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What’s In Your Mobile Wallet?

By: Michael Scheibach

It is about time. The United States lags behind the rest of the world in terms of mobile technology. But that is about to change. In the next few months, Americans will have an opportunity to experience the viability and capability of the mobile wallet (or m-wallet). More significant, banks also will have an opportunity to introduce branded m-wallet services that not only strengthen their connection with current customers, but also help reach unbanked consumers reliant on their mobile phones for financial services.

To lay the groundwork, the m-wallet is a smartphone with built-in contactless technology that allows payments to be made using a mobile reader. In addition, the m-wallet allows consumers to interact with brands through opt-in offers, loyalty programs and coupons that expand far beyond simply a credit card on a phone. Although this may sound futuristic, mobile wallets have been used in Japan since 2004 and are becoming commonplace in countries around the world, especially in developing countries without traditional brick-and-mortar banks.

Active participants in this country’s race to introduce the m-wallet include the major telecoms, phone manufacturers and credit card companies, as well as the monolith Google, which plans to introduce its m-wallet through Sprint’s Nexus S 4G smartphone and future Android phones. American Express, which has its own Serve m-wallet, also is working with Sprint.

Working behind the headlines, however, is Isis, perhaps the ultimate winner in the m-wallet sweepstakes. Isis is a joint venture of AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, which, combined, have access to more than 216 million customers, sell 130 million phones annually and can provide customer service through 20,000 retail locations.

The company’s mission, according to Jim Stapleton, chief sales officer, is “to bring to fruition an open and comprehensive mobile commerce platform that meets the needs of consumers, merchants and banks.” Isis is introducing its m-wallet next year in two test markets: Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas. Plans call for a national roll-out in 2013.

“Making mobile commerce a reality for consumers involves two key initiatives: building the infrastructure and building the ecosystem,” said Stapleton. “Both initiatives require developing strong partnerships. We are open to working with any issuer, payment network or mobile carrier that shares our vision for an open and secure mobile commerce platform.” The support of the four main payment networks — MasterCard, American Express, Visa and Discover — has propelled Isis to the forefront in the push for a true U.S. mobile wallet.

Rather than being a threat, Stapleton points out, the m-wallet offers new opportunities for banks, building on the success of the mobile banking channel. In short, the m-wallet promises to become another, even more robust, channel for those banks that understand the mobile ecosystem and are willing to explore collaboration opportunities to expand their brands.

“The Isis wallet is an additional service banks will provide their consumers,” said Stapleton, “like online banking, mobile banking, remote check deposit, etc. Isis will be helping issuers solve the consumer handset technology and security issues so they can extend their existing cardholder relationships onto the mobile phone and expand them through more interactive dialogue with their consumers. Mobile commerce presents an unprecedented opportunity for banks to connect with consumers as never before.”

To learn more about Isis m-wallet, visit

Michael Scheibach is executive editor of BankNews.

Copyright © September 2011 BankNews Media