PayPal and Home Depot

There are few “payment problems” at the POS. For example, how often do you go to Home Depot and forget your wallet? Or go home empty handed because Home Depot wouldn’t accept your form of payment. Payment in and of itself is only the last phase of a long: product, marketing, retailing, pricing, selection, distribution and delivery buying process.

10 Jan 2012

Historically I’ve been a big PayPal fan, and still am. I have a PayPal Debit card that I used this morning… and use PP every chance I get online. The online checkout process is just fantastic. In the good old days I earned more money from my PayPal money market then I did from my bank (savings and DDA), so my preference was always to keep a balance with them. Sadly this is no longer the case.

In my last post on PayPal (PayPal at the POS – Nov 18, 2011) I described PayPal’s challenges at the physical POS:

PayPal has no tools in its shed to deliver incremental value within a PHYSICAL commerce orchestration role.

There are few “payment problems” at the POS. For example, how often do you go to Home Depot and forget your wallet? Or go home empty handed because Home Depot wouldn’t accept your form of payment? Payment in and of itself is only the last phase of a long: product, marketing, retailing, pricing, selection, distribution and delivery buying process. Most retailers strongly believe that the cost of this last “payment” process has been disproportionately high relative to the value it brings. This is the key strategic battle being fought today in “mobile payments”. Banks and the card networks are trying their best to make “mobile payment” a premium service tied to 300bps+ cards… while retailers and manufactures are looking for solutions that will enable them to create new buying experiences. PayPal’s solution may bridge this transaction cost gap (blended rate), but does very little  to address the physical buying process.

In the virtual world eBay is the lead orchestrator in this process (on its marketplace), as is Amazon. Key to Amazon’s and eBay’s ability to serve, as virtual world orchestrators, are their ability to control the buying process (end-end) AND the data.

However in the physical world, the buying process  is highly fragmented. The value that PayPal brings to Home Depot today is based upon their current product capabilities (payment + ?) and customer base (100M+ globally). If you were running store operations at Home Depot, what are you trying to accomplish with PayPal?

  • Decrease transaction cost? Perhaps Home Depot has a high credit transaction mix and PayPal’s 200bps (my guess) cost is a net savings
  • Increase basket size? Can Paypal incent customers to buy more
  • Increase total annual sales? Get existing customers to buy more over the year
  • Increase gross margin? Example set prices higher on shelf, as PayPal customers will get unique custom pricing
  • Increase marketing effectiveness? Drive sales of targeted merchandise?
  • Increase Loyalty? Decrease trips to competitors, increase share of wallet, …etc

I’m fortunate to have led teams at Oracle and 41st Parameter (a KP start up) that worked with some of the World’s largest Retailers (online and physical)….. It is based on this perspective that I see the following business issues with PayPal-Home Depot approach:

1. Incentive to use payment instrument. As a consumer why would I want to pay with my phone number? I know if I use my Amex card I get points.. what do I get here?

2. Home Depot value. What are the metrics around the pilot and what is success? I can’t imagine how this will drive sales or margin. eBay does not market, and if they did will consumers see the price for item on eBay? eBay is a competitor to most physical retailers.. a hyper efficient marketplace. eBay has few tools to market and influence a customer during the buying process..  I’m sure PayPal has develop some very cool instore tools.. but hey Home Depot could do that themselves.

3. Consumer protections. The reason I use a credit card at Home Depot are my Reg Z consumer protections. What happens if I have a dispute? Or want to return merchandise?

4. No need for PayPal. This is actually my number one reason.. Home Depot will eventually wake up and realize that they can keep the phone number based checkout.. but use it to ask the customer if they would like to pay with the same payment instrument they used last time. There is no need for PayPal anywhere in this process. This is what happens for me at my local grocery store today (Food Lion).

Make no mistake, I do like the idea of customers giving their phone number at the POS…  but it is the retailers that should use this data to make an informed decision on payment instrument choice AND loyalty incentive (example Target’s decoupled debit 5% back, or Payfone/Verizon with VZ incentives).

As a side note, Patrick’s comments on my Galaxy Nexus blog led me to update my disclosure, and restate the obvious: my views are biased (no secret to my Obopay and Square friends). Today’s blog is consistent with what I have been telling eBay’s institutional investors.. there is plenty of runway for PayPal globally.. but physical POS is a distraction and they don’t have the physical retail team to tackle it. There are no payment problems at the POS.. per yesterday’s blog, the REAL opportunity is in rewiring commerce in ways which enable manufactures, consumers and retailers to interact.   eBay’s virtual marketplace is a negative to most physical retailers.. as is Amazon’s.  Retailers are looking for solutions which will increase sales and decrease transaction cost. A platform which begins with a new marketing  paradigm (ex. Google) is much more likely to draw participation, particularly in a pay for performance model.  If this hypothesis holds, what companies are best positioned to influence a customer before they buy?

Also see Googlization of Financial Services.. 

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.

Payfone.. Verizon’s new mCommerce phone number based credential storage and authentication service

So why do I call this service “mCommerce phone number based credential storage and authentication service”? Verizon already has one wallet (ISIS).. they don’t want to confuse the market…

MoPoNuBaCreSAS (explained at end of post)

update Aug 2013


General architecture below is correct. Think the first deployed “use case” will be around mCommerce. An “autofill” function similar to and Google Chrome. MNOs are in a much better place to deliver this as they have information on EVERY handset.. and they can AUTHENTICATE with handset information. This is my FAVORITE MNO led payment effort in the US. Online merchants should adopt this without pause.. think you will see immediate conversion impact. See overview here



5 August 2011

Previous Post

I ran into a Payfone exec last month.. while stuck together in an elevator…“hey you look familiar”.. “I’m Tom… “ “You’re the guy writing bad stuff about us”… “I’m never afraid of being told I’m wrong.. tell me what is wrong”…   After spending a little time with Payfone, I’ve changed my view.. If US users can be convinced to pay with their phone numbers, and merchants can be convinced to implement the Payfone mobile payment API.. this may be a very good way to go.

What did I get wrong in previous post?

  • It is not only about P2P (at least in US).. but about mCommerce. Don’t know if I got it wrong, or whether their strategy has evolved… but today their focus is on mCommerce leveraging phone number for payment.
  • Buying physical goods with their phone number.. hey in the UK payforit is big… particularly for small purchase. VZ probably wants to have this happen because they see a very rough road ahead for ISIS.. not only will it take consumers buying handset.. it will take 6 parties to align on the value prop.. AND execute.
  • Substantial advantage in risk/fraud when carrier is involved in validation of credentials. Remember, my previous post estimated that MNO KYC could be a $5B market opportunity. Will Payfone take out other SMS verification solutions like Authentify?

My picture is based upon general market G2 (.. note I did not say “intelligence” as it may infer I have some).

What did I get right? The merchant integration challenge … I don’t see how AMEX, Payfone or VZ will be able to offer a compelling merchant value proposition. Amex is not exactly a processor of choice… Ticket sales seems like a sweet spot but hardgoods?  Re: Digital Goods.. My sources tell me that the carriers are currently doing about $600M a year in old fashion digital goods (think ringtones). Apple is doing about $1.6B in App Store, and $4.8B in other Digital Goods (previous post). Given that neither legacy digital goods (ring tones) nor App Stores need this functionality what are the physical goods use cases? Best Buy? Gap? Payforit found a great sweet spot in subscriptions and paid content (read the newspaper, video), ticketing,   …. Similar services in Japan also extend into vending.

So why do I call this service “mCommerce phone number based credential storage and authentication service“? Verizon already has one wallet (ISIS).. they don’t want to confuse the market… (great.. really great attempt here.. we would never call storing payment instruments and sending them to a merchant a “wallet”..  )

Oh.. BTW.. Citi and Verizon are both working on something substantial.. I will have to think of a new acronym for it.. how do I innovate a new word for “Offers”? Digital discount delivered by an MNO with redemption verified by a large multi-national bank? …. question remains who will actually create campaigns.. so need to put those words in there too somewhere. Suggestions appreciated.

Verizon and Payfone (update)

Message to MNOs. Start with a value proposition to a customer.. NOT with a product. If you can’t deliver the product (which is very likely), then focus on taking a role in orchestrating the value delivery (examples: service discovery, authentication, merchant mobile enablement, community ratings, ) . Verizon’s strategy is product focused… when they loose in products their brand deteriorates and they start to become a dumb (fast) network.

Updated 15 June

WSJ Friday: Payfone and Verizon

I’m trying to imagine life as a Verizon customer. From a customer experience perspective, I have to register my credit card in the Google Android Marketplace for app purchases.. but now I also have to register it again at Payfone if I want to pay for physical goods on a mobile phone.. and again for the mobile NFC wallet (to give the TSM access to the card for registration in SE), I also need to register for Bill to Mobile. Thats 4 different payment types on one carrier.

  • ISIS – Physical Goods at POS through NFC
  • Bill to Mobile – Digital Goods
  • Payfone – Physical Goods in mobile browser
  • Android Marketplace – Android Apps

I doubt if there is much of a payment strategy behind all this.. It looks to me as if Payfone strategy has morphed just in last 2 months, from digital goods to physical goods. Payfone has completely underestimated the merchant integration challenge.  Competing in this mobile browser physical purchase space:

  • PayPal
  • CYBS/Visa Wallet
  • Google Checkout
  • ?Amazon (they have the capability and the user base..)
  • Moneybookers
  • payforit (UK consortium), Belgacom’s BICS, Bharti’s pre-paid card, …

What is the value prop that Payfone will offer merchants? Do merchants really want the digital ecommerce payment process to be completely differently than a digital mcommerce payment process? HECK NO.. little things like fraud, settlement, reconciliation, customer support, returns, … Payfone has no clue on what it will take to run the merchant side (which is why they probably don’t have a reference customer here). Payfone’s team has offered me a chat to set me straight on all of this… which I will take them up on at end of June… I told Rodger that I’ve been wrong before.. and not afraid to admit it. On this merchant piece… perhaps Amex will do the merchant acquisition for them. If this is true then there is a real strategy issue… merchants love for Amex is at the same level as their fondness for the IRS or tax regulations…

Payfone looks great on paper and I’m sure Verizon wanted to get something moving they could control and gain leverage with. Little Sprint is now 12 months ahead of Verizon.. and ISIS. It must be frustrating.

Message to Verizon: the real challenge for you is managing customer behavior.. and creating a well designed payment product that works across all of these areas. You are not a payment organization.. Apple will win this design war on iPhone.. and Google will win it on Android…. Win means delivering real consumer value (and retailer value) in an integrated cross channel experience.  This Payfone partnership will create a real headache for ISIS in merchant integration…. You will have ISIS working with top retailers to integrate NFC … then your Payfone (and bill to mobile) partners requesting another integration for mCommerce… each with separate settlement processes.  I can’t imagine how you will manage the customer communication and marketing…

Message to MNOs. Start with a value proposition to a customer.. NOT with a product. If you can’t deliver the product (which is very likely), then focus on taking a role in orchestrating the value delivery (examples: service discovery, authentication, merchant mobile enablement, community ratings, ) . Verizon’s strategy is product focused… when they loose in products their brand deteriorates and they start to become a dumb (fast) network.

As a side note. I just heard today (need to find the source) that 40% of all mobile purchase transactions were done via wi-fi. This would intuitively make sense as its hard to do this while you are walking around.. and given network coverage of AT&T/ iPhone in NYC alone no one would have the patience to complete multiple screens.

ISIS: Moving payments from Rail to Air

Merchants love the ideas of ISIS, as much because of perspective value as the pain it will bring: Visa, MA and Amex. Historically, the card schemes have built up much ill will with merchants due to: interchange, payment system integrity, fraud controls, consumer influence, …etc. Two major issuers inferred that Discover is a failed payment “cash back” card network. I would proffer that their “success” is just delayed, and ISIS is the initiative which will drive transaction and network growth in a model that existing schemes can’t compete with.

9 January 2011

Previous Posts 

It’s the New Year, and thought it was time to touch on this again (last post 9/10). Quite frankly its hard to believe I’ve been writing about this for almost 18 months.. it was AT&T Newco, then Mercury now finally I have a name: ISIS, with a URL (err… same reaction). Over the last 18 months or so I guessed wrong on the consortium around AT&T, it was not Visa, but Discover (See winners/loosers blog above) it was also all of the major US MNOs (Sprint was initially involved, but has delayed further participation).  Discover makes complete sense, as stated previously a 3 party network is the only one capable of developing a new payment type (with corresponding set of rules and fees). Visa/MA are constrained by existing agreements with card holders, issuers, acquirers. A principle example is Visa’s failure to force a “mandatory” payment type in Visa Money Transfer (VMT).

Top questions I hear today:

1) What is merchant value now that Durbin has pushed back debit to $0.12

2) Will ISIS work with Mastercard Paypass/Visa Paywave ?

3) Will Phase 1 have a mobile advertising component?

4) What are the economics for a merchant POS “upgrade”

A common basis for many of these questions is the ISIS value proposition, the entities driving it and their incentives. The high level value proposition is shown below, updated from the previous September version (prior to announcement of Barclays and Discover).

Merchants love the idea of ISIS, as much because of prospective consumer value … as the pain it will bring: Visa, MA and Amex.  As one former collegue put it: “Merchants have always loved the idea of instant credit and see value in giving customers the ability to buy regardless of the balance in their account, however merchants don’t buy into paying 1.5% of sales for a debit transactions that was $0.05 with a check”.

Historically, the card schemes have built up much ill will with merchants due to: interchange, payment system integrity, fraud controls, consumer influence, …etc.  Two major issuers inferred that Discover is a failed payment “cash back” card network. I would proffer that their “success” is just delayed, and ISIS is the initiative which will drive transaction and network growth in a model that existing schemes can’t compete with. (See American Banker Article).  I see a $200B-$600B TPV network evolving with Discover at its core. Perhaps this is why JPM is assessing a Discover acquisition.

In addition to Discover, I see 5 other entities capable of driving similar value propositions (in the US): PayPal, Amex, Citi+??, Bank of America/First Data, and Chase/Paymenttech.

From an MNO perspective the value proposition is clear (see previous blog). Payments not only supports their existing value proposition to customers, they have the distribution and incentives (airtime, data rates, discounts, advertising) to change customer behavior.

Question 1: Will ISIS take off in light of Durbin and $0.12 debit?

I interpret this as a merchant question. Certainly merchants want the lowest cost payment type used in purchase. What if merchants were “paid” to take the payment instrument? Merchant borne interchange has historically been the major source of revenue for current card products, is there a model where advertising can replace interchange? Googlization of payments?

ISIS has this potential, but will likely not execute against this element for 2-3 years as it develops the payment infrastructure and customer footprint. This may be an issue for ISIS, as merchants may take a “wait and see” approach before investing in POS terminals. This would obviously impact payment volume as merchant NFC POS terminals are just as important to a payment network as millions of NFC enabled phones. If I were Michael Abbott, I would focus on a few very large merchants and commit to a very low interchange (50bps) to drive POS economics that would then support further network expansion. Perhaps this is why we hear so little of ISIS’ merchant value proposition..

So to answer this question, YES it will still take off. I’ve spoke with 2 Fortune 50 retailers this month and they are very firmly committed to making ISIS successful. They see value extending beyond the payment cost itself. That said, there will not be a “big bang” roll out, but rather geographically focused.

Question 2: Will ISIS work with other Visa/MA?

There are many, many sub-questions here. So let’s start with some facts:

1) Discover Zip is different then ISIS NFC (see Story Here).

Geoff Iddison (MA head of mobile) is quoted in NFC times as saying “The challenge that Isis will have is to re-terminalize all of those merchants to a terminal specification which is proprietary”. This is false, ISIS is not using ZIP. They are 2 different initiatives (see ZIP pilot results). The details are best described in this American Banker Article (Jan 2011).

2) NFC and RFID are both based upon ISO 14443

For further info, see the NFC FAQ. And NFC Ecosystem.

3) Merchant POS terminals support multiple standards today

POS terminal decisions have always been independent of card issuers, except where there has been direct subsidies for a “pilot”. Today, POS terminals support multiple staandards (example:  VivoPay 8100).  Note from a scheme perspective, these POS terminals must be “certified”.

Perhaps this interoperability question should be rephrased to ask if ISIS is constructing any competitive barriers? Does ISIS have unique “standards”? Will ISIS be subsidizing merchant POS terminal? What are the “control” points for ISIS? 

The “real” barrier ISIS is constructing is NOT at the POS, but the handset. Specifically, ISIS has created a multi carrier TSM (serviced by Gemalto). For those unfamiliar with NFC ecosystems, the TSM is the entity that owns the “keys” to the secure applications within your handset. Banks want to be in the position to serve in the TSM role, a “DESIRE” best exemplified in FirstData’s TSM brochure:

Card associations believe they are excellent candidates to fulfill the TSM role, and it makes sense from their perspective. The TSM role would make it much easier for the card associations to support their member financial institutions in the issuance of new payment applications and the expansion of the number of accounts they have. In addition, they already have an infrastructure in place for supporting their card accounts.

Banks will not get this TSM role… at least not for NFC which is embedded within the handsets. In the US market, MNOs subsidize phones and already engage in a device “locking” strategy (GSM phones cannot be used with another carrier). US MNOs plan to leverage ISIS and Gemalto (as TSM) to extend this control model to the secure NFC element. In other words controlling which cards and applications can use the device’s NFC capabilities. Note that this dynamic is very “US” focused, as consumers in most other countries buy their handsets unlocked and will have a “choice” of TSM.

This ISIS TSM construct greatly concerns Visa, MA and the large issuers. In the Visa/MA model, NFC transactions are “premium” and can carry very high interchange (see BestBuy Pilot). Merchants are very reluctant to add NFC POS capability if it will increase costs. Although Retailers don’t have to worry about consumers using PayPass or PayWave in mobile phones (due to TSM constraint above), they may have to contend with NFC stickers, MicroSD cards and unlocked phones with NFC capability.

I have no visibility into ISIS, or retailer, plans here. My guess is that the large retailers (which ISIS is working with) will exclude Visa/MA NFC payment types unless there is a an agreement to match interchange. Merchants and ISIS will be emphasizing a new payments brand.. Will merchants allow an Visa PayWave transaction on the same POS? I would imagine that some will, but I would bet that ISIS launch partners will not support PayPass or PayWave. They will tell their customers “sorry … just swipe your card”.

The issuers may contend that agreements in place prohibit discrimination of NFC vs. Card Swipe (retailers beware of this point). I doubt if they will be successful with this argument, given that the merchant is not discriminating but rather accepting a new payment type in a new infrastructure (which the merchant pays for).  Durbin, also allows merchants to “steer” customers toward preferred payment types.

Question 3 – Mobile Advertising

I have limited visibility here, but it would seem this is not in scope for Phase 1 of ISIS. Michael Abbott has only been in the job for a few months, and would expect him to be the driver of plans here given his CMO role at GE Money.  One interesting tangent will be what role ISIS allows Apple iPhone to take. It is assumed that the ISIS TSM will still manage the secure element, but Apple will manage marketing. See Apple NFC Patent.

Question 4 – POS Economics.

From my perspective, this remains the biggest barrier to adoption (see Federal Reserve Study). Durbin’s reduced debit rates have made a challenging business case even more so. There is a normal refresh rate on POS infrastructure of about 4-6 years. Card networks have typically subsidized POS infrastructure within pilot geographies. It remains to be seen how ISIS will incent merchant participation beyond the marketing value proposition (above).


Most of you know the story of FedEx Founder Fred Smith, and the college term paper he wrote discussing the market for a next day package delivery service. His professor scoffed at the idea and gave him a “C”. Why would anyone want to ship goods via Air.. and there was no need for a “next day” service. Similarly with ISIS, the banks see no need for a MNO driven payment solution… after all they have all of the technology that ISIS has … and have been doing this for years. The market opportunity for ISIS is in shifting of control away from banks and card networks toward merchants and consumers to deliver a new value proposition that goes beyond payments. The mobile handset has the opportunity to be THE primary device for advertising, content and communication. Payment is only one element, but perhaps the central one as it is enables delivery and tracking of incentives necessary for effective advertising.

Will banks / networks be able to adapt their existing payment rails to the ISIS model? It sure is hard for trains to fly

Where can banks win?  Credit, Risk, Merchant Services, Consumer Preferences, Deposit, Customer Service, … etc.

Thought appreciated

Mercury NewCo – Winners and Losers

Mercury NewCo scenario based upon industry intelligence. Following the scenario, there is an outline of the value propositions for the parties involved.

26 September

Previous Posts

Last week I found myself in NYC and was fortunate to meet with several payment leaders. Change is not something we see often in payments as it is historically known for its galacial pace. The most interesting topics centered around new investment and consolidation, with the rumored $500M capital commitment for ATT/Discover Mercury NewCo at the top of the list. I greatly appreciated the dialog, and this blog is a follow up to a few of the discussions. My view is that Mercury will be present a completely new payments value proposition that existing networks will have trouble competing against, with the revenue driver of mobile advertising. As stated in previous blog, mobile advertising may well exceed Google’s precedent set with online…. perhaps a completely different dynamic with established fortune 50 organizations leading the way in collaboration with old line Madison Ave Ad Agencies. The MNO payment strategy seems to be driven by a recognition that mobile advertising is key to future revenue growth, and payments is an outgrowth of this larger strategic plan (see previous blogs above). Why do I like Mercury’s prospects given the dim history of “change” in payments?

  • Enhances an existing value chain (mobile operators) that is well established with sufficient investment capital and patience (deep pockets)
  • Addresses a new market opportunity in a way that can deliver disruptive value to multiple stakeholders
  • Existing payment providers can not adapt. The great thing about networks are their resiliance. The negative is that they are also resiliant to change.. even when necessary
  • There is significant short term merchant pain in the card payments. Merchants have been in effective in influencing Interchange rates.
  • Consumer behavior is changing, and the pace at which adoption of new tools and technologies are “mainstream” are also accelerating.
  • Payments is an “infrastructure service” to every business and every country. Traditional banking is becoming decoupled from the business of payments in both mature and emerging markets.
  • …etc

Its hard to genericize the antagonist view of Mercury.. but the following are key points I frequently hear:

  • Consumers have tremendous card loyalty and will not use a different payment instrument just because it is available.
  • Discover is a failed network with over $2B invested in infrastructure
  • Existing cards can compete on rates. There is nothing that Discover (or Mercury NewCo) can offer which existing issuers can not compete with
  • Changing consumer behavior is unpredictable and takes tremendous marketing investment
  • Investment in POS infrastructure is expensive and time consuming
  • Merchants are happy with the existing payment networks, and will not spend additional money on marketing or interchange 

All are excellent points (with exception of merchant attitudes toward V/MA). Below I have laid out a scenario for NewCo success (some of which is based upon industry intelligence…). Following the scenario, there is an outline of the value propositions for the parties involved.

New Scenario 1 – Pre-Paid Card/Mobile Marketing (AT&T Example)

  • All AT&T customers are issued a pre-paid Discover card with $10 pre loaded
  • AT&T establishes incentives for use and incentives for user acceptance of mobile marketing agreement whereby personal data can be used to market you 10 times per month.
  • Customers accepting agreement also receive NFC MicroSD cards
  • Mercury commits to $200M in advertising spend to kick off program
  • Mercury establishes mobile advertising group in collaboration with major Madison Ave firms, goal of directing $2B in marketing spend by Year 2. Get back at Google (Own Mobile).. is motivation for Madison Ave firms.
  • Mercury establishes Merchant division in collaboration w/ Discover. Mercury will over all transactions at 50bps with minimum marketing spend and/or POS updates. Mercury will also provide marketing incentives/discounts for early adopters. Customer and campaign analytics will be key selling point. Mercury will also seek item detail in transactions.
  • Google makes investment in Mercury to serve as ad serving engine and direct existing spend. Agreement ensures that google does not have exclusive rights so that Madison Ave firms can work directly with large corporates.
  • Mercury/Discover develop common shared wallets and common marketing processes/standards that are used across MNOs (analogous to Apple iAD). Mercury retains directory of customers that have accepted disclosure and campaign engines bid for ad placement based upon demographics, analytics, and location.
  • Customer receives advertising via mobile. 4-8 Categories
  1. Brand level marketing
  2. Store discounts
  3. Product discounts
  4. Coupons
  5. Free Trials
  6. Cross sell/Upsell…
  • Incentives for card use drive merchant and consumer behavior. Durbin allows merchants to “direct” consumers to preferred payment methods. Discover is used for small purchases, and also acts as “decoupled debit” once history is established. Customers begin to think of Mercury card as new debit with benefits.

Process Flows – From GAO



NewCo Revenue Model – Year 1 (in Previous Post)

  • 85M subscribers (7M iPhone)
  • Year one penetration of 10% (8.5M or 60% of iPhone base),
  • Average purchase amount $40
  • Interchange 50bps


  • Annual TPV = 50%(85M*10%*$40*5*12) = $10B  (note: 50% ramp up)
  • Transaction Revenue $50M
  • Digital Goods/Usage $50M
  • Retention                                    $50M
  • Ad Revenue $300M
  • Total Revenue $350M


  • Processing expense (30% of Rev, 100% ACH funding) – $15M
  • IT Build (one time) – $200M
  • Marketing spend – $200M
  • G&A – $80M
  • Total Expense – $495M

Value Proposition

Thoughts appreciated

– Tom

AT&T, Verizon in Mobile Money Newco w/ Discover and FirstData

Don’t think about this as a card business, think about this as the next Google and payments are the KEY that ties together the mobile, virtual and physical world. NewCo will be to mobile advertising what Google was to online. For example, rumors are NewCo is attempting to consolidate $1-5B+ in Madison Avenue marketing spend in first year (See consumer scenario here). The MNOs are brilliant! Their collaborative efforts here are a severe threat to both banks and established payment networks. Widespread adoption of NFC will revolutionize consumer payments and may result in the next boom cycle for silicone valley. Make no mistake, NewCo will be the leader of the next great ecosystem.

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, .. create NewCo to deliver mobile payments w/ Discover

2 August 2010

In press today – Bloomberg Today – AT&T and Sprint to create prepaid venture

Previous Posts

Mainstream press has added a few additional details to what we outlined back in November. The biggest surprise to me is that Discover is the network partner (quite frankly I assumed it was Visa). Discover is an interesting partner, given its capabilities (issuer and acquirer) and reveals much about the mobile network operator (MNO) plans to bring a merchant friendly (lower interchange) strategy to market. It appears that First Data is in this alliance as well acting as the trusted service manager (TSM).  NewCo represents a major investment (rumors are that the major operators are investing north of $200M) and may start a new venture wave  in the valley as NewCo positions itself to be the “Google” of mobile advertising.

Don’t think about NewCo as a card business, think about this as the next Google and payments are the KEY that ties together the mobile, virtual and physical world. As I discussed in March:

Q: What will it mean when every AT&T subscriber receives a pre-paid Discover card with an NFC sticker?


  1. Tipping point for mobile commerce, ushering in a new era where the mobile phone can transact with a wallet that spans the virtual and physical world, aggregating every other account type and payment instrument.
  2. A new business for AT&T which could drive 30-60% growth in LT revenue
  3. Software REVOLUION. The “Next wave” for iPhone AND the entire mobile commerce ecosystem (see googlization)
  4. New mainstream marketing channel as couponing integrates with payment, location awareness and detailed knowledge consumer behavior/preferences
  5. Card business killer for Bank/Issuer revenue as MNO Pre-paid encroaches on the consumer relationship AND issuer debit/credit products (Decoupled Debit)
  6. Cash replacement for small value payments as merchants of all types adapt POS to accept NFC, and small merchants take out POS terminals in favor of making their phone a cash register
  7. .. would love to hear from you on the next 100…

There are at least 3 major elements to this announcement which warrant further discussion, as impact on the venture and payment community will be significant:

–          NewCo business model: It’s all about marketing and control

–          Payments shift from banks, Visa, and MA

–          Mobile payment value proposition. Can NewCo make this work for consumers and merchants?

Business Model

The AT&T Universal card changed the credit card landscape in 1990. AT&T demonstrated it could both create a card business AND leverage distribution muscle as it attracted over 10M card holders in under 2 years. Citi acquired the AT&T Universal card for $3.5B+ in 1997 and it remains the largest affiliate card in Citibank’s portfolio.

As I wrote back in November, The US market is ripe for a break from the 6 party political “fur ball” that is hampering delivery of mobile payment (Card Issuers, Acquirers, Network, Merchant, MNOs, Handset Mfg). For those outside the US, MNOs have substantial control over handset features and applications, and have been leveraging this “node control” to “influence” direction of payments. The central US MNO argument being: “it is our customer, our handset, our network we should get a cut of the transaction rev”. Unfortunately existing inter-bank mobile transfers/ payments are settled through existing payment networks that provide limited flexibility in accommodating a “new” MNO role and the network rules leave much room for improvement in: authorization, authentication and consumer “control”. The Discover partnership would appear to offer NewCo the opportunity to define new rules, rates and incentives for consumers and merchants to participate.

The key to unlocking this new business model is not interchange, but creating a new market for mobile advertising, NewCo will be to mobile advertising what Google was to online. For example, rumors are NewCo is attempting to consolidate $1-5B+ in Madison Avenue marketing spend in first year (See consumer scenario here). The MNOs are brilliant! Their collaborative efforts here are a severe threat to both banks and established payment networks. Widespread adoption of NFC will revolutionize consumer payments and may result in the next boom cycle for silicone valley. Make no mistake, NewCo will be the leader of the next great ecosystem.

More tomorrow.

US Carriers Form New US Pre-Paid Venture

It seems as if AT&T has pulled together Verizon and Sprint to form a new venture to focus on pre-paid.

May 31

Previous Post

Mobile Ad start ups… watch out… the big fish are coming …

It seems as if AT&T has pulled together Verizon and T-Mobile to form a new venture to focus on pre-paid. The large US Card Issuers are now aware (and quite suprised) of the move . It is doubtful that this new US entity (NewCo) will reach as far as Canada’s Enstream in mobile platform collaboration, but the focus of this initiative is mobile payment (NFC and P2P) and mobile advertising.

MNOs see a “Google like” future in mobile advertising, as they attempt to monetize their tremendous customer knowledge. For those that have ever purchased online advertising, we know that the biggest challenge in justifying spend is to move beyond “cost per click” to cost per customer acquisition or purchase. This Ad-Purchase disconnect is particularly true when purchase is made in the physical world. Mobile has the potential to bring together these two worlds, but a “key” is needed. MNOs and Banks see this “key” as a a common payment instrument available  to all customers. NewCo is therefore planning to control (issue or manage) a common pre-paid card which will serve as this transaction key and give MNOs the remaining tool necessary to coordinate focused mobile advertising.

Given that NewCo doesn’t yet have the CEO in place there is probably much left open (with respect to business plan and services). At a minimum I believe they will act as issuer, and create common services to address mobile advertising and payment.

Message for VCs and Start-Ups:

  • Assess risk of current path vs. supporting this new “collaborative” MNO ecosystem.
  • Investments “tied” to this new ecosystem will have different risk profile, particularly in navigating more complex environment.
  • Mobile advertising “pure plays” which do not touch financial transaction will be at a significant disadvantage. Ecosystems are forming based upon: Platform, Service (ie search), Network, Payment Instrument and bank.
  • Adapt.. A “dynamic” strategy which will keep your IP “in play” is necessary.
  • Winners will have the right talent that can navigate with the “big fish” and the right BOD that can help you evolve your strategy.
  • Think Global. Ecosystems will likely evolve differently globally, particularly in Asia.
  • Using financial information for advertising will touch privacy and regulatory issues. Regulated entities (Banks, MNOs, Payment Networks) are best positioned to deal with these. However, large MNOs and Banks have poor track records in “innovation” and moving collectively.

In short, it remains to be seen whether MNOs will be able to take on role as “orchestrator” of mobile advertising, or just a provider of location, reputation, authentication and transaction services.  How MNOs monetize these services will be driven as much by their ability to execute as investor expectations and competing models.