Apple Pay: welcome to the UK!

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12 June 2015
Zilvinas Bareisis
This week Apple announced that Apple Pay will finally make its debut in the UK. Most of us expected that after the US launch, Canada and the UK would be the next countries for Apple Pay as it expands internationally. Those of us here were hoping it would happen by April, but it looks like it will now finally be arriving in July. The UK market has many ingredients for Apple Pay to succeed. Apple's market share is over 40%, having climbed upwards in the last 9 months on the back of strong sales of the latest Apple 6 and 6+ devices. And the acceptance environment is rather "contactless-friendly": about 250,000 merchant locations already accept contactless transactions in the UK, including leading retailers, such as Boots, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and many others. Importantly, Transport for London has upgraded its infrastructure last year to start accepting regular contactless bank cards, in addition to Oyster, its own prepaid travel card. TfL confirmed that Apple Pay will also work on the London transport network, which should be a significant contributor to Apple Pay transactions in the early days. Most of the leading issuers are also on-board. Customers with cards from American Express, First Direct, HSBC, Nationwide, RBS Group and Santander will be able to use Apple Pay at launch, with the Lloyds Group, M&S bank and MBNA joining later in the year. One notable omission is Barclays, although apparently the two companies are continuing the dialogue. What is not clear yet is the commercial terms between issuers and Apple Pay - everyone remains tight-lipped about it. I would be very surprised though if the UK banks end up paying any transaction fees to Apple. As I already called out in my report on Apple Pay, interchange rates in the UK and Europe are simply not high enough to support any revenue sharing. Furthermore, post Android Pay and the networks dropping charges for their tokenisation services, any wallet fees are looking increasingly unlikely. Most contactless terminals today have a £20 transaction limit, which makes sense when you accept contactless cards, which offer no cardholder verification mechanism. It doesn't make sense for an Apple Pay transaction which uses biometric cardholder authentication via Touch ID. That is, assuming Touch ID works - I've been struggling badly with it lately, as my shiny iPhone 6 simply refuses to recognise my fingerprints most of the time. If I can't resolve it, I might have second thoughts about using Apple Pay, as the last thing I would want is "faffing around" trying to pay with my phone which doesn't work... The transaction limit in the UK is going to £30 in the autumn. And those retailers who upgrade their terminals (at least, the software bit) should be able to decide against imposing any limits for Apple Pay transactions. We've had options to pay by phone in the UK for a while now, such as paym, Barclays' Pingit, PayPal and a few other solutions. Zapp, a mobile payment method that would allow customers to pay directly from their bank accounts, is also due to finally launch later this year. Still, Apple Pay's arrival is major news, and should give a much needed boost to the UK's mobile payments scene. Exciting times!

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