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Debate at the intersection of business, technology and culture in the world of digital money, both commercial and government, a blog born from the Digital Money Forum in London and sponsored by Consult Hyperion



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49 posts categorized "Cards"

Much ado about Near-Field

By Dave Birch posted Jun 30 2011 at 4:40 PM

Act I, Scene I.

A Dashing Brit (DB) traveller in the Big Apple notices that the iconic New York yellow cab whisking him through the concrete canyons to his lodgings is fitted with a touch screen and a contactless card reader.

DB: "Can I pay by card?"

Taxi Driver: "You don't have any cash, man?"

DB: "No, I just got here. You do take cards, right?"

Taxi Driver: "Yeah, but you know, they charge us like $5 to take your card..."

DB enters $5 tip on the touch screen, then, with a flourish, taps his iPhone fitted with a splendid MasterCard PayPass sticker against the reader. Nothing happens, until the transaction times out.

DB: "Can you do it again, thanks."

Having asked the clearly exasperated driver to re-enter the transaction and trys both contactless Visa and contactless Amex cards. None of them work. In the DB sheepishly uses the magnetic stripe on his British Airways Amex cards and swipes his way to success. A receipt is printed, and DB goes on his way.

Act I, Scene II.

Broadway. It's late, but the heat from the day's sun is still leaking from the asphalt, bathing the pedestrians in an unwelcome June warmth. The street is a cacophony of voices, languages, dialects, creoles. In a few seconds, the sounds of conversation in German, Mandarin and Spanish drift by. A Dishevelled Bearded (DB) grey-haired sage is walking in the road because the sidewalk is full. He glances down a sidestreet and sees a garish sign, the gist of which is that Dunkin Donuts is open round the clock.

"What a country" he thinks to himself as he is drawn towards the light int he clutches of a tractor beam forged in primal fires from sugar and fat, "but I really do heart NY".

He moves slowly, precisely to the racks of deep-fried delight on display. But he is momentarily distracted by what he thought was an advertising display but has now realised is an ATM. His chemically-dependent slavish devotion to the evil geniuses behind the brand goes to 11: they have their own-brand ATMs. The own-brand money cannot be far behind.

DB muttering: "What a country..."

He shakes his head and turns back to the massed ranks of super-dense calorie containers.

DB still muttering: "...what a country!"


Act I: Scene III.

It's late June in New York. The heat is oppressive, the air pregnant with rain, a thunderstorm must come soon. A Distressed Businessperson (DB) on his way to an appointment, staggers into a west-side neighbourhood coffee shop. He stands in line, feeling the uncomfortable sensation of sweat running from his receding hairline to his eyebrows. Even with his advanced years, he can hardly not notice the scantily-clad, petite twentysomething blone woman in front of him. She addresses the Indian coffee cup server in a charming local manner.

Petite Blonde: "Just a cawfee, plenty of room for milk"

Indian Server: "$2.50"

The petite blonde proffers a debit card that prominently display the brand of a well-known internationally-famous banking house.

Indian Server: "Sorry, cash only"

Petite Blonde: "Are you serious? You're kidding right?"

Indian Server: "No cards. You can use the ATM"

He waves toward and ATM that sits, with big red lettering in a strangely old-fashioned typeface, next to the cream and sugar station.

Petite Blonde: "Fugget it..."

She turns to leave, then hesitates and turns back, starting to open her wallet (for our English readers: purse).

Petite Blonde: "No, wait... maybe I got it"

She rummages in the wallet and eventually uncovers a dollar bill and some change. She hands to the Indian server and takes her coffee, while DB begins to rummage in his backpack, certain that he remembers seeing a $5 in his Moleskine yesterday.

Act I, Scene IV.

A Dog-Tired Backpacker (DB) is slumped at his breakfast table in a downtown Manhattan hotel. Unable to sleep, he has been awake since the early hours. Unable to concentrate on his tasks at hand, he has been composing nonsensical observations about financial services of niche interest, intending to foist them on an uncaring universe via a web log. All around him are the men and women who are the beating hearts of commerce and trade. Not all of them are international: one on a nearby table is American and he is yelling into his iPad, having a Facetime video conference with a colleague. At breakfast. In a public place. DB is driven from his Raisin Bran by this performance and stomps across to the coffee station to grab some Joe to go. In his haste to get away from the blockhead banging on about business prospects for the next quarter, he fails to attach the lid to the coffee cup securely, with the natural consequence that it falls off, and he slops coffee on his chinos.

On his way back to the room to attempt an emergency clean-up on Aisle 1, he remembers that he saw a men's clothing store a block away. He heads overt here and finds a pair of Dockers in the right colour (ie, any) and the right size (REDACTED). He pays with his Amex card, because his John Lewis MasterCard was cancelled following a suspicious transaction and the replacement hasn't arrived.

Menswear Assistant: "Cash or card?"

DB: "Card."

DB takes his Amex and swipes it through the terminal in front of him. He is then invited to sign the large, clear screen using a plastic stylus. He does so (signing it, as always, "Snoopy Dogg" as a fraud prevention mechanism -- if a fraudster steals the card, then they would sign it DB, because that's the name on the card, thus any forensic investigation would immediately flag the transaction as bogus).

Menswear Assistant: "Thank you sir, please call again."

DB wanders into Starbucks next door and orders a medium coffee with an extra shot and an oatmeal raison cookie.

Cheery Barrista: "$4.85 please"

DB hands over pre-paid US dollar Travelex MasterCard, which the Cheery Barrista swipes in an instant and returns.

Cheery Barrista: "Do you want a receipt?"

DB: "No thanks."

Cheery Barrista: "Have a great day."

DB turns toward to counter where patrons queue to pick up their completed beverage orders. He stops, puzzled, lost in thought. He thinks to himself "Hhhmmm... there's no way that contactless technology is going to make that transaction any faster, and customers don't care about security, because it's not their problem, so how is it going to catch on in the US?"

As the dark clouds of thunderstorms stack above the skyscrapers of Wall Street, DB ambles toward the Museum of American Finance, only to find that it doesn't open on Mondays. Lost in tortured thought about the mobile wallet and the competitive strategies of his clients, he reaches for his iPod, turning the corner of Broad Street to the sounds of "Brainbox Pollution" by the world's greatest ever popular beat combo, the mighty Hawkwind.

Exit, pursued by bronze bull.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Economy class

By Dave Birch posted Jun 28 2011 at 2:07 PM

At the Intellect / Payments Council conference on Driving Change in Payments, one of the delegates (I think it was one of the chaps from Accenture), raised the topic of surcharging, asking whether the surcharging of non-cash payments might slow the spread of e-payments in general and low-value contactless cash replacement payments in particular. He also mentioned the example of surcharging by low-cost airlines.

Perhaps the most obvious example of tender steering in Europe is in eCommerce - where Ryanair (and other low-cost carriers) surcharges considerably for all but a single method of payment (currently MasterCard Prepaid cards)

[From Will Retailers Use “Tender Steering” to Control Interchange Fees? |... | LinkedIn]

While the point about surcharging in relation to the spread of new payment mechanisms is interesting, what's going on with the airlines isn't really surcharging (Ryan Air said specifically that "these are not surcharges", and they are correct). What these charges are are a transaction tax that everyone has to pay (I'd be curious to find out how many people actually pay with Ryan Air MasterCard prepaid cards). Unsurprisingly, a great many people were unhappy about this practice (ie, advertising an air fare as £10 then charging £18 because the customer pays with a credit/debit card) as it smacks of unfairness.

A super-complaint is to be launched about the "murky practice" of surcharges levied on customers who pay by debit or credit card

[From BBC News - Credit and debit card surcharges 'are excessive']

Bear in mind that if you are booking tickets for a family, these transaction fees can easily become significant: if they were folded into the price of the ticket, it would give a more accurate guide to the public.

I recently used Ryanair and cost me £30 in booking fees and another £48 in online checkin fees to use my printer and my paper and my Ink. Can anybody explain how that works ?

[From Which Launches Super-Complaint Into Credit And Debit Card Surcharges With Office Of Fair Trading | Business | Sky News]

Well, the solution to that seems pretty straightforward: don't book Ryanair. It's not just them, by the way. I understand that EasyJet charges £8 (EIGHT QUID) for a debit card transaction that costs it, what, 15p? Personally, I won't use any of the "low cost" carriers, so I don't know what the exact figures are. Anyway, today the OFT ruled on the super-complaint (and I can't wait to Ryan Air's response because they will undoubtedly go bonkers):

Travel companies have been ordered to end the use of hidden surcharges for passengers paying by card. Airline, ferry and rail passengers typically have to click through four to six pages of an online booking before the charge is added to the price. Now the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has ordered them to make all debit or credit card charges clear immediately.

[From BBC News - Hidden card charges for travel tickets to be banned]

But that, to me, isn't the interesting part of the ruling. This is:

It also wants the law changed to abolish altogether charges for using debit cards.

[From BBC News - Hidden card charges for travel tickets to be banned]

Much as I dislike government intervention in the pricing of anything, unless the costs of cash are to be distributed properly (which they won't be) this is the only sensible course of action. Making debit cards the "zero" and allowing retailers to surcharge other payment mechanisms (including cash) is fair, with one proviso: that pre-paid cards are counted as debit cards. This is necessary to deliver financial inclusion.

Perhaps the European Commission could be persuaded to adopt this as part of its SEPA initiative and make it common throughout Europe so that pre-paid and debit cards become the "normal" way to pay?

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

The Tesco way

By Dave Birch posted Jun 20 2011 at 7:12 PM

At a recent Financial Services Club event, one of the speakers said that it was unlikely that retailers would make changes to their POS systems to adapt to new payment mechanisms, outside of their normal replacement cycles. With one exception. He said they might make the investment in POS if it was for their own payment system. In other words, Tesco won't change their POS software because some student comes up with a cool way of paying for things with iPhones, but they will change their POS software to launch their own payments service, wallet, device or whatever that reduces costs and increases benefits.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Future tension

By Dave Birch posted Jun 20 2011 at 11:47 AM

I was pottering around the British Library's superb exhibition on science fiction and, since it is free, felt it only moral and just to stop off in the gift shop and buy a couple of books. Truth be told, there were a hundred books there I wanted to buy, but I decided to limit myself to two, one of them being a copy of Edwin Abbott's magnificent Flatland, one of my all-time favourite books, for no.2 son. Browsing on, I was astonished to find a new edition of Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward, 2000-1887" from the Oxford University Press. This is dated 2009, so it didn't exist when I wrote about the book back in 2006.

I’m always curious about the first reference to the credit card in literature. The oldest I've found so far is in a long-forgotten text from 1886 called “Looking Backward, 2000-1887” by one Edward Bellamy. I picked up a 1947 edition from the Amazon marketplace, which suggests it must have been reprinted a few times. Indeed, the dust jacket claims it to be one of the best selling utopian fantasies of all time.

[From Digital Money: 1886 and all that]

In this new version, according to the web site (I haven't read it yet - will start tonight):

  • The second most successful novel to be published in nineteenth-century America--a book whose thunderous indictment of industrial capitalism and vision of life in a socialist utopia still touches a nerve in the twenty-first century.
  • The introduction offers a highly original reassessment of the novel, exploring the political and psychological peculiarities of this celebrated utopian fiction
  • Uses the second, revised edition text of the novel which made "Looking Backward" a bestseller, and the notes detail significant variations from the first edition.
  • Contains an up-to-date bibliography and chronology of the author's life

The discovery of this new edition made me think again about just how long it takes to effect change in the conservative world of money. Yet perhaps Bellamy was only a couple of decades out in his predictions of cashlessness, which isn't bad across a 125-odd span. Public attitudes are changing, even in conservative nations such as our United Kingdom.

Only 31% of people said using notes and coins was their preferred payment method, with 41% saying they would choose to use a card if they could, according to the Payments Council.

[From The Press Association: Consumers 'choose cards over cash']

Personally, I would never use notes and coins again if I had the choice, and it looks as if more and more people are coming to the same conclusion.

It found that while 83% of people aged over 55 would use cash when buying something for up to £3, 12% of under-35s would use a debit card.

[From The Press Association: Consumers 'choose cards over cash']

I'm certainly over 35, but I fall in the later category. I would always used a card, given the option, although I never use a debit card of course. Why anyone would use a debit card when they could use a credit card (except in the face of surcharging, about which more in a later post) I don't know. But this leads me to conclude that Bellamy may well have been a more accurate soothsayer than anyone suspects. This is because the "credit card" that he describes in the book is actually a pre-authorised offline prepaid card, and these surely are they key cash replacement product de nos jours. In the Federal Reserve Payments Study last year, prepaid was identified as the fastest growing segment.

The Study found that prepaid cards represented the fastest growing payments segment from 2006 to 2009, with an annual growth rate of transactions at 21.5%. By way of comparison, the number of debit card transactions grew at 14.8% and the number of credit card transactions declined by .2% annually over the same time period.

[From PaymentsJournal - Prepaid Transaction Volume Continues to Grow, Even as the Size of the Transactions Gets Smaller]

I've just been exploring some prepaid opportunities with one of our clients, and one of the factors that we were kicking around (not giving any secrets away!) was that prepaid is a way to experiment (provided that not-too-ridiculous KYC/AML/CTF doesn't derail it) in a way that other products aren't.

From the consumer side, prepaid allows consumers to test new opportunities and options without risking a lot of money or putting their bank accounts or credit cards on the line.

[From PaymentsJournal - When It Comes to New Payments Technology, Prepaid Will Lead the Way]

This is a good point, but I feel there's another factor, at least in Europe. You don't need to be a bank to offer prepaid services: the combination of an Electronic Money Institution Licence (ELMI) and a Payment Institution Licence (PI) means that any company can offer a full service: an open-loop prepaid card. I suspect that many of the companies applying for these licences are doing so because they want to use new technology to deliver new services that need payment, if you see what I mean. That is, they don't expect to earn money from the payments themselves, but from the value-added services that need the payments to take place (what people are starting to call the "Google Model"). Hence Bellamy's vision may be realised not from within the payments industry, but from, say, retail or mobile or brand or somewhere else entirely.

I've been using the prepaid contactless MasterCard on my Orange phone for a couple of weeks now -- mainly in Pret and McDonalds -- and I have to say it works pretty well. I've very comfortable with the idea of switching to prepaid, because prepaid on the phone isn't a pain, it's easy. When the prepaid balance falls below a certain level, you're asked to enter your PIN and top up. Simple. Thus while it may be initially hard to imagine prepaid cards replacing cash in retail transactions, the more I use my prepaid "card" in retail transactions, the easier it becomes.

Naturally, I obtained a spare copy of the new edition of "Looking Backward" and I have it on my desk beside me as I type. I will cheerfully dispatch it post-haste to the first person to respond to this post with the name of the first-person narrator of the story in question. In the traditional fashion, this competition is open to all except for employees of Consult Hyperion and members of my immediate family, is void where prohibited and is not connected in any way with the London Olympics 2012. The prize must be claimed within three months. Oh, and no-one can win more than one of the Digital Money Blog prizes per calendar year.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Viva El Presidente!

By Dave Birch posted Jun 15 2011 at 7:53 AM

[Dave Birch] I just saw an American in a bit of a pickle at Holborn Tube. He was trying to buy a ticket, but the machines won't take non-chip cards, so he was stuck. His US American Express card was useless. Fortunately he was my brother-in-law, so I bought his ticket with my splendid Barclaycard OnePulse card. This is happening to Americans all the time, and since it happens to the banks' best customers, they are beginning to respond.

I was pleased to see in the news recently that Chase and Wells Fargo announced the issuance of EMV chip-enabled cards for several of their credit card portfolios.

[From Portals and Rails]

I notice that at many of the US international airports I've been to recently (on a sample of three) you can buy prepaid Sterling and Euro pre-paid chip and PIN cards from the Travelex booths as well. Chase and Wells aren't the first US EMV issuers.

State Employees' Credit Union (Secu) is set to be one of the first financial institutions in the US to roll out chip and PIN debit cards to its customers. The non-profit cooperative has enlisted French vendor Oberthur Technologies to help migrate its 1.6 million debit card holders to EMV between March and the end of the year.

[From Finextra: State Employees' Credit Union makes EMV move]

The pressure for US migration is growing. As Jamie Henry of Walmart mentioned in his recent Tomorrow's Transactions podcast, many retailers are asking the banks to go ahead with migration because they think it will reduce their costs dealing with fraud and PCI-DSS. Perhaps the pressure is reaching a critical point of some kind.

Don Rhodes, senior director of risk management policy for the American Bankers Association, says a number of emerging technologies, such as the EMV chip standard, mobile payments and peer-to-peer or person-to-person payments, will soon change the way U.S. financial institutions and merchants connect and transact. And it could all happen in 2011, much sooner than most industry experts expect.

[From EMV, Mobile and the Payments Landscape]

The kind of things that have been going on with Google and Square and Isis would serve, I think, to reinforce that the trend is accelerating. The fact that some of the trailblazers (eg, Bling Nation) have found it heavy going doesn't mean anything about the overall trend (the weather isn't the climate, as they say). I saw in a Mercator Advisory Group press release that they are saying that

Merchants are advised to "spend the $10" for EMV capable terminals now in anticipation of an eventual EMV roll-out.

[From EMV in the USA: Waiting on Debit, a Mandate, or Just the Opportune Moment]

They were anticipating an early 2011 start for the EMV roll-out, which is exactly what appears to have happened, albeit still on a limited scale. Elsewhere, the chip and PIN bandwagon rolls on inexorably.

Due to an increasing number of transaction fraud worldwide, more and more countries are shifting from the stripe card standard to the EMV standard, which substantially enhances transaction security and operation efficiency. Now some major Chinese commercial banks are to join the trend, planning to issue their chip band cards by the middle of the year.

[From Banks in China to Launch Chip Cards]

Perhaps in the Americas it will take political leadership to enable to the final push towards EMV, a President with real vision and a commitment to the well-being of his nation.

President Chavez has mandated that the country move to EMV chip cards later this year which should stop this type of fraud

[From Chavez figures out how to stop cross border fraud]

Well, if only President Obama shared the wisdom, vision and economic genius of the noted revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez! So Viva El Presidente and down with the reactionary and counter-revolutionary Yankee magnetic stripe hegemony imposed by the running dog lackeys of imperialist aggression.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Yet more about NFC and business models

By Dave Birch posted Jun 3 2011 at 11:05 AM


There are two different classes of application for NFC in mobile phones. These are, broadly speaking, "open" applications and "closed" applications. They are, broadly speaking, about interaction in the case of open applications and transaction in the case of closed applications. Creating such applications is, broadly speaking, easy to create in the case of open applications and difficult in the case of closed applications.

Why? Well, it's because the closed applications need security and the open applications don't. Open applications are things like games and business cards and "friending", where consumers touch phones to something (which may be another phone) in order to get or exchange some information. Closed applications are things like payments and tickets, where real money is involved (other than the service providers own) and the applications must be what security professionals refer to as "tamper resistant". They must also work, all the time and every time. Working out how to do this is (I'm happy to say, since it's a big part of Consult Hyperion's business) difficult, complicated and interesting. It's easy to picture how life might be with your credit card inside your mobile phone, but think what has to happen to realise that picture! How will the security keys necessary for the card application be transported across potentially insecure networks into the tamper-resistant chips (the "secure elements", SEs) in handsets? How does the bank know that your credit card is going in to your phone and not a fraudsters? When you get a new phone, how does your card make its way from your old phone to the new one? How does the wallet application in the phone communicate with the card application in the secure element?

In the architecture developed by the transaction incumbents (by which I mean banks and telcos), the management of the closed applications is undertaken by something called a "trusted services manager", or "TSM", an entity that stis between the providers of closed services, such as banks and transit operators, and the mobile operators who connect to the SEs that they, in effect, own and rent out space on. This model may be disrupted, because it was founded on the assumption that the SE would be under the control of the MNO and that the TSM would have to cut a deal with the MNO to rent the SE space (what you'll often here telco people refer to as the "apartment model").

In the Google play, the TSM is operated by First Data and the SE is operated by Google (it's in the Galaxy S2 handset, not on the SIM).

So, for example, on the Catalyst Code, I read a while back.

Google has obviously made a decision that NFC is an opening into something more interesting and lucrative than transforming a phone into a payment card– advertising and marketing opportunities at the point of sale – the physical point of sale. And, it has done a deal with VeriFone that takes the economic sting away from the merchants who need to buy into their vision to make it work – and who have by and large turned their noses up at NFC up to this point. Layer on top of that their Google Checkout asset and their newly launched One-Pass wallet application and you have the makings of an interesting new payments player.

[From Google Takes on NFC, Will They Crack the Code? at The Catalyst Code]

Karen is, as usual, spot on about this. But I'm not so sure about this...

What’s amazing is that Google was the first to connect all of these dots

[From Google Takes on NFC, Will They Crack the Code? at The Catalyst Code]

This doesn't seem amazing to me, because I've been involved in numerous attempts to develop mobile proximity propositions involving banks and operators. A month before the Google announcement, I wrote on Quora that "I'm sure [loyalty and rewards] will be Google's strategy too. Payments are not an interesting enough application to persuade people to go out an get an NFC phone." Banks and operators have smart people them, and some of them have smart consultants too. But it is very difficult to make institutional strategies for non-core businesses and have them translated into a practical tactics with appropriate priorities. If you were in a European mobile operator back in 2009 and you had an idea for using NFC to create a new business, where did you go with the idea? I went in to an Orange retail outlet: they are the first operator in the UK to sell a commercial NFC handset with an onboard payment application: not only did the shop not accept NFC payments (come on guys - you have to eat your own dogfood, as our transatlantic cousins are wont to say) but they don't sell (for example) NFC tags. If you're a smart kid and you get one of these phones, and you have an idea for using tags as tickets to a gig you and your mates are running... well, hard luck.

My employer, Consult Hyperion, has provided paid professional services to organisations named here in connection with products and services mentioned here, but the opinions in this post are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public

Who's square? Jesse is

By Dave Birch posted May 25 2011 at 7:38 PM

Some people don't really understand the big picture around innovation, and how it takes inventions and turns them into sustainable new value-adding processes. Here's one example.

Last Friday, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) took to the floor of the House of Representatives to decry the iPad as a job killer, as people are using the device to read books rather than buy them from bookstores.

[From Lesson to Congress: iPad Doesn’t Kill Jobs, Government Does - Gary Shapiro - The Comeback: Innovation Economy - Forbes]

But wait a minute: surely books were destroying jobs in the scribe industry. Jesse's job creation scheme ought to be banning books, not praising them. Anyway, many popular books are written by non-Americans -- why should American's hard earned dollars flow to J. K. Rowling's UK bank account? Hold on though -- scribes were destroying jobs in the storytelling industry. Jesse needs to attack the problem at source: we need to stop people from reading and writing. Unless we're going to do that, we should instead welcome and encourage innovation because we need an economy that adds more value. I'm not smart enough to know what that means for individual companies, although I am lucky enough to have a job that means I can experience many different organisations approaches and learn from them.

In 1994, the dominant global provider of mobile handsets was Motorola: its shares were trading at an all-time high and it was seen as an outstanding innovator and even described by a senior consultant at A. T. Kearney as "the best-managed company in the world"

[From Why Nokia's Collapse Should Scare Apple - Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review]

That's the thing about technology-based innovation: it doesn't follow the smooth distribution of best practice that is the realm of management consultants. It didn't matter if you were the best urine trampler in the land, when a German chemist synthesised urea you were on the scrapheap. It doesn't matter how good your printing company is when e-book sales exceed printed book sales.

Motorola missed most of these market trends, was slow to invest in digital (it was a classic victim of the innovator's dilemma),

[From Why Nokia's Collapse Should Scare Apple - Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review]

This "innovator's dilemma" analysis, which says that it's just too hard for companies to invest in their own disruptors, suggests that it may be difficult for the incumbents in the payments world to innovate in the right direction. The case study that everyone is focused on right now is mobile.

Bill Gajda, Visa’s head of mobile innovation, is confident that Visa and the other card networks, in conjunction with banks, will be at the center of mobile payments in the future.

[From Leading Mobile Payments | Visa’s Blog – Visa Viewpoints]

I understand where Bill is coming from, but have to admit that I can see other scenarios as well, where Visa interconnects non-bank, sector-specific, mobile-centric payment accounts rather than only bank accounts. It must be said though that Visa have made a number of substantial investments in the mobile payments space and have been actively developing products and services. Not all observers think that this strategy is optimal.

Visa for you to execute in this space, spin out Bill Gajda and team to build a new network. You certainly have the capital and intellectual horsepower to do it.. Don’t think of mobile as a service on VisaN

[From FinVentures]

In the medium term, the existing players (by which I mean banks, the international schemes and processors) will find it more and more difficult to compete with IP-based alternatives because their cost base is just too high. Therefore, it might make sense for a company like Visa to start building one of these, but use their experience to build a better one. Alternatively, they could look for someone else who is building one, and then invest in it. This is what they have done recently with Square (Visa invested an unspecified amount in Square in April 2011). Square is much in the news at the moment, but what is actually interesting about it? As I wrote before, it is not the stripe reader, it's the niche...

So where is Square seeing the most traction? Without a doubt, small businesses, independent workers and merchants comprise most of Square’s rapidly growing user base.

[From Square Now Processing Millions Of Dollars In Mobile Transactions Every Week | TechGoo]

In a way, this real-world PSP is a small but interesting niche play in a large acquiring market, and as we've advised our clients for many years that the mobile-phone-as-POS meme will be more revolutionary than the mobile-phone-as-card meme, it's an existence proof of new opportunity.

While merchants have to qualify for the app, Square’s qualification rules are more relaxed than those of standard credit card processors.

[From Square Now Processing Millions Of Dollars In Mobile Transactions Every Week | TechGoo]

Never in a million years would I consider signing up as a merchant with my bank. Yet I went into an Apple Store in the US last time I was there and bought a Square (actually, we bought eight of them to play with). It took a couple of minutes to sign up on the web and I accepted my first payment (in Stuart Fiske's iPad) a minute later!


Pretty cool, although naturally I was outraged when I got off the plane in the UK and discovered that my lovely Square only works in the US. Anyway, Square were making me think about innovation again yesterday. They just announced their wallet product, Card Case. Once you've paid with your card at a retailer once, Square's server stores the card details, so from then on the merchant has only to identify you. They can even do this without you having a card or phone, because they can look up your picture (although I have good reasons for thinking that this won't scale).

The obvious idea is to make payments "frictionless" -- easier and faster for the user and merchant. (Assuming that the app is fast enough that it is actually more convenient to pay this way than just to have your card swiped. Wireless data networks aren't always reliable, etc.)

[From Jack Dorsey's Square Starts Its Bid To Kill The Credit Card]

Indeed, they're not. But imagine what this will look like with NFC in place: you have an iPhone, the merchant has an iPad, you place your iPhone on the iPad, they beep, done. And it's a card present transaction. Now, we all know that Square Card Case isn't the only wallet game in town, because anyone with any sense is already developing a wallet proposition since that's what the merchants want. Right now we are helping clients in the financial sector and the telecommunications sector with ideas in this space. Visa, being smart, are of course already in the game.

Fourteen US and Canadian banks have signed up for the launch later this year of a multi-platform digital wallet that can be used for e-commerce, m-commerce and mobile contactless transactions and includes mobile payment, NFC and coupon capabilities.

[From Visa unveils mobile wallet plans • NFC World]

But now continue the Square-related thought experiment. Suppose that Square are successful at signing up lots of people, so that people don't want an AT&T wallet or a Citi wallet or a Visa wallet? If all of the transactions are now between the secure element in a mobile phone, via Card Case, to the secure element in another phone, via the Square app, then aren't Square at some point going to get rid of intermediaries and just move the money from one bank account to another, in a retailer-centric decoupled debit proposition (which won't be called debit, because of Durbin) that is proactively marketed by the retailers? That really would be disruptive.

just as the iTunes store completely upended the sale and distribution of digital media, Square just might upend the entire real-world payments industry--whether it meant to or not.

[From How Jack Dorsey's Square Is Accidentally Disrupting The Entire Payments Industry | Fast Company]

So, in response to the e-mails I've had over the last couple of days, let me say that the Square trajectory confirms the strategic advice that we gave our clients some years ago (which is great!) and that is it not a "rival" to NFC but an exploiter of it. Square might be a niche in the payments business, but it shows a really interesting innovation path that sees payment cards going the way of books, and probably without Jesse Jackson Jr. to plead their case. That doesn't mean that Square will succeed, but if they don't, them someone else following that same path will.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Top and bottom

By Dave Birch posted May 4 2011 at 2:18 PM

I just applied for yet another credit card, this time because I fancied a contactless Amex ExpressPay card to play with (I already have contactless Visa PayWave and contactless MC PayPass cards). When I read this...

MBNA today announced that the first American Express-branded, contactless credit cards in the UK will be issued for use by MBNA's customers.

[From MBNA introduces contactless Amex card in UK]

...naturally I couldn't resist applying. The online process was pretty painless, I have to say, and my card is apparently going to arrive in 5-7 business days. Excellent. American Express marketing has been a bit of a theme for me recently. A few days ago the morning's junk mail included a new special offer from American Express. Now, my British Airways American Express card is my top of wallet card, for about the first four months of the year. That's because it gives you BA miles -- which are not much of an incentive -- and a free BA companion ticket -- which is a great incentive -- once you have spent £10,000 in a year. But you can only have one. So like, I'm sure, many other who travel on business, l spend £10,000 on the BA Amex card to get the companion ticket and then I go back to using my "Middle-Class Maestro": the John Lewis MasterCard that I pay off in full every month. This delivers an excellent 1% cashback in the form of John Lewis vouchers that are valid in Waitrose.

Anyway, I got some junk mail from Amex which says that if I go and register my Amex card at some website and then use it in eight different stores before the end of June then... sorry, I lost interest at this point and threw it into the recycling bin. It was only when I got home in the evening after a meeting with a card marketing specialist today that I determined to retrieve it and read it. As it transpires, the offer was that if I go and register my card at a particular web site and then I use it in eight of the stores listed in the leaflet before the end of June then I get a bonus 2,400 BA miles. But surely, I thought, their computer would have noticed that I stopped using the card as soon as I had the companion ticket. If BA miles were an incentive to me, then I'd still be using it, so clearly they are not. The bottom line is that I don't understand card marketing and have absolutely no idea what the marketing people are thinking about when they come up with their special promotions. For example...

KFC outlets have been promoting the cards, ranging in value from $10 to $500 and to be used within 12 months, as a "thoughtful gift idea for any occasion''... Preventative Health Taskforce chair Professor Rob Moodie said he was shocked when he learned about KFC's latest marketing ploy. "It's marketing gone berserk,'' he said.

[From Fury over $500 KFC gift cards as nation battles obesity crisis | News.com.au]

Personally, I think that marketing may well have started off beserk, but I get his point.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Some observations on Japan

By Dave Birch posted May 4 2011 at 12:56 AM

Someone interrupted one of my rants against cash the other day by pointing out that in the last resort, cash is the only payment mechanism that society can depend on. Their trump card was reference to the aftermath of the recent Japanese cataclysm, where following a magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami, the nuclear reactors didn't melt down but the payment system did.

I think this is wrong lesson to draw from it. Yes, there were some temporary problems with the card networks because of the disruption, but it's important to note that this did not impact all cards: Japan has quite a rich retail payment landscape, as shown in this diagram (which I drew a couple of years ago, so it's a bit dated, but you get the point).

Japan Landscape

I saw Nobuhiko Sugiura, Associate Dean of Chuo University Business School, give a good overview of the current situation at last year's E-Money, Cards and Payments conference in Moscow. He said that e-money usage in Japan is growing rapidly but still a small fraction of total consumer spending (¥1 trillion out of a total of ¥300 trillion, a 300% increase in the last three years). A third of the population use e-money and half of them (ie, one sixth of the population) use it in their phones. It's a competitive market, centred on non-banks because the Japanese banks have no real interest in handling small payments because or their cost base. The non-banks, as I've often noted on this blog, have different business models, not based on transaction fees. The railways, for example, don't expect to earn anything from their e-money system, it's about reducing their costs. In comparison, convenience stores want to issue e-money to reduce their cash float. The bottom line is that the of cash at POS in Japan is "already falling" because of e-money.

After the earthquake and tsunami, the offline electronic money systems (such as Edy and nanoco) carried on working so long as there was power and the backup battery systems or generators were working, so you could still pop round to 7-Eleven and buy your staples. In fact, it was people who kept their money in cash who suffered greatly.

In Japan, lots of people -- especially older people -- keep their life savings in cash in their homes. (The country's banks pay very low interest rates, so the incentive to deposit that money into bank accounts is lower than in other countries.) This is all well and good, until a tsunami destroys your home and washes your money out to sea.

[From Schneier on Security: Unanticipated Security Risk of Keeping Your Money in a Home Safe]

That's not to say that people didn't want cash after the event.

The tragedy playing out in Japan this past week highlighted that in times of crisis, there's nothing like cash in hand as the universal method of payment. By all accounts the banking system in Japan survived and is functioning well after the earthquake and tsunami - such is the level of disaster preparedness.  But Mizuho, Japan's second largest bank, reported outages in its payments and ATM networks - coincidentally as demand for cash surged.

[From The end of cash for payments? Not so fast! - Microsoft Perspectives on Payments and Core Banking in Financial Services - Site Home - MSDN Blogs]

So they wanted cash, but did they need it? In this kind of catastrophe, where the online POS network goes down but the ATM network stays up and the ATMs remain stocked with notes, you could see people going and withdrawing cash. But suppose there are no ATMs?

Imagine that there was a magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami in Woking (unlikely - our last natural disaster was an ice age in 18,000 BCE) and when I go round to Waitrose to buy some bottled water and rice my John Lewis MasterCard proves useless because the acquiring network is down and the ATM proves useless because the ATM has no power. The store manager at Waitrose can leave the food to rot on the shelves or he can accept a signed IOU. He could accept no sale because of flaws in the electronic payments or he could develop a rational fall-back strategy. We discussed this a couple of years ago, with reference to the famous case study of the Irish bank strike.

The owners of shops and pubs knew their customers very well and so were perfectly capable of deciding whether to accept cheques (or just IOUs) from those customers. And since the customers also knew each other very well, they too could make sensible decisions about which paper to accept.

[From Digital Money: Payments without banks]

If I was the manager of Waitrose after the Woking earthquake, then I would simply accept payment by writing down card numbers, or photocopying driving licences, or taking pictures of customers, or whatever. The core of the issue is identification and trust, not the payment instrument. As many media commentators noted, society in Japan did not collapse. My conclusion: natural disasters are not a convincing argument for cash.


By the way, I case anyone was wondering about the origami cranes that I was giving out in Chicago this morning... My wife is a teaching assistant in a primary school in Surrey. The seven year old brother of one of the boys who was in her class (they boys have a Japanese mother) has been spending two hours every day for the last month making these (they are a symbol of peace in Japan) to raise money for the British Red Cross appeal for Japanese tsunami victims. Consult Hyperion have purchased a hundred of these beautiful and special cranes, so if you come to our office anytime over the next couple of weeks, please feel free to pick one up with our compliments.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

Free parking

By Dave Birch posted Feb 28 2011 at 6:45 AM

I've often mentioned that car parking represents, to me, the prosaic benchmark for e-money. Car parks are a straightforward and daily example of an environment where cash is a pain and e-money would be a better alternative. This is why I made a big deal of the fact that contactless payments never made it to my local car park, where cards have now been supplanted entirely by mobile payments. This is not true everywhere. I think I've mentioned before that on-street car parking is an obvious place to start contactless acquiring: no keyboard, no slot, low-maintenance, simple. Westminster started doing this last year.

From January and over a three-month period, 20 pay and display machines in the West End will be retrofitted with wave-and-pay card readers, so motorists will be able to pay car parking charges by waving a credit or debit card at a meter. According to the local authority, the project is intended to eliminate the need to carry cash around or enter chip and pin details to pay to park.

[From Westminster Council introduces contactless parking payments - 28 Oct 2009 - Computing]

I'm going to try find out what customers think about this approach. Franky, I'm sure they would rather use their Oyster cards, and here's one reason why...

The machines also incorporate a security function that requires cardholders to confirm their identification with a chip and pin transaction on a regular basis.

[From Westminster Council introduces contactless parking payments - 28 Oct 2009 - Computing]

Hhmmm. This means having to having both a slot and a keypad, which raises costs significantly, and annoys customers when the contactless transaction fails and they are asked to insert the card and enter the PIN. I'll put in a call to see how this went when I'm back in the office sometime. Meanwhile, the alternative apporach, of using mobiles, continues to gain ground, and it's not only in Woking that the mobile has trumped the card.

North Devon Council has replaced its Smart card facility with a more modern, pay over the phone system called 'RingGo'.

[From North Devon Gazette - Council winds up pre-pay parking Smart cards scheme]

It's not favouritism, although I have mentioned RingGo here before, but I can't help but notice that when I first went to see them (to interview them for a podcast) I thought that they were a company to watch. I'm actually one of their customers, because they operate the mobile parking at Woking station.

Councils, rail operators and other car park providers across the UK are ditching smartcard and scratchcard parking schemes in favour of streamlined, paperless RingGo.

[From RingGo Proves the Power of Paperless Parking]

I think I'll try and get some of these guys along to the Digital Money Forum 2012, as it will be useful to learn some of the experiences from the front line. Meanwhile, I can't help noticing that not everyone wants to remove cash from the car park. Take, for example, Wokingham council. It car park machines (according to The Daily Telegraph of 26th February 2011, p.4) took in £982,057 last year but only issued £945,417 of tickets. The discrepancy, as you might expect, comes from the machines that don't give change, a form of institutionalised extortion. Simply arithmetic reveals that hapless motorists are thus facing a 4% service charge for using cash. It's time to take action: councils should start making car parks cash-free as soon as possible and learn to cut their cloth. But if the car parks are cash free, and not everyone is using mobile payments, and the banks haven't issued contactless cards to everyone yet, then how to close the gap? Well, why not have local prepaid cards that function as "town cards" as well.

PXT Payments (PXT, formerly Parcxmart) an electronic payment solutions provider, today announced the launch of its new chip-based, secure smart debit cards, designed to create a safe, local currency that boosts consumer spending in municipalities nationwide. The town of Brookline, MA, will be the first town to adopt both Parcxmart and the smart debit card program.

[From PXT Launches Chip-Based Smart Debit Card for Cities, Towns, BIDs | Earth Times News]

I'm really interested in this kind of thing. It illustrates two points that I have been making for some time: first of all, it emphasises the role of transport in the evolution of new payment systems and secondly, it touches on the role of local parallel and alternative payment systems as a potential growth area. Fortunately both transport payments and alternative payments have their own expert panel discussions set aside at the 2011 Digital Money Forum so we'll be able to explore both topics in detail. (Coincidence? You be the judge!)