While the focus has been firmly on Apple and the expectation is that it has the upper hand in the payments world, do not write off other players. The latest twist is rumoured to be coming from Google, as they apparently want to get hold of Softcard, the company formerly known as ISIS (rhymes with crisis) about which we have been, let’s face it, less than polite.
Presumably the reason is partly because it is cheap, at $50 million. It is, or was until employees were told to down tools until a buyer was found, backed by AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA and was a joint venture with the major payments processors. It also has over 120 patents and applications for patents that are worth, one would hope, more than the $50 million anyway.
If Google buys the company, it gets straight into a relationship with the big players in mobile payments, and possibly puts itself on an equal or slightly better footing than its arch rival Apple. It also solves the lack of operator support for its Google wallet. The only possible downside is the perception that ISIS, sorry Softcard, was doomed from the start and proof positive that innovation by committee is impossible. But then Google could simply call it Google Pay or similar and the job would be a good one.
While the payments game hots up in North America and is tipped to get steamier in Europe later in the year as Apple Pay launches, we must not ignore Africa.
When you see the words Africa and payments on the same page, you think of M-Pesa in Kenya. It is inevitable. It is a show case for a system for money transfer in a largely unbanked country. It has improved the GDP beyond any expectation. It has driven the take up of bank accounts and credit cards and it is becoming a system for paying all sorts of bills, indeed many types of regular payments such as payroll. It is a success.
Spare a thought, though, for some other innovations in the continent that are more than worthy of note. In Malawi, for example, they have had a system of finger print authentication for financial transactions for more than a decade. All ten digits are involved and a different finger is requested depending on the day of the week. Apple’s Touch is just catching up.
Meanwhile, M-Pesa in South Africa has been quietly taking off. A press release two days ago announced an EMV prepaid card issued by Vodacom and backed by digital security company Gemalto. According to the release, ‘The card is certified by the major international payment schemes and accepted at any of the 240,000 EMV-compliant payment terminals and over 27,000 ATMs throughout the country, which will significantly extend the reach of the leading South African operator’s services.’
In another release that landed on our keyboard as this article was taking shape came another innovation from Africa. MTN and online money transfer service WorldRemit have signed a deal that ‘that will enable WorldRemit customers to send remittances instantly to MTN’s [22.2 million] Mobile Money customers [across Africa].’
It may be that the focus for mobile payments is generally on North America (particularly small pockets of Southern California) but it is worth keeping tabs on other developments worldwide, we may be very surprised. And get some good ideas.