Digital Wallet Strategies

Today’s wallet initiatives are operating in a very dynamic landscape: retail is changing, technology is changing, new value networks are forming, new marketing platforms are emerging.. The margin is always better in orchestrating the interaction, than in coordinating the transaction. Thus I place my “wallet” bets in the short term with groups that can control the commercial marketplace (ie Apple, Amazon, eBay, Retailers, … ), and with groups that can orchestrate new value propositions (ie. Google, Square, hyperWallet, ..etc).

Warning.. I ramble a bit in this one.

23 March 2012

Description: Mobile Market BreakdownDoes anyone remember Microsoft Wallet circa 1997 (See Wikipedia)? Digital wallets are certainly not a new phenomena. Today we are struck with eWallet saturation: Google Wallet, ISIS Wallet, Visa Wallet, iTunes accounts, Amazon Accounts, Square, PayPal, …  How many places must store all of my credentials?

For my own benefit I thought I would take a brief look at the history to determine what the future may look like (As the future holds the key for my investment decisions). With respect to Wallets, what are they? What are successes and why? What is the consumer value proposition? What are the risks? What does the future hold?

My last blogs on this topic were in November 2009, Investors Guide to Mobile Money, and in 2011 – Tough Start for Mobile Payments.

What is a Digital Wallet?

My all time favorite YouTube video definition is below (Courtesy of Google)


Proposed Definition: A consumer owned and controlled account that can store any electronic form of what is normally held in a physical wallet, including: payment, ID, coupons, loyalty, access cards, business cards, receipts, keys, passwords, shopping lists, …etc.

This definition sounds broad enough..

As a consumer, what would you think of having multiple physical wallets? I personally don’t have that many people I trust. Trust is a very important element to a consumer. Some of the information in my wallet is sensitive, and there is also a financial risk associated with loss of payment information (particularly outside of the US).  What kind of entity would want to assume the risk of holding all of this information?  Which reminds me of a story,

I was in a Board Meeting with a senior partner of a “Top 3” VC discussing consolidated sign on. A start up was proposing to hold all of the login credentials for all of your bank accounts. As the former internet head for both Wachovia and Citi I had some firm views on the topic and asked “who is going to take the risk if credentials are compromised”? I further explained “it is not a technology problem, but a risk problem.. Bank’s will not let someone keep their Customer’s keys if they can’t insure the risk”. As a side note, I also instituted a policy that if a customer discloses their credentials to anyone, they are responsible for any losses that result (sorry Yodlee).

Within a Digital Wallet, securing information AND giving Consumers the exclusive ability to control what is shared with whom is a challenge (beyond technology and trust). We thus have many limited “Wallets” that are constructed around specific purposes, for example Microsoft’s wallet has evolved to LiveID.  From a pure technology perspective, the mobile phone (with NFC) seems to present an opportunity to provide the Consumer with a device that can uniquely handle the security and authorization aspects of a holistic digital wallet. In my view, the challenges faced by the “phone as wallet” are business related. Per my definition above, a wallet should allow consumers to control what goes in and how it is used. Today we see the carriers (ex ISIS) create a platform based upon their control, allowing only cards that have paid a fee to enter into their wallet. I digress…

What makes for a successful wallet?

Customer Trust, Customer Control, Convenience, Ubiquity (opposite of lock in), Intuitiveness, Experience in Use (buying, redeeming, accessing, ..), Security,

If I have a wallet that only accepts 3 cards that are not accepted at any of the top 20 retailers (ie ISIS), it is of little value. Why not let consumers control what goes in? This is where carriers must get to in order for NFC to survive. Even then, NFC phones are far from my recommendation. After all if your payment information is locked in a mobile phone how do you use it when you are at your computer buying something on Amazon? Locking information in a phone is just plain stupid in the age of the cloud.. most agree that individuals should have a their information in a cloud they control. The NFC zealots reading this blog will respond that it NFC doesn’t require a network and is more reliable… my response, the POS and payment terminals are connected.. NFC doesn’t need to hold the card in the SE.. it just needs some sort of identifier.. or in the Square cardcase example no NFC at all just your voice print. After all if there is no auth from the payment network.. the transaction will not happen.. so something is connected in 99%+ of card transactions.

Consumer Value Proposition

Description: C:UserstomDocumentsPersonalblogIPP_3_clusters_labels.jpgMy primary digital wallet is Amazon, with Paypal as a close #2. The buying experiences are just superb, unfortunately neither extend well into the POS. I have a PayPal debit card I use here.. but I have a hard time justifying why I would use a paypal debit card that pulls money from a pre-funded account which is tied to my Bank of America Checking.. why not just use my BAC Debit Card? I don’t think I’m alone here.. The thought that comes to mind: why do I use PayPal at all? Convenience is certainly a key element, but I also really don’t like giving out all of my personal information to every vendor I do business with.  Why does any vendor need to know my name? Is there a business case for anonymity? For Readers in Germany I know your answer… of course there is.

Most Silicon Valley eWallet business cases are being built around data sharing and “closing the loop”. In a network analysis model, every step away from the optimal consumer experience (control, anonymity, ubiquity,..) impacts broad based adoption.  Alternatively, new value propositions (ex incentives, rewards, loyalty, …) can reverse entropy, but only within specific groups/clusters (that realize the value). Thus a highly fragmented world of wallets, each built around specific functions limited to narrow networks, where customers exercise only limited control and hence participate in a limited fashion.


My last blog on Payment Risk was associated with Square (I still don’t like the swipe, but I have eaten my shoe now that they have surpassed $4B GDV and have developed CardCase… which I love). Microsoft had grand visions for Wallet and Passport, and pulled back for a number of reasons. Globally, most consumers still have problems putting all of their information in one place. The Fed, OCC, FTC, CPFB, Banks have all been circling around the broad proliferation of consumer data.. what are the risks of having your payment instrument stored with 100s of vendors? While at the The Clearing House’s annual event, I was pinged by a JPM Chase exec.. what will be done to secure payment information?  At the policy level, many believe there is a national security risk in the compromise of our payment systems…  It is something all of the Banks are thinking about.

While cloud based storage of information sounds fantastic… there remains a gap in integrated controls, security and authentication. This is where I see both the US and EU taking action on consumer data access and controls much beyond what is now within PCI. Given today’s technology, there is little reason for any merchant to hold your actual credit card number.. yet it is still the case.

What business incentive is there for any entity to hold “unlimited” sensitive consumer information? If the information cannot be accessed without user consent? All of these factors will shape wallet functionality to either something focused within a given domain, or under complete control of the Consumer.

Wallet Strategies

1) Consumer Friendly.. Single store for all consumer information. Payment, loyalty, reciepts, … The players I see here are Google, Square. (note I acknowledge everyone at PayPal just rolled their eyes and point them to my Disclaimer above). Business case is around customer data access.

2) Marketplace focused. Obvious players here: Starbucks, Rakutan, Amazon, Apple, Paypal, Target Red Card. Objective: Deliver a fantastic customer experience in purchasing within a focused marketplace.

3) Form Factor/Device Focused. Mobile Operators, Card Networks, . Deliver technology and incent buyers/retailers to participate. This is not working out so well, exception is Edy.. may work in markets with dominant carrier.

4) Bank Consortium. We see this more in Europe at the moment, but I believe the US regulatory bodies are pushing banks to work together here.  Much more payment focused, and thus minimal consumer value… Banks/Fed must realize mobile is not about a new form factor, but a new value network.

5) Retail/Transit Consortium.  Transit is already clear leader here in Asia…. Transit actually resembles more of #2.  Where there is only one transit company provider I believe it is.. this Category is defined as one wallet working across multiple retailers.. I look at this as incentives tied to something like a decoupled debit.

6) Commercial. Example outbound payments, payroll distribution, global dividend payments – hyperWALLET.

7) Other???

Future of Wallets

“Limited Wallets” can obviously be very successful: Starbucks, PayPal, Amazon, Apple iTunes, Oyster, Edy, Suica, Octopus, hyperWallet…. But all started around an existing marketplace/system. In order for an independent wallet to thrive it must deliver value within a core network. My approach to evaluating retail payments evolves around a central hypothesis: payments support a commercial system, they are only the last phase of a long marketing, incentive, shopping, selection, and buying process.

Networks are resilient to change, this is both an asset and a hindrance. The value that is delivered within an existing payment network is tied to the commercial system in which it operates. This includes both business agreements AND technology, neither of which are easy to change. As the nature of retail changes (example payments, and incentives across virtual and physical channels) new “value exchange” networks will form. Existing payment networks will certainly attempt to change, but given their distributed ownership, nodal control over rules, and legacy infrastructure it will be “a challenge”.

In the US today, this is what is happening with Google Wallet, Bank initiatives to form “the next Visa” and Large US retailer’s plans to form a new payment network that they control. Today’s wallet initiatives are operating in a very dynamic landscape: retail is changing, technology is changing, new value networks are forming, new marketing platforms are emerging.. The margin is always better in orchestrating the interaction, than in coordinating the transaction. Thus I place my “wallet” bets in the short term with groups that can control the commercial marketplace (ie Apple, Amazon, eBay, Retailers, … ), and with groups that can orchestrate new value propositions (ie. Google, Square, hyperWallet, ..etc).

Have a great weekend… My Asia thoughts are next.

Card Linked Offers Update

Without POS integration AND Retail data sharing this will not work.. the customer experience is terrible, as is the campaign’s restriction on basket level discounts. The ubiquity of cards is attractive.. as is bank data on “Store preferences”…. But both work to the detriment of retailers.


27 March 2012

We see in the press that Google/MA have gone beta with Card Linked Offers, and Bank of America is  about to go live with “BankAmeriDeals”. I last gave an overview of this space back in November in my Card Linked Offers post. For those that haven’t seen it, there is also a must read blog by Reed Hoffman in Forbes on the subject: The Card is the new App Platform.

Here is my blog from 3+ yrs ago – Googlization of Financial Services – outlining data flow. My purpose is mentioning this blog is not to show how smart I am (as an alternate view is already firmly established), but rather to highlight how much my view on the opportunity has changed over the last 3.5 years. As I tell all of the 12 start ups in the CLO space.. if Visa couldn’t get this to work what makes you think that it will be easy for anyone else.

There is a CORE business problem I didn’t realize back then.. merchants don’t like cards and are VERY reluctant to create ANY unique content (offers) where card redemption is REQUIRED.  Further constraining the “capabilities” of CLO is lack of item detail information within the purchase transaction. IBM is the POS for 80% of the worlds to 30 retailers. Take a look at the 4690 overview here, notice what incentive solution is integrated? This was a 5 yr project for Zavers…

A story to illustrate my point on retailer reluctance. As most of you know POS manufactures like IBM, Micros, NCR, Aloha are implementing POS integration solutions similar to what Zavers has done. Most of the CLO companies above are paying the POS manufactures to write an “adapter” that will work within their POS and communicate basket detail information. (ISIS is rumored to have a 200 page Spec for this POS integration as well).  There is a very big difference between having integration capability, and a RETAILERS agreeing to use it (ie share data).  There must be a business value proposition for retailers to move… and I can tell you with a great deal of certainty.. Retailers don’t like the BANK card platform.

I emphasize BANK for a reason.. I was with the CMOs of 3 large retailers a few months ago. When asked what their payment preferences where, they answered without hesitation: Store Card. This is their most profitable product used by their most loyal customers (think private label). Do you think for a moment that a Retailer would deliver “incentives” to customers that are not in this group..  Remember, these PVL loyal customers also hold a number of other bank cards, and there is not much in the way of customer matching between data sets. I think you get my point.

As I stated previously, all offers businesses are highly dependent on targeting. Targeting is dependent on customer data, relevant content, effective distribution (SMS, e-mail, an App), campaign management (A/B testing, offer type, target audience, …). Campaign management is very dependent on feedback.  There are very few companies that can effectively TARGET and DISTRIBUTE.  The current group of CLOs is partnering with the banks to solve the targeting problem (example Catera/Citi, Cardlytics/BAC, …). This is further EXASERBATING the poor Retail adoption. Why? Here is what a CMO told me:

“Tom, lets say a consumer just shops at Nordstrom.. the card network and bank see that I just completed the transaction and now market to them … the advert is “go to Macy’s and save 20% on your next purchase”… Given that they can only offer basket level incentives this is how it must work… Tom do you know what will happen? The customer will return what they just bought and go to Macy’s and get it. How is this good for Retail?”

From an Ad Targeting/Distribution perspective, Mobile Operators certainly have an eye on this ball (mobile phone). But only a few companies like Placecast can actually deliver it for them. MNOs are truly messed up in this marketing space (within the US). If you had the CEOs of Verizon, ATT and ISIS in a room and asked “who owns mobile advertising”?.. ISIS would say nothing if both of the other CEOs were in the room.. They want it.. but no one will give it to them as they can’t execute with what they have in this space.  Verizon would say “many partners”… Their preference would be to sell the platform akin to their $550M search sale to Microsoft in 2009. So VZ wants a $1B+ Ad platform sale… who would compete for that business? I digress.. but what is in place today looks much more like a rev share… Internationally there are carriers with their act together: Telefonica and SingTel (just bought Admobi).

Let me end this CLO diatribe with a customer experience view. Let’s assume I have 12 CLO players.. each partnered with a different bank/network. Also assume that all are heavily dependent on e-mail distribution. I have 6 different cards.. and will be getting at least 6 e-mails per week with basket level discounts. Now assuming that I can keep track of which offer was tied to which card.. and use the card. I’m still left at the POS with a receipt that shows none of these basket level discounts (as they are “credited” to my account after purchase).

Without POS integration AND Retail data sharing this will not work.. the customer experience is terrible, as is the campaign’s restriction on basket level discounts. The ubiquity of cards is attractive.. as is bank data on Consumer “Store preferences”…. But both work to the detriment of retailers. What consumers will see in CLO for some time is the generic 10-20% off your next purchase that will also be available in direct mail campaigns… Let’s just hope that someone can work the double redemption problem…

My read on this for Google is a little different. Google is positioning itself as a neutral platform.. it can do Retailer Friendly.. Bank Friendly… MNO Friendly.. Manufacturer Friendly…  Each will have different adoption dynamics. Google’s objectives are likely: gain insight, be the central platform for marketing spend, be the most effective distributor of content, … . This offer beta would certainly seem to be a “bone” thrown to banks.. hey… here it is … good luck trying to make it work.

Commerce Network Puzzle

What are the puzzle pieces that will make “rewiring commerce” work? Small companies are very challenged in delivering value within networked business. They certainly do not have the heft to create their own, so they must choose sides. Within the card linked offers space, they align to the big card networks. This alignment has implications for attracting retailers and the targeting which can be done from bank data (store preference) vs the targeting which retailers can deliver (brand and price).

This is brief.. just something top of mind. This is an extension of my previous blog this month on Remaking of Commerce and Retail. I wrote today on linked in

POS and Payment Terminal mfgs have 30+ groups trying to add coupon and payment functionality. Their message.. FIRST get a retailer that wants it. Verifone’s Verix architecture provides retailers with capability to run 100s of POS apps… but retailers are skeptical.. will “apps” drive revenue? will it confuse customers? What will drive loyalty to MY BRAND vs. some start up? who is going to manage the mess when something doesn’t work?

All of the Card Linked Offer companies (see my blog), PayPal, ISIS, Google, Groupon, Living Social, Fishbowl, Inxent …are trying to integrate into the physical POS.  There are 2 primary options to integrate marketing into the checkout process: the Electronic Cash Register and the Payment Terminal.

I speak quite a bit with Verifone’s investors about their POS vision.. Will NFC drive reterminalization? Will payment terminals morph into a rich customer interaction environment? Big retailers like Safeway and WalMart have teams of 500-2000 developers around their core IBM 4690 ECR (ACE, GSA, SurePOS,…) and heavily customize it.  Take a guess how many people retailers have in managing their payment terminal? The answer is usually zero..  The reason the payment terminal (where you swipe your card) came into being was that retailers did not want to deal with PCI compliance, so their processors (like FirstData) came in with the terminals. The Cards get encrypted at the swipe and no one but the processor has the key to unlock the numbers. The ECR sends total amount and the payment terminal tells them it is paid with an auth number.  I thus find Verifone’s Verix architecture somewhat amusing…  I certainly see how retailers would benefit by taking electronic coupons from this terminal (and sending to ECR), but the terminal does not give receipts and certainly doesn’t allow for matching of UPC information.  Even if it did… the retailers don’t want to create a new IT team to manage this mess on a piece of hardware they don’t own.

Will Verifone sell new terminals because of NFC? YES. Perhaps even as much as a 20% reterminalization (over baseline) in next year… BUT my bet is that the POS  manufactures will win the battle long term both due to retailer IT competency and the tremendous capability for POS manufactures to deliver complex business solutions (IBM is 80% of top 20 global retailers).. Things like coupons are not some abstraction… they relate to pricing and loyalty and must be integrated into a retailers price promotion strategy. Currently we are in experimentation mode… with leaders like Google, Catalina and

What are the puzzle pieces that will make “rewiring commerce” work? Small companies are very challenged in delivering value within networked business. They certainly do not have the heft to create their own, so they must choose sides. Within the card linked offers space, they align to the big card networks. This alignment has implications for attracting retailers and the targeting which can be done from bank data (store preference) vs the targeting which retailers can deliver (brand and price).

In general, the Marketing and Shopping phase of a NEW commerce process requires the following

1) know the customer,

2) deliver an incentive that is relevant and prompts action,

3) in a way that is integrated to the retailers brand and price promotion strategy,

4) with a great redemption experience

5) and prove to the advertiser that the campaign was effective

The Business platform necessary to deliver on this?

1) Campaign Management

2) Customer Data

3) Advertising distribution (virtual, physical, … how do you get eye balls)

4) POS Redemption/Retailer Integration

5) Massive Customer value to change behavior (relevancy, value, usability, convenience, entertainment, social, …)

6) Global sales force that can sell to retailers

Notice that Payment is not listed.. Payment is not a problem in physical commerce. Now that Durbin allows for STEERING.. you can imagine what Retailers want to incent…

2012: Remaking of Commerce and Retail

Unlocking the “commerce” capabilities of mobile will reshape the $2 Trillion advertising market and $14 Trillion retail landscape, as new customer shopping experiences are created which leverage consumer data. 2012 will be a key year where retailers, mobile operators, handset ecosystems, banks and consumers make choices which will affect outcomes in future years.

8 January 2012

I’m recovering from a nice Holiday.. successfully marrying of my only daughter.. keeping a smile on my wife’s face (most important) as well on those of my children. I never thought all of that family time could make me look forward to work..  Many of my bank friends seem to be making new year’s resolutions to do something different and I’m fortunate to have them share their opportunities. What are the really big opportunities?

For those that read my blog.. I’ve been very locked-in to the concept of value proposition, and the challenges of creating a new “network” for exchange of value… with my often repeated “every successful network begins with exchange of value between at least 2 parties”. In addition to sharing ideas on new opportunities with former colleagues, I’m also about to take a trip to the Far East to meet with institutional investors.  In Asia, I’m preparing for discussions which will be focused on: What are the REALLY BIG opportunities out there?  Where are the sustainable bets? Where are the risks? My bias in this new year is Commerce.. and the influence that mobile will have in reshaping it.

My Investment Hypothesis:

Unlocking the “commerce” capabilities of mobile will reshape the $2 Trillion advertising market and $14 Trillion retail landscape, as new customer shopping experiences are created which leverage consumer data.  2012 will be a key year where retailers, mobile operators, handset ecosystems, banks and consumers make choices which will affect outcomes in future years.

In the US alone, we spend over $750M in marketing. Any guess how much of that is “targeted” to a specific consumer? Less than 10%.. !!

It’s not that top advertisers don’t WANT to target, but that they have no Platform to do so in the Physical World. In the virtual eCommerce world, there are many facilities for engaging influencing, incenting and paying (for performance). Data is shared from the first click… to the point of purchase across many intermediaries. In the physical world, life is much different. For those interested in this space, let me strongly recommend reading the Booz Shopper Marketing paper (just fantastic).

$14T of retail represents over 22% of the $61T global GDP.. How often do we get to talk about rewiring 25% of the global economy? This is why I’m so high on Google right now. Google currently gets only $14B of the US $750B in marketing spend, and is making strong inroads to the physical POS.  (please see my legal disclosure above).

As I’ve stated before, Retailers are frequently assumed to be a bunch of back water idiots.. as a former banker I admit my mistakes…  this simplified view of retail could not be further from the truth..  Retailers are on the cutting edge of competition. Competition drives data based decisions, customer centricity, daily focus on margins (as they are razor thin) and a toughness matched only in professional sports.

Retailers had to be tough and innovative… after all how do you sell a commodity on more than just price? This week’s WSJ story on Best Buy perfectly illustrates the challenges ahead for many retailers.

“I will buy it in your store…use it while I order another one for 75% less on Amazon and then return the new in the box one at your store,”

The mobile handset is uniquely capable of serving as a bridge between the virtual and physical world.. giving individual consumers access to unlimited information while they shop, not JUST price transparency, but information on quality, fashion, community reviews, availability, AND the opportunity for merchants and manufactures to reach the customer in the buying process BEFORE AND DURING their shopping experience.

What companies have the platform today? Amazon, Apple, Google, eBay, Visa.. all have elements, but the value propositions of each are widely disparate. If Commerce is to be remade, there must be a new value proposition to manufacturer, retailer and consumer. Notice I left out banks..  The problem with virtually every platform on the list below is that they have started life as bank friendly.. which destroys their merchant value proposition. Groups like ISIS are focusing on payments.. and not on a larger mobile value proposition (focusing on advertising for example, also see ISIS: ecosystem or desert).

How will commerce (and retail) be remade? I have no idea… but this will be the year which we see platforms start to gain momentum. You can guess what I’m telling my bank friends…..

Building Networks and “Openness”

8 Dec 2011

I’ve been reading some off beat stuff lately. One book “Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks” was very thought provoking. As Mark Stefik (PARC Fellow) said ‘Something magical happens when you bring together a group of people from different disciplines with a common purpose.’ The combination of people, experience and approaches often leads to unexpected consequences.

As an engineer I like to solve problems.. I usually learn more from mistakes than I do from successes… but it is the learning that is fun. As an investor and entrepreneur I don’t like making mistakes… my preference in the start up environment is to have the learning cycle counted in minutes and days (vs customers and capital). I was speaking with a US Central Banker last month and the concept of “openness” was discussed. A hypothesis was laid out by the Fed “Mobile payments are not taking off because of a lack of common standards”.  The Fed team is very good, the best way to encourage a good dialog is to lay out something radical; as for this hypothesis I disagreed completely. As stated in my numerous blogs: history has clearly showed that closed systems must form before open ones.  I also told the Fed that the problem in US mobile payment IS NOT lack of standards but lack of a value proposition to consumers and retailers. In other words existing payment instruments solve all of my problems.. mobile payment simply does not add additional value (in isolation) compared with existing products (See Mobile Advertising Battle). In order to stimulate a change in behavior (merchant and consumer) there must be a strong value proposition. Two years ago I discussed the implications for broad payment standards in SEPA: Chicken or the Egg and in March of this year I outlined how SEPA has depressed payment innovation in the EU.

Given all of the chaos in NFC at the moment, I woke up this morning asking myself what is the “right amount” of openness and standards? How do successful networks form and mature? What are successful “open” networks? What is the first “open” standard you think of ? TCP/IP? Linux? Java? RosettaNet? EDI? Open Network? Internet? GSM? US Interstate system? SEPA? The Weak Links book opened my eyes to many new concepts, one was on how affinity influences network creation, and another on how few open networks exist in Nature. Networks form around a function and open networks are not necessarily the most efficient.

Scale-free distribution (completely open networks) is not always the optimal solution to the requirement of cost efficiency. .. in small world networks, building and maintaining links between network elements requires energy…. [in a world with limited resources] a transition will occur toward a star network [pg 75] where one of a very few mega hubs will dominate the whole system. The star network resembles dictatorships in social networks.

The network forms around a function and other entities are attracted to this network (affinity) because of the function of both the central orchestrator and the other participants. Of course we all know this as the definition of Network Effects. Obviously every network must deliver value to at least 2 participants. Networks resist change because of this value exchange within the current network structure, in proportion to their size and activity. Within the EU, SEPA undertook a rewrite of network rules and hoped that existing networks would go away or that a new (stronger) SEPA network would form around its core focus areas (SCT, SDD, SCF, ..). It was a “hope” because the ECB has no enforcement arm. In other words there was a political challenge associated with ECB’s (and EPC specifically) ability to force an EU level change on domestically regulated banking industry.. given that SEPA rules destroyed much value in existing bank networks, the political task was no small effort. We have seen similar attempts (and results) when governments attempt to institute major change in networks (Internet NetNeutrality v. Priority Routing, US Debit Card Interchange, …)

Mobile Payments Standard?

If we take a look at today’s payment networks what are the biggest problems to be solved? I have a perspective, but its certainly biased. How about payment routing and speed? These seem to be common merchant and consumer concerns. Keeping with an internet analogy, can you imagine if there were no DNS servers to route IP traffic? Every router would have to keep the directory for the entire internet not only of the final destination, but also the most effective route to forward traffic. What if the internet were not indexed? No ability to find information (thanks Google for fixing this).  In the payments environment, the central assets of Visa and MA is 1) A Directory and 2) the rule that EVERY participant must route traffic through them (with a new PIN debit exception in US).

Outside of card transaction’s banks maintain their own directory for routing retail and commercial payments; this is called “least cost routing”.  A key bank service I would propose (note: I’m not the originator of this idea) is a universal directory service mapping e-mail, phone and account numbers.  In Australia, the banks have this today run by my friends at Cardlink and completed under project Mambo. In the US, The Clearing House (TCH) has had the UPick service completed for a number of years.. without much interest.

My thought here, is that rather than facilitate a EU mistake in mandating a change in all rules.. decrease the switching costs between networks so that market forces can take hold. I’m not proposing to take the directory public.. but at least give regulated entities equal access. In Australia the driver was to decrease bank switching costs, also note that Australia has no Signature debit.. just as in Canada.  A common directory could also follow rule that non-regulated institutions could not hold account data (or card number).. Just as I don’t have to know my Bank’s IP address.. I could use another identifier (email, mobile, …) for online transactions. The danger for banks is that this would certainly open up the world of least cost routing to non-banks. Payments would become “dumb pipes”.. which is perhaps what it should be.

Mobile payments is certainly not critical government infrastructure. So what is Government’s proper role? Consumer data protection, transparency, regulatory requirements, equal participation/access..  ? I don’t know the answer. I like the idea of the Government creating a model service for R&D purposes.. perhaps based on Fedwire and letting non-banks have access to it… I also like the idea of a common directory.


For 2.5 years I’ve been writing about ISIS.. I’ve always have been a huge advocate.. until lately. What has changed? My position, and that of retailers, is that today’s payment networks are heavily tilted in favor of the banks. The opportunity I originally saw for ISIS was constructing a new merchant friendly network that was an “extension” of the current mobile network which the carriers run (The original business case for ISIS is outlined in ISIS: Moving Payments from Rail to Air).

Keeping with my theme of openness and standards how is ISIS creating a platform for other to invest in? What value is an ISIS mobile payment to a retailer? Yesterday’s blog talked about the complex supply chain necessary to deliver on NFC. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong about NFC technology.. it is a very well defined specification. But it is complex.. if it was a NEW WAY of doing payments (or better yet commerce) perhaps it should have started a little less ambitiously. The team seems as if it prudently sought to reduce risk, but it also gave up on a central element to its value proposition. My analogy for today is that ISIS project is like Vanderbilt’s skipping steam and going straight for high speed mag lev in 1880…. While the entire country was growing at a 10x pace and he had no right of way..

Big projects are tough in normal times.. but mobile is changing at an unbelievably fast pace. Small focused projects are certainly lower risk when innovating at the cutting edge. Everything is changing.. how could anyone architect an open system in such a fast changing environment? It would seem that technical standards like TCP/IP or GSM were successful because of their ubiquity and distributed control. They could be used by all to create different networks with different value propositions.. which incented millions of companies and consumers to invest.  I just don’t see how MNOs can create a business platform based on NFC. Their best shot may be to work with someone like Sequent Software to create an architecture for 1000s of applications to access secure element data.. instead of the one single CSAM wallet coming out in Pilot Dec 2012.

Your thoughts are appreciated

Previous Blogs (Nokia NFC Ecosystem, ISIS Ecosystem or Desert, Banks will win in Payments.. but WHICH ones?)

Nexus S – Verizon’s Plan B

Don’t believe everything you read. The Samsung Nexus S is a 2 year old phone.. the Galaxy II is the latest and greatest from Samsung. Verizon’s decision to commit to selling the Nexus S is an indication of major strategic planning.

6 December 2011

Today’s WSJ article that Verizon plans to block Google’s wallet on its new Samsung Galaxy Nexus .  While the mainstream press sees this as a slam on Google… I see this as Verizon constructing a fallback strategy. Why on Earth would Verizon want to allow the Nexus S on its network at all? It is a 2 year old Google designed phone which embeds a “non-standard” NFC architecture (embedded SE) which is controlled by Google (and cannot be controlled in a UICC based architecture).

As I stated yesterday, the ISIS is experiencing delays in its “go to” architecture. The rumor is that the current ISIS timeline is pilot in December of 2012 and production in mid 2013. I see this move by Verizon as accomplishing 3 things..

1)      The Google Nexus S is the only production NFC phone in the market (actively using NFC.. 50M blackberry’s have it.. but element is cold and lonely). It could allow Verizon and the ISIS team to reconfigure their CSAM wallet platform to this “non standard” architecture to accelerate time to market for a test.  The desired ISIS architecture is SWP/UICC based…  Note that if this is indeed Verizon’s plan, they will need Google participation as Google owns the SE keys in the Nexus S AND they have not published the APIs for the NXP element access

2)      Gives Verizon a phone in the market to pilot with Google. In other words they can play in the Google camp without a formal commitment. Verizon can play ISIS and Google off of one another to see which horse will win. This is very smart.

3) Gives Verizon access to NFC/Android much beyond payment. As Google has clearly articulated in Android Beam, NFC will be the tool for machine-machine communication. How you share pictures, videos, music and apps with another phone. VZ’s current NFC plans revolve all around ISIS and payment (and very closed), Google sees NFC as another radio to do many, many different things. As this week’s Comscore report shows.. Android’s 46%+  market share is a key driver of VZ’s success. VZ needs this handset not just for wallet.. but for access to all the other cool new Google toys that will come out supporting NFC. The question the analysts should be asking VZ is how their SWP/UICC architecture plays in the Google model. How will VZ allow many apps to access the NFC radio AND the secure data? There is only one software company that can help here and that is Sequent.. The other option is a multi SE architecture (see my previous blog, note blog was wrong on Apple), which RIM will likely support. In either of these scenarios, complexity reigns.. the only real option is to let Google drive the definition and the apps. Perhaps this is why VZ has thrown in the towl to Google’s Nexus architecture (hardware).. but not yet on software (wallet)

Don’t believe everything you read.  Verizon’s decision to commit to selling the Galaxy Nexus  is an indication of major strategic planning.

Related article on the ISIS Platform: Ecosystem or Desert?

Apple’s Commerce Future = Square?

My top question for October has been “What is Apple up to” in payments/commerce? It matters to me because investments and strategies have to line up. Is there new risk? Should I be running from NFC? Where do I place my bets?

25 October 2011

My top question for October has been “What is Apple up to” in payments/commerce? It matters to me because investments and strategies have to line up. Is there new risk? Should I be running from NFC? Where do I place my bets?

Data Points (From previous blogs)

  • Apple/iPhone is staying away from NFC…Apple has something brewing that revolves around its iTunes account base.
  • Chase is working with both Apple and Square
  • Square just secured a billion dollar valuation on $3-6M in Rev from one of the best VCs (IMHO) KPCB.. SO they must have some big idea…
  • WSJ Article reports Jamie Dimon is talking to Dorsey on Payment.. what possibly could Jamie be so enthused about?
  • Keith Rabois said he would never have gotten involved in Square if it was just about a doggle and payments..
  • Visa is on board.. so they must have a plan to drive card volume. Visa invested at a time when new mobile  PCI standards were “in flight”
  • The Square doggle is mag stripe only.. (doesn’t work outside US)
  • They are pushing the doggle like mad, expanding distribution to WMT stores this week.
  • My previous blog outlines how Square has shifted into V3 of a business strategy that is about commerce (not payment). V1 was “Payments for Craigslist community”, V2 Small Merchants alienated by terms of today’s Acquirers, V3 Commerce
  • Square card case shows TODAY’s product for working in physical retail. To make this work efficiently (and at scale..) many people have to be “registered” with Square as Payers (to open a Tab). Visa Wallet, and Apple iTunes would seem to be logical extensions to expand this registration rapidly. See Card Case demo Square’s site
  • As I stated previously, there is no need for NFC… anything that NFC can accomplish can also be accomplished with a single key exchange.. whether that key is biometrics, a loyalty card or your GPS location
  • In this blog 2 years ago (wow I’ve been writing about Square for that long!?), outlines how a commerce process of the future may look like the local country store of the past. I know who you are when you walk in.. ask “would pay like you did last time or put it on your account?”.

Apple/Square – the Anti NFC?

All indications are that Apple has a new “location registration” type of service.. Allowing users to determine “Who” they want to make aware of their presence. I’m sure most of you familiar with Square’s card case can see the immediate link: if you walk into a “registered” store you have given “permission” to be aware of your presence the store will be able to market to you during your shopping experience AND when you go to register it will know who you are based on Voice (Square example), picture, GPS, or some other proximity indicator. Assuming your payment is on file (iTunes/Square) and the retailer is “connected” (to same cloud as consumer): the entire marketing, shopping and checkout process is done without ANY select, scan, tap, swipe or anything … throughout your entire shopping experience. For example, you could be watching targeted iPhone ad videos while shopping with discounts automatically applied at checkout.

Hey I could be wrong … and should have just kept my mouth shut while I go patent this.. but I think this is already in flight.. so my goal is to inform investment decisions. My confidence level?

Square is building this? 60-70%

Apple is participating? 30-40%

This would make Square’s Wal-Mart distribution efforts look brilliant. Give away millions of free doggles to get consumers to sign up.. then leverage this network as the basis for future in store payment network.

Is this really a Killer App?

My response centers around this question: How would retailers (and existing value chain) react?

  • Where is the value to the retailer? In store marketing is not valuable without knowing intent to shop or buy.. or brand preferences..
  • What do Square, Visa, Apple know about physical advertising and retail?
  • What incremental sales with this drive? New customers? Basket Size?
  • Will I lose business if I don’t do this?
  • This use case solves a “payment” problem and an “instore awareness” problem.. What is the benefit to the merchant? Speed? Reduced Interchange?
  • If Chase and Visa are driving this.. retailers will not be jumping over themselves to be first on board
  • IBM has an 80% share registers in top 20 retailers.. Are they going to give up the POS to Square?

On the positive side.. this is certainly MUCH cheaper than NFC.. Merchants: Why should you buy NFC terminals at all? This highlights again why the MNOs insistence in following a “control” model for delivering value through NFC will be such a failure (see related blog). Data should not live on the phone.. but the cloud.

Investment Implications?

  • Be cautious in over estimating the uptake of NFC. It is not a panacea for payment. It is a great tool for machine/tag to machine communication (ticketing, door opening security, RFID reader, music sharing, …).
  • Verifone’s vision of new terminals everywhere should be balanced with a view of no more payment terminals at all.
  • There are some very big bets going on here.. Apple, Kleiner, Visa, Chase.  If you are not aligned to one of the big players you could get stepped on quickly
  • Many opportunities to add value within this “future” scenario.. SAP, Oracle, and other retail experts are well positioned to help retailers
  • Visa and Chase’s involvement make retailers participation less certain… therefore increasing retailer interest in other “retailer friendly” value propositions.
  • My favorite one.. in store bandwidth. Stores are sink holes for radio signals..  Verizon and AT&T could gain control over this entire value chain by selling connectivity solutions (ie microcells) into stores. They can control the content in the phones to a much higher degree.. for example blocking any non-retail friendly site while a customer shops.
  • Government Regs.. We need to start managing who has access to location information in a much more “regulated” fashion.  I’m more concerned about my location information than I am about my payment info. Why? I know I won’t be held liable for my fraudulent card data.. while a bunch of physical thieves could rob me blind if they know where I shop and when I’m gone from my house.  There is an assumption that customers will let this happen. My recommendation is for Square and Apple to spend a little time in Germany..
  • Visa Offers could have a new outlet in store.. unfortunately.. they don’t know how to “sell” offers to retailers..

Make no mistake.. I like this model and think it is brilliant. But others are much better positioned to execute on it.  Starting a network business is hard.. cracking the nut on a retailer value proposition.. harder.

If this is true.. I could be flipping to a fan of Square.. errr… Apple?? I finally see Kleiner’s investment approach at work. As one of their partners said to me “Tom, if we get a great team in place.. they will figure it out… Google had no idea of how it would make money when it started.. they turned out OK “

NFC – ISIS has 12 months…

what retailers do you think are anxious to assist Visa and MA with a new generation of payments that is more expensive than what they have already? Specifically, NFC is a credit card transaction.. carrying a 300-350bps rate. Although there is nothing to prohibit and NFC based debit card.. there are no banks (other than Discover/Barclays) that have stepped into this space. Visa and MA see NFC as the next great driver of CREDIT card transaction growth.

2 Oct 2011

Loads of new press out related to NFC

–          ABI research estimates $100B GDV by 2015 (yeah.. and pigs fly)

–          EMVCo 47 page report on technical standards for contactless payments

–          Visa’s new mandate to retailers.. EMV (+ NFC) by 2015 or merchants bear the fraud loss

–          ISIS Handset Support

–          Launch of Google Wallet

–          PayPal dissing NFC (today)

Having been the first to break the news on ISIS in 2009 (Although I was wrong on Visa involvement… it was Discover), perhaps I should be the first to predict its demise.. UNLESS something big changes.  The problems with mobile money is 5% technology, 95% business model. Take a look at my diagram below… 11 parties that need to execute on a clear value proposition… No wonder MNOs like Verizon are hedging their bets, creating alternate payment solutions (see my Payfone blog).

What company can invest in something it can’t control? That has a value proposition that is unproven? That requires collaboration with competitors? That customers may not want or pay for? Please someone give me an example…

Payments  (in isolation) adds very little value to an overall commerce value proposition. Did you buy your big screen because they took Visa? No.. you chose your big screen TV because it was the right model for you and you expected the merchant to offer you payment alternatives. Most of you reading this would probably have accepted 2-3 options..  The most important value proposition for any commerce network is targeted to the retailer.

ISIS started off with a great retailer value play (see my previous pro forma financials), the Barclays/Discover instrument would have been a winner.. credit the involvement of WalMart with the strategy of ISIS here.. as WMT was key in ISIS’ participation and Abbott’s hiring (former GE Money Exec… GE services WMT’s pre-paid cards). But the card networks found a way to put the screws on… and destroyed a very innovative product.. and their merchant value proposition along with it. To compensate for the ISIS 50 bps “carrot”, Visa has constructed an EMV stick (see above) to force merchants to accept EMV.. (and in essence NFC). Retailers are frequently assumed to be a bunch of back water idiots.. as a former banker I admit my mistakes…  this simplified view of retail could not be further from the truth..  Retailers are on the cutting edge of competition. Competition drives data based decisions, customer centricity, daily focus on margins (as they are razor thin) and a toughness matched only in professional sports.  Retailers know customers like few others..  Few names generate a more intense visceral reactions among retailers than Visa and Mastercard. Today’s card networks are no friends of retail. It was no single factor.. but rather decades of choices all made to favor one group: issuers.

In this environment.. which retailers do you think are anxious to assist Visa and MA with a new generation of payments that is more expensive than what they have already? Specifically, NFC is a credit card transaction.. carrying a 300-350bps rate. Although there is nothing to prohibit NFC based debit card.. there are no banks (other than Discover/Barclays) that have stepped into this debit space. Visa and MA see NFC as the next great driver of CREDIT card transaction growth. Thus, Visa’s EMV moves are meant to accelerate this. Currently MNOs (and ISIS) are being taken for a ride by the banks as a tool to drive this.

Google was brilliant to include a pre-paid card in their wallet to balance the options for consumers, ISIS will likely do the same.  But the conundrum faced by ISIS is that there is no revenue for the ecosystem above without credit card fees and no merchant value proposition WITH them. The answer of course is for NFC to develop a new revenue model and value proposition (see my Googlization post), but building an Ad network is no easy undertaking.. and it even more complex for ISIS since their owners are each undertaking the development of separate ad network initiatives (VZ has equity stakes in Cellfire, mphoria, and a 200 person team).

Now add this dynamic to the complexity of executing against a business model (any business model) across 9+ parties and you see the NFC business enigma. As I stated in Nov 2009, MNOs know how to be successful in payments. ATT ran the most successful private label card of all time.. they have tremendous (non monetary) tools to incent consumer behavior (ex think free unlimited data).  Unfortunately they don’t have experience in working with retailers.. or in orchestrating commerce interaction. ISIS will execute on the charter given to them.. but that does not mean it will be successful.  Having a functioning NFC wallet does not mean that anyone will use it. Particularly if it is disconnected from everything else that I do use (mail, maps, search, Android Marketplace, …).  This is where Google excels. Not only does Google have the best engineers on the planet, they have the best retailer relationships AND customer relationships.

Remember NFC was a construct of the NFC Forum, a group formed in 2004 to design a new protocol that could be controlled by MNOs and Handset MFGs. Again.. it was designed for CONTROL….  ISIS is proving that it has fantastic facilities for control of the secure element, particularly in the US where post-paid handsets are subsidized. What ISIS fails in is a consumer and retailer value proposition.  If they do not find a way to work with other participants, the window of opportunity for NFC will fade. I give ISIS 12 months…

What are the alternatives to NFC? I told a start up CEO this week that NFC is but one alternative to identifying someone at a POS. I could use a card, GPS location, biometric, .. just about any form factor to achieve the same thing (as an example look at Square’s Card Case, or VZ/Payfone). Also.. we all know that locking card information inside the phone is just plain stupid.. It’s how Microsoft worked before the internet existed.. today we are in the world of cloud computing where information lives on the cloud.. (See my previous blog)

Messages for ISIS

  1. Improve your retail value proposition
  2. Get the carriers aligned on the “SUPER” Value proposition… or you will have a wallet that functions.. but no one wants. Take a look at Enstream in Canada for a use case here. Zoompass was the precursor to ISIS….
  3. Move beyond control focus to VALUE focus. Build partnerships which will help you orchestrate commerce. Of course this is not in your charter.. and very, very hard for competitors to do… so this will be a driver in your demise.
  4. You will not get the data on every transaction occurring on the phone.. so give it up now. Both ATT and VZ are ISPs as well as backbone providers, do you keep every piece of data flowing through the internet? Your plan here is FUBAR…

Message for Retailers

  1. NFC terminals will only drive expense growth until there is a consumer value proposition. The only entity that is coming close here is Google. Google does not care about transaction revenue.. they care about value creation.. this is a retailer friendly structure.
  2. Delay your EMV/NFC plans.. The big issuers will not be reissuing cards.. so even if Visa follows through on the liability shift it will only be for cards that could have been validated.. So your risk is of fake EMV cards.. Perhaps if you see an EMV card you just ask for a customers ID..  sound rather simple…?
  3. Ask very simple questions and get clear answers: how will this deliver incremental sales? What kinds of customers will be using this?

My prediction? ISIS and MNO initiatives will be successful in Transit. Retailers will migrate to a new commerce network that steers clear of Visa and MA.

Digital Goods: Where to Invest?

What is driving the explosive growth in digital goods? Social gaming. The nice thing about running a credit card network is that you can see who is making money. No doubt a factor in last week’s $190M Visa acquisition of Playspan.

 17 Feb 2011

Digital goods are everything that can be sold and shipped online (music, movies, articles, ring tones). John Doerr (legendary KPCB Partner) certainly turned heads in Nov 2010 when he said Zynga is “our best company ever”.  What is driving the explosive growth in digital goods? Social gaming. The nice thing about running a credit card network is that you can see who is making money. No doubt a factor in last week’s $190M Visa acquisition of Playspan.

A key benchmark in the category of “digital goods” is Apple. Within Apple’s annual 10k digital goods revenue is accounted for within the  “Other Music Related Products and Services” category.  This category also includes app stores. For FY10 Apple saw a 93% increase in iPhone sales, but there was only a 23% uptick in “digital goods” (growth in line with previous 2 years). This makes intuitive sense given that Apple customers did not need to repurchase their iTunes library from iPod 1 to iPhone 4. But Digital Goods has certainly NOT been a key source of  growth for Apple. 

Lets take a look at Zynga. As I stated in previous blog,

…three years old with an estimated market value above $5 billion with more than 320 million registered users and estimated revenues above $500 million… From my perspective, Zynga’s secret sauce has been its ability to get 1-2% of their customer base to pay for game credits (see Gawker article). Although they have recently agreed to a 5 year deal with Facebook, this patent (if granted) will provide them leverage in future negotiations and extending their services outside of the Facebook platform.

For more info see TechCrunch / Steven Carpenter Zynga analysis (excellent)

The fortunes of Zynga have been tightly tied to the success of Facebook. Facebook’s new payment policy (mandating use of Facebook credits) will enable them to capture 30% of revenue. Zynga’s margins are obviously impacted in this move.. I’m sure many people immediately see the analogies here with today’s WSJ article (Apple Risks App-lash…) on Apple’s 30% digital goods tariff.  

As an investor, where do you place your social gaming bets?

A foundational digital goods investment question is your view on how social gaming can exist. Can social gaming survive in a model disconnected from Facebook and Apple? If you believe so, then possibly place bets in the Google model. Over the past 6 months, Google  has made five acquisitions in the field: SocialDeck, a mobile social gaming company; Angstro, a social networking search application;, a social fashion store; Jambool, a social gaming virtual currency; and Slide, a social game maker, and a $100M+ stealth investment in gaming giant Zynga.  Beyond Google, other views exist for social gaming in a mobile context  (MNO driven model).

Now that you have chosen the model (I’m tired of using the word ecosystem), where will your bet play? I see 5 categories:

  • Games (Zynga, EA, …)
  • Analytics/Incentives/Advertising
  • Distribution
  • Gaming Infrastructure. Example Payment, Hosting, Mobility, Support, …
  • Confluence. game-community, game-retail, game-mobile, game-mobile operator, … Example.. earn farm $$ by visiting a retail store and checking in..

Is social gaming a sustainable category? My personal preference is to place bets in common infrastructure until the next Zynga flourishes. Something I learned from Larry Ellison “when there is an arms race, don’t fight.. sell the guns”

Feedback appreciated..


Why did Google acquire a 3-4 person Canadian company with no customers? The answer seems to lie in its patent application

22 Dec 2010

TechCrunch – Google Acquires ZetaWire

Why did Google acquire a 3-4 person Canadian company with no customers? The answer seems to lie in its patent application

… quite an interesting read. A ubiquitous wallet, online and mobile that provides for direct communication (bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC, …) to other wallets and POS terminals. Interesting vision.. google as center of the mobile universe…. who would have ever imagined. 

From a payment perspective, I thought paragraph 271 was rather interesting

[0271] Because the coupon and advertising system is integrated with the payment system, it is able to target and deliver advertising on an individual basis rather than on a demographic basis. The payment system has a complete record of all the purchases ever made by a user, and because the payment system is also integrated with a social network, it can also know the purchases made by all of the user’s friends. In addition, it has access to many other streams of data providing information about a user such as the user explicitly entered preferences and wish lists, which coupons the user’s friends have shared, which coupons the user currently has, etc. The system is therefore able to build a much more accurate user profile than standard advertising techniques, and this user profile can in turn be used to deliver advertising which is customized on an individual basis.

This seems to indicate a significant gap in the understanding of the applicants surrounding financial transactions (and data).  Merchants hold on to item detail information, the payment network receives merchant level data.. but does not get item information. ZetaWire attempts to address this gap by inventing a “coupon authority” entity in Paragraph 264.

All information related to coupons and their definitions is managed by a coupon authority, which can be an integrated subsystem of the transaction authority 102. All instances based on the coupon definitions are minted by the coupon authority. Whether coupons have been applied to transactions is recorded by the coupon authority, as are coupons’ chains of custody from the time they are minted to the time they are spent, including all data related to how and when they were share

For those of you unaware, merchants are rather stingy with their store data. The Visa’s team best effort here is with Monitise and the new iPhone application “Visa Offers” (link is my related blog). It results in a coupon with a bar code and you show your iPhone to the cashier. How does google intend to integrate to merchants and receive store level data? I can’t imagine Amazon being excited about this.. or Wal-Mart in that matter.