Weve and MasterCard Collaborate on UK Mobile Payments
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6 February 2014Zilvinas Bareisis
I've been following today various news reports about the announcement that Weve and MasterCard have partnered to drive forward contactless mobile payments in the UK. I am still hoping to speak to my contacts at the companies involved, but wanted to share some of my early thoughts. It is not surprising to see Weve, the JV between three leading UK mobile network operators (MNOs), pushing into payments. After getting approvals from the European authorities, Weve started with building out a "single point of contact" infrastructure for retailers and other parties to deliver marketing messages to consumers. However, it always had the ambition in payments, and after hiring David Sears, a seasoned payments executive, as a CEO, it was always only a matter of time before we would hear more about it. This seems like a significant win for MasterCard, although the devil will be in the details. All the indications are that this will be a “traditional” SIM-based NFC payments solution, but the announcements so far have been a little vague about the set-up and the role of various partners. The Financial Times and other sources reported that “under the terms of their agreement, MasterCard will provide technology and integration services to banks and financial institutions that use Weve’s payments platform.” What kind of “technology and integration services” will MasterCard be providing to banks? Who are the other parties involved, e.g. TSM services? Another question crucial to the success of any NFC initiative is how the business model issues will be solved, i.e. the commercial terms between banks and Weve acting on behalf of MNOs. Mobile Marketing reported Weve CEO saying that they now have a "'commercial agreement’ with banks, via the MasterCard partnership. Banks will be able to plug in their existing payments infrastructure and pay for the service on a general usage rather than a percentage of transaction model." This could potentially represent a breakthrough and fresh thinking in how banks and MNOs can work together. Weve is reportedly in discussions with many banks, although at this stage, no bank has yet announced its support or participation. Finally, most of the UK's card spending is on debit rather than credit cards. Debit card spending is also growing at nearly twice the rate of spending on credit cards. According to the UK Cards Association, spending on debit cards in 2013 was £31.8bn which grew by 7.2% since 2012 compared to £13.7bn and 3.7% respectively for credit cards. MasterCard’s strength in the UK is in credit cards, whereas Visa leads in debit. To succeed, Weve needs to ensure all major networks, including Visa and American Express, are eventually part of its ecosystem. At this stage, there are still perhaps more questions than answers to the outsiders, but it is certainly a welcome development in the UK mobile payments market.