What Apple Pay Means for Banks’ Mobile Dreams

Cherian Abraham, our mobile commerce and payments consultant, recently wrote about the future of mobile banking in regards to the Apple Pay news out this week. The below article originally appeared in American Banker and is an edited version of his blog post.

Editor's note: A version of this post originally appeared on Drop Labs.

Depending on who you ask, the launch of Apple Pay was either exciting or uninspiring. The truth is far more complicated — particularly in terms of how it will impact the dynamics of Apple's relationship with banks.

I would venture that most of the financial institutions on stage at the launch of Apple Pay earlier this week have mixed feelings about their partnership. They have had to sacrifice a lot of the room for negotiation that banks have retained with other wallet players such as Google Wallet and Softcard (the company formerly known as Isis). If you are an Apple Pay launch partner, having your credential or token on Apple Pay does not mean that you get to extend that credential into your own mobile banking app or wallet. For example, Bank A, with its credentials stored on Apple Pay, cannot leverage those credentials so that its own mobile banking app can use them to enable direct payments. Banks will have to accept that their credentials will be indefinitely locked to Apple Pay till deletion.

No bank wants its brand to be overshadowed by Apple, nor do banks want smartphone users to close their app and open up a different wallet to make a payment. But this was not up for debate with Apple, which wants to tightly control the payment experience. This should be a cause of concern for Apple Pay partner banks, for whom enabling payments outside of Apple Pay in iOS is now off the table.

Banks' only hope of having an integrated payment experience is to focus on Android, which supports host card emulation technology. HCE uses software to emulate a contactless smart card and communicate with near-field communication readers. I would expect a lot of banks to revisit Android and HCE in upcoming months. That goes double for the institutions that were not chosen to partner with Apple, along with retailers who have not rejected contactless payments as a modality in stores.

Given that Apple will reportedly collect fees from its partner banks when customers execute transactions on the mobile wallet, all banks should be thinking about ways that they can make their presence on other Apple offerings more lucrative. If I were them, I would begin segmenting customers who hold one of iTunes' 500 million active accounts to see which ones are affluent spenders and which cards have higher interest rates, then implement targeted customer incentive strategies to move Apple users to higher-rate cards. I would use the same tactic to convince customers to replace debit cards on file with iTunes with credit cards.

But the big takeaway is that from here on out, banks can only gain incremental value from iOS. If they want to create a unified payment system that customers can use as part of their existing banking relationships, they'll have to focus on Android. Should that happen, I doubt that Apple could prevent such moves from diluting its merchant value proposition. But such moves on the part of issuers are hardly long-term strategies to incentivize frequent usage, merchant participation and overall customer value.

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