Samsung announced yesterday its acquisition of the Burlington, MA-based startup LoopPay Inc. for an undisclosed amount after reports of the two companies working together a mobile payments solution in late 2014 towards. The announcement heralds Samsung’s entry into the mobile payments fray, pitting it squarely against Apple and Google Wallet as the market for the digital wallet continues to evolve.
Making a digital wallet retailers will work with
The mobile payment market, particularly in the US, has undergone considerable change in recent years although much of the progress has been dependent upon both the cooperation from banking institutions and retailers’ willingness to adopt newer point-of-sales terminals. The latter in particular has been a key stumbling block for NFC-enabled solutions, like that of Google Wallet, which launched in 2011. Although the announcement of the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay did much to raise general awareness to the technology, its impact remains somewhat limited. Estimates from Apple from its Q1 earnings call show that less than a quarter of a million retail outlets out of a total numbering in the millions have the ability to accept Apple Pay. While this obstacle will eventually overcome as the migration continues from traditional the magnetic stripe to the EMV chip and PIN system, the tipping point for a major revamp to the greater retail market likely will not occur for at least another year, despite liability dangers looming on the horizon. Samsung’s acquisition of LoopPay helps to bridge the gap by offering a system that uses Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology that that functions with existing point-of-sale infrastructure, which means it can be used with some 90% of existing credit card terminals, although the system requires the purchase of either a card case or fob in addition to the download of the app – an approach similar to that of Square. As some note, while pertinent now, the migration towards EMV could mean that Samsung is providing a solution to a short-term problem with the acquisition in a market that is rapidly evolving.
No mobile payment solution to rule them all
In addition to facing off against Google Wallet and Apple Pay, Samsung will be pitted against other emerging services, like that of CurrentC. While many retailers have sought less cost-intensive mobile payment solutions through proprietary apps using QR codes, retail giants Wal-Mart, Target, CVS and others formed the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) in 2012 to create a merchant-owned mobile payment system. The system gained notoriety when participating companies sought to block the implementation of systems like Apple Pay and Softcard and fell victim shortly thereafter to a sizeable security breach in which the email addresses of participants of the pilot program where accessed. In addition to claims of collusion, CurrentC has been lukewarm given the multi-step payment process using QR codes versus NFC’s more streamlined contactless payment method. As a result, the mobile payment market is becoming increasingly fragmented as it has pitted consumers who are seeking convenience against retailers who want to maintain greater control over transactions without having to adopt costly point-of-sale technology.
Balancing convenience and security
The recent and high profile security breaches that have occurred at some of America's largest brands (Anthem Healthcare, Target, and the Home Depot) demonstrated that breaches can not only be expensive (several retailers we're forced to pay some $200M each in damages in the past 12 months alone), but can harmful to brand loyalty. Consumers disclose a treasure trove of identity theft information with each transaction they consummate. This makes finding the right balance between security, privacy and convenience a key priority for mobile payment vendors. While security remains paramount, consumers won't adopt a payment solution that is cumbersome. While PCI-compliant (and sophisticated encryption) is embedded into every payment solution, moving forward, VDC sees a key challenge for vendors to work with experts (i.e., the credit card industry, as well as privacy advocates, cybersecurity experts, government agencies – following the more military-oriented path towards security forged by JP Morgan) to draft, implement and enforce rigid sets of cyber protections across a fragmented payment market with significant “co-opetition” and channel conflict.
With Eric Klein, Senior Analyst