Isis Promises National Roll-out, Partners with Amex

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9 August 2013
Zilvinas Bareisis
Arguably, it is fair to say that Isis, a mobile wallet from the leading US mobile network operators, has so far attracted more criticism than admiration. Its launch was marred with delays, as the company made changes to its business model and kept refining the solution. It finally did launch with pilots in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah in October last year and while the company would not release customer numbers, it did say recently that "on average, active Isis Mobile Wallet users tap more than 10 times per month." Last week Isis announced a national roll-out scheduled for later this year. That raised a few eyebrows as most of us know the challenges associated with deploying NFC technology in many markets, and especially the US. While there are increasingly more NFC phones available in the market and Isis promised iPhone support (most likely, via a special case), the issue of NFC-capable POS terminals remains. And if anything, that issue potentially just got bigger after the added uncertainty over debit fee caps, network routing and, subsequently, EMV (see my earlier blog.) Then today came another announcement which hinted how Isis was going to address the NFC issue - by partnering with American Express and incorporating Amex Serve platform into its wallet. To me this sounds like an attractive deal for both parties. Amex Serve was one of the first of the new breed of digital wallets to market, although it hasn't really taken off (so far) as a standalone proposition. Amex's decision last year to partner with Wal-Mart in launching Bluebird was in part due to the desire to better utilize the Serve platform and the underlying technology. Isis gives Serve another route to market. At the same time, Serve enhances Isis wallet by making it more universal - it is no longer just a retail POS solution, but a wallet that can be used for other purposes as well, such as online or P2P payments. The irony, of course, is that the piece of technology which reduces dependency on NFC and enables broader set of use cases is the good old plastic card linked to the Serve account. We'll see if Isis is able to deliver national roll-out this year; after all, they have missed most of their own deadlines so far. But the latest deal with Amex has the potential to change that track record.

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