Thirty-two movies will be released this summer of 2015, making it one of the most prolific summer movie seasons ever. Here at PYMNTS.com, we’d like to think that Hollywood isn’t the only content producing machine with a lock on blockbusters. Take, for instance, some of the pieces written by MPD CEO Karen Webster. They might never see the silver screen, but they are filled with plenty of drama, often a good dose of humor, and always with an ending that will leave you guessing.
To celebrate the unofficial start of summer this Memorial Day here in the U.S., here are a few of MPD CEO Karen Webster’s PYMNTS “blockbuster” articles from over the last 12 months.
Mobile payments is not for the faint of heart – a lesson that merchants behind MCX’s mobile wallet CurrentC seem to have spent much of the last 12 months learning. Two weeks ago, the not-quite-ready-to-launch-yet mobile wallet suffered a high profile defection when Best Buy made it known they would be taking Apple Pay as soon as their exclusivity deal was done. Then, for reasons that spokespeople assured the world were totally unrelated, CEO Dekkers Davidson stepped down to “pursue other projects.” So what happened? Karen Webster has some ideas – and thinks that even though CurrentC probably can’t be saved – there are lessons for all here.
Notable Quotable | “Not surprisingly, many have written off that future as pretty bleak. Me included. But I never thought it had much of a shot to begin with. Not long after the announcement of its formation, I wrote a fairy tale portraying MCX’s ambition to become the alternative set of merchant-owned, cheap rails, as just that – a fairy tale – where the notion of living happily ever after was flawed. Some thought that a pretty harsh indictment of the merchant-led scheme, portrayed as one whose “time had come” … Except that it hasn’t and with each passing day, seems likely that it won’t. At least not in the way in which it was originally envisioned.”
The good news about being a frontrunner is that everyone loves you while you’re leading the pack. The bad news about being a frontrunner is that everyone else in the race gets to draft off of you and those with experience and stamina eventually make a move for your spot. Such is the difficulty Square has faced – after launching as “the service that was going to change the face of payments,” the company has struggled to find the right niche to scale. Karen Webster explains what happened with Square – and what the way forward might look like.
Notable Quotable | “Igniting a payments network is hard. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me something we don’t already know. But it’s amazing how many innovators underestimate the complexity of payments because it looks so easy on the surface. So it isn’t all that surprising that a creative and high energy innovator who didn’t know payments but thought he could build a better mousetrap …”
While the launch of Apple Pay led many industry watchers to say many, many conflicting things about the future of mobile, NFC, the card networks and Apple’s rivals – the most important thing, Karen Webster noted, is that everyone, everywhere was talking about it at all. That, Webster noted, may be the big takeaway here, as Apple’s greatest gift with its very public launch is that it managed to put mobile payments on everyone’s radar.
Notable Quotable | “Regardless of Apple Pay’s long run success, we’ve all just witnessed an inflection point in payments – a point in time after which nothing will ever be the same. What happens over the next three to five years will likely decide the direction of payments and commerce over the next forty or fifty… “
Heading into Halloween last year (2014), the payments and commerce landscape was an increasingly different looking place – with the launch of Apple Pay, the MCX Empire (Trying) To Strike Back and PayPal’s decision to hit the road on its own. Change is often scary – and so in honor of a shifting landscape (and the season of course) Karen Webster took readers on her tour of the scariest things in payments – complete with her two cents about what was really going bump in the night.
Notable Quotable | “I’ll bet you didn’t know that cybercrime is actually more profitable – and easier to get into and make money from – than the illegal drug trade. That’s the opinion of the Rand Corporation anyway… Do it yourself, SaaS based “exploit kits” – the tools of the hacking trade – cost anywhere from $16 to $325 a pop and make perpetrating breaches a cinch.”
While it can be hard to imagine now, about a year ago the whole payments world was still wondering about the exact whats and hows of the widely predicted (but still unconfirmed) forthcoming payments play by Apple. Karen Webster tried her hand at some predictions – noting that, like AmEx, Apple has an affluent and desirable customer base that might be their ignition secret sauce. Take a look at how close she got in looking at the potential future of mobile payments for elite customers.
Notable Quotable | “From the beginning, Amex didn’t want everyone as a cardholder, just those with the capacity to spend, including corporate travelers. It organized programs and rewards and marketing around that positioning and value proposition. And that became the core of its pitch to merchants: pay a higher merchant discount and I will drive consumers with the capacity to spend more to your doorstep. That has been good enough to convince 16 million merchants worldwide to take the card. The similarities to Apple and its products are pretty interesting.”
News travels fast in the payments business – which is not to say it’s always 100 percent intact when it gets there. Case in point earlier this year, when a round of layoffs, a comment by a former executive and the looming threat of Apple Pay had many declaring PayPal’s push for “offline” payments was done. Karen Webster caught up with PayPal’s GM of Retail Brad Brodigan on all of it and asked him some pretty pointed questions about PayPal’s future at the physical point of sale.
Notable Quotable | “I personally thought that it was game-set-match for PayPal nearly three years ago when their deal with Discover essentially gave them an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the Discover network assets and the merchant and consumer relationships that went along with it to capture a commanding position in-store using the PayPal mobile app… As far as in-store acceptance is concerned, to me, it has seemed like crickets ever since.”
PYMNTS reports over 100 stories through our newsletter alone each week, and that’s not even everything we publish. Multiply that by the dozens of other outlets that throw just any old thing out there under the rubric of eCommerce and payments news and it’s easy to lose track of what’s really important. As she does once a year, Karen published her annual look back on 2014 to get a grip on what drove the market this year – and what would continue to push it into 2015. She didn’t say it was all “awesome,” but she did say it was all interesting…
Notable Quotable | “I will also go out on a limb here and safely say that in spite of how much we all want mobile commerce to happen, that in 2015 here in the U.S. as well as in the developed economies around the world, virtually all consumers will continue to use their plastic cards virtually all of the time to pay for things in retail stores, which is, of course, where most commerce still happens.”
Once the dust had settled a little on Apple Pay – the natural question arose – what player could rise up and unite the larger Android OS smartphone owning base to compete with Apple’s in-house only payment platform. Google was initially thought to be the natural counterweight – but Karen says there might be a few more attractive candidates waiting in the wings.
Notable Quotable | “Here are the characteristics of the winner. They need to control hardware, software (an operating system) and the developer community and enable payment in much the same way that Apple Pay and Apple do. Whoever does that will then win the hearts and minds of consumers and merchants. And they need to negotiate with issuers and the networks and maybe even the merchants.“
About 20 years ago, Visa ignited debit transactions in the U.S., helped in no small part by one of the better slogans ever set forth: “it’s everywhere you want to be.” In 2014 Visa began a multi-pronged assault of the future of everywhere – the Web – so as to ensure it doesn’t disappear behind the legions of digital wallets Visa cards are being entered into. Karen rounds up Visa’s chances, what it brings to the table and what bumps in the road ahead it can anticipate.
Notable Quotable |“For Visa Checkout to succeed, I think that Visa needs to party like it’s 2014, and not like its 1995 since the music and what people will be wearing to the party aren’t the only things that are different. Visa has a two-sided problem to crack that is the hardest problem in payments and commerce. To get the party started, it needs enough of the right merchants and consumers to arrive at just about the same time in a good mood.”
Going into the summer of 2014 – the players are increasingly lining up to do battle for mobile dominance. Apple is out and attracting lots of attention – but few users. PayPal is ready to usher commerce into its next phase. CurrentC remains troubled, and Google is still searching for it audience. So what is the best way to handicap the race? Karen Webster has some ideas.
Notable Quotable | “Apple won’t win the mobile wallet wars, although they could win a few key battles and capture some valuable territory. Neither will Google, despite their size and years of slogging it out trying to gain ground. Microsoft doesn’t stand a chance. PayPal, Amazon, Alipay, and even Starbucks are well positioned. Samsung with LoopPay, is potentially too. Facebook is a wildcard with a shot. And Visa and MasterCard are potentially the big winners, no matter what happens (at least in the short term). But not for any of the reasons that you’ve probably read about previously.