Weve, the mobile wallet and marketing joint venture of the U.K.’s biggest mobile carriers, has announced a partnership with MasterCard that it hopes will accelerate the readiness of stores to take mobile payments.
The idea of Weve, which launched last year after EU antitrust regulators gave it the all-clear (its members include Vodafone, EE and O2, but not Three U.K.), is to provide a clearinghouse for advertisers, retailers and banks who want to deal with phone users. If that provides a single point of contact on the carriers’ side, the MasterCard deal is intended to do something similar for the banks, so they don’t have to deploy point-of-sale (POS) technology individually.
“Up until this point, banks would have had to individually invest in technology to enable mobile payments and enable them securely,” Weve CEO David Sear explained to me. “Now what’s happening is MasterCard is building the capability for banks to do that at very low cost.”
Sear said the deal would lead to widespread rollout of mobile payments capabilities in British shops during 2015 – around 300,000 points of sale in the country can already accept contactless card payments, so this will largely be a matter of making those machines see suitably-equipped phones as cards.
The phones will use NFC-enabled SIM cards, so they won’t need to have NFC built into the handset as such. However, Apple’s longstanding NFC allergy will mean iPhone users won’t get to join the party.
The question now is whether regular consumers will want the functionality at all. Mobile payments are big in emerging markets such as Kenya, where many consumers don’t have bank accounts, but that’s not the situation in the U.K. at all. If you’re already able to use the card in your physical wallet for contactless payments, why go through the extra step of having the handset emulate that card?
There’s also the small matter of Zapp, a British mobile payments startup that has already partnered with several major banks to offer its services directly to their customers, with no carrier involvement. As it becomes a feature of the bank’s standard mobile banking app, it does not require the customer to load a card into it – but on the other hand, it remains to be seen whether Zapp will get enough retailers to sign up to accept it.
Neither service has properly launched yet, so the proof will be in the pudding.