Mobile wallets – helping consumers enjoy life more in Canada

 

In honour of Canada Day today, I fell to thinking about how mobile payments may be able to help folk lead happier lives, for instance by providing more opportunities to enjoy things exactly the way we like them, through the great things technology can now do for us.

 

Chances are if you live in Canada you will probably already be waving you card to pay today, as I do here in the UK. Thanks to debit payment network Interac having set a 2012 deadline for adoption of Chip-and-PIN for merchant liability shift, Canada pulled way ahead of the US. By February 2014 over 75% of major retailers already accepted contactless payments, with just 2% of retailers doing so in the US, leading Ben Myers to argue Why Apple Pay Should Have Launched in Canada First.

 

You are probably less likely to pay using your mobile phone though from what I hear consumers already do so at McDonalds, Loblaws, Starbucks and others. Now with the re-launch of Suretap mobile wallet a few days ago, use will hopefully broaden, as the ecosystem includes 5 mobile operators, 38 credit cards and 30 gift cards, with support to NFC as well as barcodes. Recently Humza Teherany wrote an interesting post on the status of mobile payments in Canada.

 

So the question is will Canadians be tempted to pay with their mobile phones at last? I believe this depends on how the services are positioned to help the merchants and consumers. Being a foodie, here is an example that appeals to me, to speculate same time next year how things might look, if all goes well.

 

As we all want what we can’t have, it caught my eye that Burger’s Priest has a special, succulent offer just for Canada Day today. It is a surf & turf Confederation burger, with all the good things I associate with Canada: topped with Ontario-farmed bacon, Nova Scotia lobster tail, and Quebec maple syrup.

canadaburger2

 

But what if you preferred just the surf or just the turf? Or more importantly, what if you’d love a burger but are on a low salt, low fat or gluten free diet? One of the huge problems the food industry has is catering to the different preferences. Sure we can state a few preferences when we drive by, but to save embarrassment of holding up a queue of cars I expect many consumers may prefer to simply stay away.

 

Here is where mobile wallets such as the TD Bank/PC Financial Ugo or Suretap, now preloaded on Rogers devices could come into their own, hopefully before Apple Pay captures market in Canada. Once you’ve ordered and paid with a mobile wallet, it should be quite easy to say “Same again”, order ahead, pay as you please and get your burger where you please, when you please and how you please. The new processes could do so much more. And if it is your birthday, you may even be surprised with a little something special – picture that!

 

So perhaps come July the 1st, 2016 more people may be enjoying more of what they like, while still staying healthy and fit.  Anyway, all this wishful thinking was just a prelude to wishing Happy Canada Day to all our friends north of the world’s longest land border. I may not be able to share that burger with you (yet), but we can raise a glass of bubbly together!

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Bitcoin – Fan it or Ban it?

As debates on the regulation of Bitcoin and cyber currencies continue to build up, Karena de Souza, Shift Thought distributor in Canada recently chatted with people involved in the rapidly growing Canadian Bitcoin ecosystem. She shares her thoughts here and we raise key questions to reflect on.

Background

News on Bitcoin alternates from viral growth to free fall. Fuelled by a meteoric rise in value based on announcements and events over November 2013, phrases such as ‘cyber currency’, ‘digital money’ and ‘virtual currency’ have entered the common vernacular. Press releases, announcements and senate hearings have all worked to keep it front and present in the public eye. The word ‘bitcoin’ made its official entry into the Oxford Dictionary in August 2013.

Bitcoin is now getting the visibility it has been struggling for since its inception, as Forbes reported 2013 to be the Year of the Bitcoin. The European Banking Authority has now warned consumers of the risks, as China’s PBOC barred financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions last week.

It is important to clarify that at Shift Thought we look at Bitcoin as just one example of a class of virtual currencies, not to be confused with our description of Digital Money, the term we use for describing innovations that move people away from paying with cash.

What is Bitcoin?

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After the recent interest, most major financial news agencies have published an explanation of Bitcoin – how it is created and how it works. The Bitcoin community maintains a comprehensive FAQ. I recommend the Huffington Post: A three part series by Alexandra Berke as an easy introductory read. A Fistful of Bitcoins  is a more in-depth discussion of algorithms and the concept of anonymity.

Value versus Volatility

Key announcements, particularly from China and the USA, have kept the focus on Bitcoin and other virtual currencies, causing a rise and fall in the value and sudden surges in demand. After trading within the $10-$200 USD bracket for most of 2013, the value of a Bitcoin jumped 400% within the month of November.

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The graphs, sourced from OANDA Historical Exchange Rates show more volatility in the price of BTC based on daily announcements, primarily out of China, not so far a total reversal in value. 

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As more consumers get comfortable with the concept of a virtual currency, especially in markets as large as the USA and China, the opportunity for a digital currency with low transaction costs to succeed gets larger. As discussed in the Shift Thought webinar on Digital Money in China 2013, the online purchasing population of that country is bigger than the entire population of the 5th most populous country in the world. Announcements out of China therefore have the ability to create huge swings in a cyber-currency still in its infancy.

Bitcoin operates as a cyber currency that provides users in many countries with a way to transfer value internationally at a nominal rate, without a bank account. The effect on remittance streams could be significant, causing leading global payment providers to consider whether and when to support it. However the potential effect on consumers could be catastrophic. Also of great concern to the regulatory community is the cash-like anonymity this method offers, and the potential for exploitation by money launderers and criminal elements.

To hoard or to trade?

Creating the expectation that there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoins helped its value to rise dramatically and also fuelled an instinct to hoard. Yet hoarding goes against the effectiveness of a means of payment.

imageVirtEx, The Canadian Virtual Exchange  has been building a bitcoin ecosystem by working with merchants and customers.

At the Small Business Forum in Toronto on October 23, 2013 (1BTC=$183.69 CAD) CEO Joseph David encouraged small businesses to consider becoming a part of the Bitcoin network. They are attempting to take Bitcoin beyond cyber commerce, to make it viable tender at an expanding number of brick and mortar sites. They use the appeal of low transaction fees, quick access to money and the cash-like anonymous relationship to the transaction. VirtEx claims to have a rigorous identification process in place before it will establish an account. It supports a range of Bitcoin related activity and has expanded its portfolio of products most recently by launching a Schedule 1 bank-based debit card. This allows Canadians to use the Interac network to spend Bitcoin or withdraw the Canadian Dollar equivalent in cash, within the guidelines established. VirtEx stated aim is to provide the Canadian Bitcoin community with a secure place to trade in Bitcoin.

The increase in awareness amongst the general population, coupled with the growing value of BTC (the Bitcoin currency) has certainly got more merchants considering acceptance of Bitcoin as tender. But could the recent volatility scare smaller merchants who are dependent on a predictable cash flow? Will we start seeing protective hedging in the form of options and futures? Virtex Business Development Manager Reed Holmes hoped that by encouraging a robust and ever-increasing circle of suppliers that are willing to accept Bitcoin internationally, merchants will keep their transactions in BTC, opting to convert to fiat currencies only when necessary. While it is good to see BTC appreciate in value, there is hope that instead of hoarding, sufficient amounts of BTC will stay in regular circulation and like gold, be ‘on display’.

Bitcoin in Canada

imageCanada is a perfect incubator for ideas and innovation – the smaller, concentrated population with a high degree of technical and financial knowledge, is coupled with a conservative yet open-minded, internationally respected regulatory environment. The significant proportion of immigrants helps the osmosis of good ideas back to their countries of origin. This has created conditions for large numbers of Canadians to embrace Bitcoin. The world’s first bitcoin ATM was launched in Vancouver, with more planned. According to Isabell Boese, Executive Assistant at Bitcoiniacs, the second Robocoin ATM is to be installed in Calgary by year-end, and the first of two earmarked for Toronto will be in place by end of January 2014.

clip_image006That should be well in time for the first bitcoin Expo to be hosted in Toronto April 11-13, 2014. At that event, Canada will look to establish itself as an innovator and leader in this space. It aims to attract merchants, start-ups, VCs and investors who are interested in fostering the ‘growth and development of Bitcoin communities worldwide with a focus on collaborative and decentralized models’. It features an international panel of speakers as per the post from Anthony Di Iorio, Executive Director of the organizer, Bitcoin Alliance of Canada.

There have been frequent announcements of Bitcoin related start-ups and ventures. At the Mobile Money Conference 2013 in November, Venture Capital Panelist Alex Baker forecast that the coming months and years would see Bitcoin play a more prominent and disruptive role in retail payment.

The Risks and Rewards

Bitcoin.org lays out the many risks with using this new payment method. Competitive cyber currency offerings, denouncement by sovereign countries and central banks and the fraud and embezzlements uncovered all conspire to affect the day-to-day value of BTC. Yet the international Bitcoin community and its supporters grow, as a new wave of digital payments joins the traditional cash, gold and credit remittance and payment streams.

For some hoping for a Bitcoin in their stockings, it seems they may have to be happy with a few Satoshi! I am taking the long view – I think virtual currency will be to payments what the smart phone was to the telephone and camera … it’s going to make new things possible!

Over to you …

  • What is the innovative and disruptive element of Bitcoin that is likely to change payments?
  • What effect do you see Bitcoin having on international remittances?
  • Will Bitcoin still be the hot topic at the end of 2014?
  • What does it take for a new payments method to go mainstream?
  • Will Bitcoin have an impact on your business or way of doing business?

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Karena de Souza is a forward thinking and entrepreneurial professional with a special interest in payment streams for small business. Karena’s focus on mobile finance blends the challenges and opportunites she faced as a small business owner in Canada with her experience using technology to facilitate financial services while at Morgan Stanley in New York. She graduated from the University of Westminster with a BSc (Hons) Mathematics and Computing.

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Mobile Money Canada 2013 – Retail and Payments Experience of the Future

 

Karena de Souza, Shift Thought distributor in Canada shares her thoughts on the payments scene in Canada having recently attended Mobile Money Canada 2013. Mobile technology is starting to go mainstream. Learn how Canadian innovations such as Mintchip are developing shoulder-to-shoulder with new offers from global players such as PayPal and MasterCard.

The most recent Mobile Money Canada conference, chaired by Brent Ho-Young took place on November 13, 2013. It brought together thought leaders across commerce, mobile, retail and technology in a discussion on the challenges in accelerating the acceptance of Mobile Commerce into mainstream Canada. A well designed agenda included a number of TedX sized presentations, interspersed with themed panel discussions.

Canada offers technologists and business a unique playground in which to experiment and fast-track consumer acceptance. With Canadians being an unusually tech-savvy population, platforms such as Interac launched and became mainstream ahead of their adoption in other countries. An enabling yet protective regulatory environment provides an umbrella within which local businesses, Telcos, payment processors and banks are free to partner and innovate.

Presentations built on recent announcements:

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Rogers David Robinson presented the next generation of suretap wallet, offering Rogers customers an all-in-one branded Telco-based mobile money experience – from branded NFC enabled handset containing a secure SIM, with payment made from a Rogers’ branded prepaid MasterCard or retail gift card.

imageWe also heard about Ugo’s latest plans. A few days ago Loblaw, Canada’s largest retailer, joined Ugo as their first retail partner. Ugo claims to be Canada’s first open mobile wallet that offers multiple payment and loyalty as a single package. Two major banks are involved: PC Financial and TD Bank Group. Both MasterCard and Visa cards will be loaded.

 

imagePayPal showcased their cloud based app – a first aimed at masking ‘payment’ within the greater transaction ‘experience’. The use of BLE allows a new proposition – customers check-IN instead of checking out.

 

imageMintchip is an innovative offering from the Canadian Mint. We heard about  the MintChip Challenge: MintChip now in R&D stage has developers participating in a challenge to develop what aims to be the evolution of currency.

 

The panel on Mobile Commerce & Payments for Retailers chaired by Pierre Roberge engaged Tanbir Grover from Lowe’s, Nurez Khimji from Urban Barn, PC Financial’s Jimmy Dinh and SecureKey’s Christian Ali. Retail is embracing the reality of a connected customer base and extending ways to offer them a more complete shopping experience. A big challenge in this sector is how to cost-effectively integrate the various existing technologies and legacy infrastructures to present a seamless environment for the customer. Also, in a consumer culture that is getting used to ‘want it now’, virtual stores pose a challenge to physical delivery in a country the size of Canada, given the transportation infrastructure.

An engaging panel that included Blackberry, Visa and MasterCard – and a very entertaining Timothy Grayson from Canada Post – discussed the components necessary to achieve that tipping point in the Canadian market that will encourage consumers to gravitate towards mobile as their main choice for payment.

A number of initiatives appear to be aiming to break the Tap&Go resistance barrier by cajoling the client to park their many loyalty cards conveniently within one mobile wallet.

The evening was packed with presentations filled with interest, intellect and innovation. “3 Ways to Launder Mobile Money” caught my attention. Others were informative – the Kili POS and Vince Kadar’s review of Telepin’s global timeline.

But for me, the most compelling presentation of the evening was by Nicolas Dinh for MasterCard. It spoke to the spirit of innovation present in Canada, in the best traditions of a nation that has given the world technologies such as Interac and Blackberry.

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The N>XT challenge sponsored by MasterCard resulted in many innovative ideas. Watching the presentation of a $10,000 check by Kevin Faragher of CIBC to the  Crescent School Coyotes was inspirational. These five 11th and 12th graders won the CIBC People’s Choice award. They had a waiter use his/her smartphone as a POS to calculate the tab, split it between the customers and then process the split payment from 4 different patrons using NFC technology.

I came away with 3 main impressions:

  • Mobile technology is seeping into the mainstream. Mobile operators and financial services providers have established good building blocks and infrastructure and are ready to partner with retail to extend the mobile experience into many areas of our lives.
  • Retailers are now on board to engage a customer base that is technically connected as they walk into the virtual and bricks & mortar stores. They have to work on joining the older vertical infrastructures behind the scenes so that the customer is presented with an integrated seamless shopping engagement – from the point of browsing, through shopping, payment to final physical delivery.
  • Canadian innovations such as the Mintchip and the Kili POS are well-poised to be potential enablers for a new shopping experience.

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Karena de Souza is a forward thinking and entrepreneurial professional with a special interest in payment streams for small business. Karena’s focus on mobile finance blends the challenges and opportunites she faced as a small business owner in Canada with her experience using technology to facilitate financial services while at Morgan Stanley in New York. She graduated from the University of Westminster with a BSc (Hons) Mathematics and Computing.

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