Though the great consumer shift to digital is often seen as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s not entirely accurate, Mike Cowen, Mastercard’s head of digital payments for the U.K., Ireland, Nordics and Baltics told PYMNTS in a recent conversation. For a certain segment of the consumer and merchant population, that digital shift was already well underway pre-COVID. But for the later-adopting end of the market — the consumers and merchants that had heretofore shied away from digital — the past six months have marked the start of a transformation.
“One of the effects of COVID has been [that] it’s driven much wider adoption among consumer groups that we wouldn’t necessarily have traditionally thought of as being fast adopters,” Cowen said. “It’s led to an acceleration of bringing in the wider populations. It’s similar in those segments of the merchant/retailer community that were slower to adopt contactless payments and also digital payments, where circumstances have really forced the acceleration of their adoption as well.”
The New Samsung Pay Card
As digital payments and digital commerce have expanded their penetration among consumers and merchants alike, the greater usage is pushing the pace of innovation in the segment. One of the most recent developments was this week’s announcement of the Samsung Pay Card powered by Curve and Mastercard technology.
The new digital card, accessed through Samsung smartphones and watches, “collates” debit and credit cards from a range of banks onto a single platform to help users better manage their payments choice at the point of sale.
Cowen said that’s a natural area of interest for Mastercard, firstly because it represents a nice coming together of partnerships, as the card network has been working with both Curve and Samsung for some time. But more importantly, pairing Curve’s “supercard product” with the Samsung Pay mobile wallet’s capacity creates an offering that’s more than just a traditional mobile-wallet offering — and more than the sum of its parts.
In a typical digital-wallet offering, one registers their card credentials into the wallet directly. And although transactions are then tokenized, those card on file credentials are used as the payments method each time the card is presented for payment.
But the Samsung Pay Card powered by Curve works differently. Cowen said there’s an additional card that sits in front of the other cards that are linked to the account — more of a decoupled card architecture. At the point of sale, consumers can decide which payment method they want to use, and the transactions are charged to that specific payment method. This second transaction is linked to the Samsung Pay card, and runs over Mastercard debit rails, even if a credit card is used to make the payments.
Cowen said that while Curve isn’t the first business that’s attempted to make a “super card” product work, most have had limited success. He said what sets Curve apart is the degree to which its technology has “gotten the aspects of this right.”
Built into the Samsung Pay Card is Curve's “Go Back in Time” functionality that allows customers to move transactions from one card to another after purchases have been made, allowing for more flexibility and control of spending.
The card also offers distinct rewards attached to the Samsung Pay Card that accrue separately from any rewards programs tied to individual cards linked to the account. For instance, Samsung Pay offers an extra 1 percent instant cash back on all purchases, plus 5 percent cash back on all purchases made at Samsung.com.
Cowen said that the Samsung Pay card is very easy to use and helps consumers see their spending across all of their cards and on different cards.
“It just checks the boxes in terms of the user experience,” he explained.
Building For The Future
Cowen said such innovations are exciting and add to the consumer experience, but that such changes create their own challenges.
He said that when firms like Curve come along and say they have products that work differently than anything else, Mastercard has to very quickly determine if there’s a level of difference the company is comfortable with.
“And then we have to figure out what kind of adjustments we need to make in our own framework to accommodate something like this,” Cowen said. “How from a franchise perspective do we feel this thing operates? How do we think it feels from a consumer’s perspective and from a retailer’s perspective?”
He said Mastercard must “make sure that we classify this as the right source of solution — that we have the right rules around it, and it has the right sort of articulation around it.”
COVID-19 has triggered new behaviors that consumers are hardwiring into permanent habits. And the more innovation that Mastercard can enable, Cowen said, the better the firm can understand what consumers want and need next from their payment products.
Cowen said the Samsung Pay Card “is something quite new and unique. So we’ll be watching. We’re quite interested to see how it is adopted, how successful it is and whether there are some lessons that we can learn from that.”