’ll be in Vegas next week, we look forward to seeing you. If you still haven’t registered, you can get $250 off your ticket by using the code celen250.

First-time success rate of my Apple Pay transactions today: 0%

Yes, you did read this right – today I could not complete a single Apple Pay transaction successfully first time. This was my experience today:
  • I tried using Apple Pay five times – four times to get in and out of the London transport network and once at a coffee shop to buy an espresso.
  • Not once did I manage to complete the transaction right away.
  • Only once I could complete the transaction via the fingerprint. And before you accuse me of sweaty fingers, on all occasions I made extra efforts to wipe clean my phone’s TouchID reader and my fingers before approaching the terminal. And while I did have some issues with TouchID in the past, now the fingerprint unlocks the phone just fine most of the time.
  • Three other times, I had to type in my password, which then completed the transaction.
  • I could not get my coffee on Apple Pay at all – no matter what I did, the transaction would not go through. My default card is Amex, so I asked the merchant if they accepted Amex cards in the first place (I couldn’t see any obvious signs that they did). He confirmed that they accepted Amex, but not if the card was contactless! Which I guess explains my lack of success in that instance, but there was no way of me knowing it in advance – the shop clearly had contactless terminals, so I assumed my Amex inside Apple Pay would work just fine. In the end, I embarrassingly put my phone away and paid cash.
OK, I admit, the sample size is not big – only five transactions and I haven’t tried a diverse POS environment (TfL and a coffee shop), so maybe I’ve just been unlucky. But it’s not the first time this is happening to me. I already highlighted my trepidation of going up with Apple Pay to the tube gates in an earlier blog. And I had other bad experiences: after trying to pay with Apple Pay and failing at a local Co-op shop, I was told that I couldn’t just use a plastic contactless card or pay by cash – I had to insert my actual Amex card into the reader and type in the PIN code to complete the transaction. Really?? Looks like I am not alone struggling with Apple Pay in the UK, as this Twitter conversation demonstrates: I also have a Visa debit card registered with Apple Pay, so I will try it out as well, but based on Richard’s comment, it doesn’t look like it’s a card type-specific issue at the moment… I love the idea of Apple Pay and easy payments by mobile phone. And I know that people like Jeremy and Richard are just as passionate about payments as I am, so we will continue to persevere and keep trying. But what will a “normal” consumer do if they have a bad experience? Will they be excited enough to come back and try again or will they just give up on mobile payments before they had a chance to succeed? I hope they don’t, but these early Apple Pay glitches clearly show how difficult it is to create a truly great customer experience in payments, especially at the POS.

Apple Pay: welcome to the UK!

This week Apple announced that Apple Pay will finally make its debut in the UK. Most of us expected that after the US launch, Canada and the UK would be the next countries for Apple Pay as it expands internationally. Those of us here were hoping it would happen by April, but it looks like it will now finally be arriving in July. The UK market has many ingredients for Apple Pay to succeed. Apple’s market share is over 40%, having climbed upwards in the last 9 months on the back of strong sales of the latest Apple 6 and 6+ devices. And the acceptance environment is rather “contactless-friendly”: about 250,000 merchant locations already accept contactless transactions in the UK, including leading retailers, such as Boots, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and many others. Importantly, Transport for London has upgraded its infrastructure last year to start accepting regular contactless bank cards, in addition to Oyster, its own prepaid travel card. TfL confirmed that Apple Pay will also work on the London transport network, which should be a significant contributor to Apple Pay transactions in the early days. Most of the leading issuers are also on-board. Customers with cards from American Express, First Direct, HSBC, Nationwide, RBS Group and Santander will be able to use Apple Pay at launch, with the Lloyds Group, M&S bank and MBNA joining later in the year. One notable omission is Barclays, although apparently the two companies are continuing the dialogue. What is not clear yet is the commercial terms between issuers and Apple Pay – everyone remains tight-lipped about it. I would be very surprised though if the UK banks end up paying any transaction fees to Apple. As I already called out in my report on Apple Pay, interchange rates in the UK and Europe are simply not high enough to support any revenue sharing. Furthermore, post Android Pay and the networks dropping charges for their tokenisation services, any wallet fees are looking increasingly unlikely. Most contactless terminals today have a £20 transaction limit, which makes sense when you accept contactless cards, which offer no cardholder verification mechanism. It doesn’t make sense for an Apple Pay transaction which uses biometric cardholder authentication via Touch ID. That is, assuming Touch ID works – I’ve been struggling badly with it lately, as my shiny iPhone 6 simply refuses to recognise my fingerprints most of the time. If I can’t resolve it, I might have second thoughts about using Apple Pay, as the last thing I would want is “faffing around” trying to pay with my phone which doesn’t work… The transaction limit in the UK is going to £30 in the autumn. And those retailers who upgrade their terminals (at least, the software bit) should be able to decide against imposing any limits for Apple Pay transactions. We’ve had options to pay by phone in the UK for a while now, such as paym, Barclays’ Pingit, PayPal and a few other solutions. Zapp, a mobile payment method that would allow customers to pay directly from their bank accounts, is also due to finally launch later this year. Still, Apple Pay’s arrival is major news, and should give a much needed boost to the UK’s mobile payments scene. Exciting times!

Apple’s earnings call: an encouraging story about Apple Pay

Yesterday Apple announced its results for Q1 2015: revenue of $74.6 billion, profit of $18 billion over the three months, apparently the largest quarterly corporate earnings of all time. While these numbers are hugely impressive, of course, the payments industry was looking for any hints of Apple Pay performance. This is what we learned:
    • On enabling consumers:
      • Apple sold over 74 million units of phones, mostly iPhone 6/ 6+, which is ~9 million more than expected by the investment analysts. This matters to Apple Pay, as the new phone is a prerequisite to be able to use Apple Pay. This is a global figure, but it still means that there are millions, if not tens of millions of new phones in the US where Apple Pay has been first launched.
      • 750 banks and credit unions have signed up with Apple Pay. Of course, as we discussed in our earlier blog, the number of FIs actually already supporting Apple Pay is much smaller – 54, but the momentum is clearly there. Furthermore, the participating institutions represent over 90% of credit card transaction volumes.
    • On enabling merchants:
      • Tim Cook, Apple CEO admitted he was “positively shocked” at how many merchants were already supporting Apple Pay and revealed that POS suppliers were reporting “unprecedented demand” from merchants. Undoubtedly, the ongoing EMV migration is helping stimulate that demand for new terminals.
      • USA Technologies announced a nationwide rollout of new acceptance points for Apple Pay. This will add about 200,000 acceptance points, “bringing the advanced mobile payments service to owners and operators of coffee brewers, vending machines, kiosks, laundry equipment, parking pay stations and other self-serve appliances.”
    • On actual usage:
      • Apparently, Apple Pay is responsible for $2 out of $3 spent on Visa, MasterCard and American Express contactless transactions. While the specific statistics were not revealed, and two thirds of not much is still very little, Apple certainly demonstrated ability to acquire market share in a short period time from competitors such as Google Wallet and Softcard.
      • Apple Pay represents nearly 80% of mobile payment transactions at Panera Bread, while Whole Foods Market had seen an increase in mobile payments by more than 400% since the launch of Apple Pay.
    • On evolution and future plans:
      • Tim Cook acknowledged the opportunities around both in store and in app use cases of Apple Pay and that market specifics will determine which will be more important in any given geography.
      • As expected, Apple Pay will be expanding internationally. The management acknowledged that each market is different and will require “heavy lifting to scale,” but confirmed they were ready to tackle the challenge.
Tim Cook concluded that 2015 will be the year of Apple Pay. This might be debatable, but Apple Pay certainly had a very encouraging start. This also further validates Celent’s perspective we articulated in the latest edition of our Top Trends in Retail Payments report, which was published yesterday and is available to our clients.

Asian Vendors Looking to Pivot

I’ve just returned from a two-week swing through Asia, with stops and roundtables in Tokyo, Singapore, Melbourne and Sydney. Along with my colleague Neil Katkov I was fortunate to meet a large number of clients and market participants, both banks and their ecosystem partners, in a series of more than two dozen meetings. In each country Celent hosted a half-day session on digital innovation. Attendance was good and discussion spirited; digital and omnichannel is a topic that every bank across the region wrestles with. Their service providers, too, are keenly interested in the topic. What struck me as particularly noteworthy, however, was that a large number of providers are trying to reposition themselves in the marketplace. Their (legacy) brands are extraordinarily strong, which is a blessing and a curse. Brand strength is great, but when it’s associated with a technology that’s in decline, and not yet associated with new areas of investment, then vendors are put in a difficult position because they don’t get the calls associated with that new fintech. A common question for us was, “how do I get the message out about this new solution I’ve developed?” There’s no one answer, but I’d suggest to banks that they cast a wide net when looking to address their new technology problems; many of their historical partners are learning (or at least trying to learn) new tricks. That their marketing (broadly defined) has yet to catch up shouldn’t dissuade banks from seeing what new solutions they have to offer.

Apple Enters Payments

Yesterday Apple announced entering the payments space with Apple Pay, a new way to pay in physical stores and mobile apps. The move was not unexpected – the question of when and how Apply would do something in payments was subject to much speculation in recent months. At Celent we also published a report in March this year called Apple in Payments: What to Expect? Yesterday, we got the answer. Details of the announcement can be found here. In this blog I would like to focus on some of the key highlights of the solution and consider its chances of success. As we predicted in March, Apple did NOT launch an open wallet available on all mobile devices, including those using Android and Windows operating systems. Instead, Apple focused on providing a seamless payments experience for customers using Apple’s own hardware devices. In fact, those devices are only limited today to the newly announced iPhone 6 models and the Apple Watch. We can only assume that any future iPad models will also have this capability, as otherwise Apple would be shooting itself in the foot in the m-POS market. Our report also discussed that Apple was going to make use of its relevant assets, namely access to card details registered at iTunes, Passbook app, Touch ID and biometric customer authentication, iCloud keychain, AirDrop and iBeacon. The first three are indeed at the heart of Apple Pay’s proposition. However, I was surprised to see no mention of iBeacons, especially given their potential synergies with payments. P2P payments capability is also currently missing. Again, I would expect we will hear more from Apple on both of those topics. We thought that Apple would start with payments facilitation online before entering physical stores. However, yesterday’s solution addresses both areas immediately. Also, we thought that Apple might want to leverage NFC technology, but would implement it differently from traditional NFC contactless payments. Indeed, Apple Pay uses NFC in a very different way – instead of storing actual card details, Secure Element on the new iPhone only stores a token associated with a card. The payments transaction requires combining that token with a dynamic security code generated for each transaction and a biometric customer authentication based on Touch ID. This approach also turns card provisioning on its head – instead of starting with banks and TSMs, it starts with the customer who can take a picture of the card and have it “tokenised” immediately (assuming it is issued by one of the participant banks.) It is interesting to note that when Google Wallet launched, they were not going take any cut on the payment transaction, but were seeking to make money from transaction data. Apple claims not to see any of the transaction data, which would alleviate major concerns for both merchants and issuers. However, it also begs the question of how Apple intends to make money from this service. One view is that they won’t. However, although unconfirmed, there are rumours that the issuers will be paying Apple up to 25 bps for each transaction. Some speculate that Apple, confident on the security of its approach, has promised issuers to take on some of the transaction risk. Others argue that Apple can pull it off because of its size and importance, perceived or otherwise. Which brings us to a number of questions:
  • How easy will it be for Apple Pay to scale? The announcement talked about the issuers who agreed to participate as well as merchants that will be able to accept the service. But what kind of pre-existing relationships are required between Apple and issuers and merchants for the system to work? Clearly, issuers will need to be able to handle tokenised transactions, although that perhaps can be done by 3rd parties on their behalf. However, if they also need to negotiate the commercials, the enrolment process is likely to be more onerous. For merchants, my understanding is that any merchant capable of accepting contactless should be able to accept Apple Pay; however, online and in-app merchants would have to integrate Apple Pay into their checkout experience.
  • How will the merchants react? On one hand, Apple and its market clout can set the standard for the industry providing a much needed direction to merchants where to invest. It also helps that the approach is aligned with EMV migration in the US and any new terminal that the merchants install should be capable of accepting Apple Pay transactions. However, other questions remain, such as:
                    – How will MCX react? MCX just recently announced their own payments wallet, CurrentC; most of the big MCX merchants were notably absent from the list announced by Apple. Can MCX afford to boycott Apple? Can Apple Pay be successful without MCX merchants?                     – What will it do to merchant transaction economics? US merchants have been enjoying reduced debit interchange rates and ability to decide how to route the transactions. Apple Pay is likely to tilt the balance back towards credit transactions. And how will the routing choice for debit work in the tokenised Apple solution?
  • How will the consumers react? Clearly, the early demos show a very slick user experience, as we have grown to expect from Apple. However, without any additional bells and whistles, will it be enough to convince the consumers to reach for their mobile phones instead of their cards when paying? Sure, Apple’s approach is more secure than a mag stripe transaction, but will consumers understand the nuances of tokenisation or will they rather remember the nude pictures stolen from iCloud? In Europe, these arguments are even weaker – many consumers already enjoy the benefits of EMV and the speed and convenience of contactless (card) transactions.
So, how significant is this announcement? Time will tell, and it’s not going to be an overnight success. Consumers will need to get the new phones, and while there are 800 million or so iTunes accounts, about 25 million of them are in the US and eligible for an upgrade next year. Merchants in the US will need to install and switch on contactless. And Apple will need to go internationally, where it enjoys a much smaller market share. Having said that, it is clearly good news for mobile payments, paving the way forward for new payments technologies such as tokenisation and biometric authentication. And after all the failed and floundering mobile payments initiatives, this is surely a cause for the industry to be cautiously optimistic.

Paym goes live

Paym is a UK payments industry initiative to allow mobile payments to be made just using a mobile phone number. Those of you who watch the UK industry will note that Barclays launched a similar service, PingIt, 2 years ago, which has been widely lauded both in the payments industry, but also in the press. This blog is less about these services, but more about the press reaction to innovation generally. Payments innovation is tough, and a new payment method is even tougher. Payments is a 2 sided network. That is, typically both parties have to be part of the network, and that there have to be enough people in the network to make it attractive. That creates something of a “chicken and egg” – how do you create an instant network? To that end, I was disappointed with the BBC coverage. Firstly, rather than 20m customers won’t have access for awhile, it was awhile before it said 30m would have access from today. A rather different spin, particularly when PingIt launched with no customers guaranteed that it would work! Will Paym succeed? I hope so. Any innovation is to be applauded, and I do hope this starts eroding the numbers of cheques written. My enthusiasm is tempered by a couple of thoughts. I trust these are taken not as negative, but highlighting the challenges ahead for the launch of ANY new payment scheme. Firstly, how often do I need to pay another person money? The infamous splitting of a dinner bill in the UK is rare – instead of cash, we just all put our debit or credit card in. Secondly, the service is limited to smartphones, and most banks already have apps which allow payments to be made. Admittedly, some banks (I’m talking about you Halifax!) have an app so poor even writing cheques becomes appealing! That leaves the masking element – using a phone number, not your banking details. I’m not sure how much of an issue that is for most people. As most payments are push payments, you have to question why the recipient wouldn’t want you to see their details. And as the majority of debit cards have the banking details on them, I’m not sure the argument about simplicity is strictly true. There is a formula that checks an account number is valid for a sort code. A mobile number is only 3 digits shorter, and can’t be checked, nor can you tell initially whether its registered for the Paym scheme. It’s a minor quibble, but consumers are fickle – it will only take one issue early in their use of the system to revert back to the old method payment.