Weekly reading – 11th September 2021

What I wrote last week

I did a quick review to show which remittance services you may want to use to transfer money to Vietnam or India

My reservation on PYMNT’s study on Apple Pay’s usage in stores

Interesting articles on Business

Why the global chip shortage is making it so hard to buy a PS5. In the silicon manufacturing process, for the most advanced tool inside a fab, typically you’ll have hundreds of different tools. Actually in a large fab, like one you might see at TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), you’ll have thousands of these tools. And these tools are big machines that process these wafers and do various things. And most tools cost, starting with a couple of million dollars, to the most expensive tools are in excess of 150 million euros. In Asia, they’ll build these things in a year. They’ll move in equipment in the second year, get it qualified, running, by the end of the year. In the US, or in the West, it takes a lot longer, because we don’t have the same mentality they have in Asia. We’re going to do all the permitting, all the hearings, and all that stuff. So it wouldn’t surprise me if it took 50 percent longer to twice as long. Now, let me tell you why that’s a problem. Because to your second question, a modern fab these days, one of the closer-to-leading-edge ones will cost you $10 billion-plus for the smallest efficient scale, and a really efficient scale will probably cost you closer to $20 billion. Think about how much depreciation that can generate. In Asia, the mentality is every day, every hour this thing isn’t running costs me tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars. I’ve been in Asia on Christmas Day, and there are people out there with jackhammers and pouring concrete because it was like, “Man, every minute this thing gets done sooner, we can start generating cash.” We do not have that mentality in the West.”

Companies Need More Workers. Why Do They Reject Millions of Résumés? A gap on a resume should not be used to disqualify a candidate immediately. Many need to take a break, whether it was because a family member was sick or it was for their mental health. A less-than-stellar historical record shouldn’t disqualify a candidate either. We all make mistakes and we all deserve chances. Plus, if someone has the necessary skills, does it matter where they got those skills? Does it matter if they don’t have a degree? We use software to evaluate hundreds, if not thousands, of applications a year. It’s understandable. But I do believe that we can write better software to accommodate hiring needs and give people chances.

The surprisingly big business of Library E-books

PayPal To Acquire Paidy. PayPal agreed to acquire Paidy, a BNPL provider in Japan, for $2.7 billion in cash. Paidy reportedly has 700,000 merchants and more than 6 million users. As PayPal itself already has more than 400 million users, this acquisition isn’t likely about inflating the user base. The second reason is likely capabilities. Paidy, which shoppers can use without creating an account first or using a credit card, has a proprietary machine learning models to evaluate credit worthiness of consumers. In other Asian countries, it’s not uncommon for shoppers to pay cash on deliveries for online orders. Perhaps this is something that PayPal wants to replicate in other Asian markets.

Australia’s Top Court Finds Media Companies Liable for Other People’s Facebook Comments. The Court’s argument is that media companies post articles to stimulate conversations and engagement through comments. Hence, they should be liable for such comments. I don’t think that line of reasoning totally lacks solid grounds. I mean, a company’s Facebook page is essentially its property where it has the ability to curate (with Facebook’s help, of course) and it should have some responsibility for defamatory comments taking place there.

Source: CNBC

Stuff that I found interesting

This wildly reinvented wind turbine generates five times more energy than its competitors. This proposal, if materialized, can generate power for up to 100,000 households with one station while reducing the waste that is usually seen with the traditional turbines.

A great series on the study of obesity

Stats that may interest you

Mobile transactions in Vietnam are expected to increase by 300% between 2021 and 2025

Apple has around 52% to 57% of the mobile game transactions market (page 138)

Even though Apple doesn’t have a separate P&L for its line businesses, the Court found that the App Store’s operating margin is approximately 75% (page 145)

Truths about that 6% of People with iPhones in the US Use Apple Pay In-Store

A new article from PYMNTS claimed that only 6% of iPhone users use Apple Pay in stores.

As someone who works in the credit card industry and a follower of Apple, I have a few points to make with regard to this article. Per PYMNTS.com

Seven years post-launch, new PYMNTS data shows that 93.9% of consumers with Apple Pay activated on their iPhones do not use it in-store to pay for purchases. That means only 6.1% do. After seven years, Apple Pay’s adoption and usage isn’t much larger than it was 2015 (5.1%), a year after its launch, and is the same as it was in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

That finding is based on PYMNTS’ national study of 3,671 U.S. consumers conducted between Aug. 3-10, 2021.

First, I am naturally skeptical of surveys. To properly design and execute a representative survey whose results you can use to project trends both an art and a science. In other words, it’s difficult and tricky. Without knowing the specifics of the surveys that PYMNTS used over the years, I can’t really say for sure that their data is 100% accurate or representative. For instance, did these survey represent the U.S population demographically? We all know that older folks tend to be more reluctant towards technology than the younger crowds are. What if some of these surveys were more skewed towards Baby Boomer or late Generation X?

With that being said, let’s assume that these surveys were properly designed and conducted as there is no reason to believe that they weren’t either. Still, there are some important context points that I’d love to discuss. The U.S is traditionally slow in adopting tap-to-pay payments, compared to other developed countries in Europe. Here is what Visa had to say at the RBC Capital Markets Financial Technology Conference back in June 2021:

Canada is almost 80% of all tap to pay of all face-to-face transactions, almost 80% are tap to pay. In Europe, it’s over 80%. Australia, it’s almost 100%. Across Asia, it’s over 50%. And in the United States, it’s now over 10% from basically a dead stop a couple of years ago. So right now in the U.S., we’re a bit over 1 in 10 transactions with tap to pay, 1 in 10 of all face-to-face transactions of tap to pay. About 350 million cards, last time I looked, 268 of the top 300 merchants, 23 of the top 25 issuers are issuing contactless.

What Visa essentially said there is that mobile wallet transactions in stores basically didn’t exist two years ago. The low adoption isn’t confined to Apple alone. It’s applied to all mobile wallets on the market. Hence, it’s not a surprise that only a small number of consumers used Apple Pay in stores. Since then, the tap-to-pay transaction share has increased a lot, but from contactless cards, not from mobile wallets.

The issuer where I work only introduced contactless cards in August 2019. The roll-out was gradual as we enabled the feature only on new cards and renewal replacements. Before August 2019, we saw contactless transactions make up only a low single digit percentage of all transactions. After the change, there was an increase in contactless transaction share, but it mostly came from contactless cards (as in you tap a plastic card against a card reader). It makes sense for several reasons: 1/ Using a plastic card, whether it’s debit or credit, is a habit. It’s unreasonable to expect consumers to change their habit overnight; 2/ To some consumers, it’s just not convenient to take out a phone to pay. During the pandemic, we all had to wear a mask. That contributed to the inconvenience as most Apple Pay transactions have to be approved by using Face ID (few iPhones in circulation are too old for Face ID); 3/ Sometimes, the card readers just don’t accept mobile wallet transactions. I personally experienced it myself several times when a technical glitch forced me to pull out my wallet and use my plastic. Even when card readers are to become more reliable & friendlier with mobile wallets and the pandemic closes out soon, the current habit of flashing a plastic card in stores won’t go away any time soon. It’s a painstaking process that will take quite a while and it’s not even a guarantee that it will change significantly at all.

The low adoption of mobile wallets in general leads me to my next point: how is Apple Pay compared to other wallets? The article by PYMNTS did bring up some comparison between Apple Pay and its peers:

Today, Apple Pay remains the biggest in-store mobile wallet player, with 45.5% share of mobile wallet users. Over the last seven years, the total amount of Apple Pay transactions at U.S. retail stores has increased from an estimated $5 billion in 2015 to $90 billion in 2021.

Although that growth is commendable, it is largely the result of more people with iPhones upgrading to newer models and more merchants taking contactless payments, both leading to a general increase in retail sales – 12.9% greater in 2021 than 2019. But to be successful, innovation must solve a problem, fix a source of friction or improve an experience that is so painful that consumers or businesses are motivated to switch.

The article is so focused on Apple Pay that it missed two important points. One is that Apple Pay isn’t Apple’s main business. It may well be in the future, but it surely hasn’t been since 2014. Why is it Apple’s fault that the adoption of tap-to-pay payments in the whole U.S is low? It’s not really reasonable to expect Apple to go all out and force a new habit on consumers when there is little financial reward. The other miss is that if only 6 out of 100 people used Apple Pay, which captured 92% of all mobile wallet payments using debit card in the U.S in 2020, what does it say for others? 1% or lower? Yes, 6% adoption is low for the most valuable company in the world, but in the grand scheme of things and in comparison with its peers, that figure suddenly looks significantly different, does it?

The last point I want to make is that it is NOT comprehensive and helpful to look at the mobile wallet share of in-store transactions. What about consumers who use Apple Pay or other wallets for online transactions? How many transactions do Apple users make using Apple Pay on their phones or through the App Store? How many transactions on web pages are through Apple Pay? Said another way, is Apple Pay more suited for online transactions than for in-store payments? And PYMNTS is judging Apple Pay on something that it’s not meant to address in the first place?

In short, I believe that this article from PYMNTS is useful to some extent as we have a reference with regard to in-store mobile wallet payments. However, the entire write-up lacks important context that can lead readers to misguided conclusions. My hope is that the whole conversion is more balanced now with what I mentioned above.

Disclaimer: I own a position on Square, Apple and PayPal.

My notes from 2021 Debit Issuer Study

Every year, Pulse, a Discover company, publishes a Debit Issuer Study, which covers the debit card landscape in the U.S. This year’s version is the 16th annual edition of the study and comprises of data from 48 financial institutions of different sizes in the country. If you are interested in the payments as well as financial services world, you should have a look at this study. Below are a few things that stood out the most to me, accompanied by some of my own comments

Debit spend per active account increased as growth in ticket size more than offset the decline in transactions

Unsurprisingly, stay-at-home orders last year curtailed debit transactions as stores were closed and folks were forced to remain at home. As a result, 2020 saw a decline of 2.5% in the number of debit transactions, the first contraction of the industry ever. Most of the damage took place in Q1 and especially Q2 before the use of debit cards recovered in the back half of the year. Compared to 2019, last year saw an increase in debit spend per active account, from $12,407 to $13,550. The increase resulted from 10.5% growth in ticket size despite the drop of 1.3% in the number of monthly transactions per active card.

Annual Spend Per Active Debit Card Increased In 2020 By 9.2%
Figure 1 – Annual Spend Per Active Debit Card Increased In 2020 By 9.2%. Source: Pulse

Whether issuers are subject to the regulated interchange cap determines their unit economics

For issuers with $10 billion in assets or more, they are subject to regulations that cap debit interchange rates. Before we move forward, let’s take a step back to revisit what interchange rate is. Every time a transaction takes place, the merchant involved has to pay a small fee to the bank that issues a debit/credit card that the consumer in question uses. The fee is calculated as % of the transaction value and usually determined by networks like Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover. In this case, the Federal Government caps the interchange rate for big issuers that have $10 billion+ in assets. According to the 2021 Debit Issuer Study, exempt issuers earned 42.5 cents every transaction, compared to 23.7 cents for regulated issuers. Due to this difference, exempt issuers generated almost twice as big as regulated issuers in annual gross revenue per active debit account ($132 vs $71).

Exempt issuers earn much higher interchange revenue for debit transactions than regulated issuers
Figure 2 – Exempt Issuers Earn 42.5 Cents Per Every Debit Transaction. Source: Pulse

This is one of the reasons why neobanks can offer debit cards with rewards and no fees. Neobanks or challenger banks are usually technology startups working with exempt issuers to offer banking services. The startup in this partnership takes care of the marketing and the product development while the exempt issuer rents out its banking license and deals with all the banking activities such as underwriting, regulatory compliance or settlement. Because the exempt issuer earns higher interchange rates, it can afford to share part of that interchange revenue with its startup partner which, in turn, uses that revenue to fund operations and generate profit. However, I wonder if it’s really fair when a neobank or a financial service company becomes so big while still taking advantage of this “loophole”. Take Square as an example. It’s a $120 billion publicly traded company. It works with Marqeta and by extension Sutton Bank, which is exempted from the regulations over interchange rates, to offer Cash App. Is it truly fair for Square to be able to leverage this loophole when it has a much bigger valuation than many banks with more than $10 billion in assets?

The rise of Card-Not-Present transactions means the rise of fraud threats

When stay-at-home restrictions were in effect, consumers didn’t shop at the stores and instead switched to digital transactions. Consequently, Card-Present (CP) transactions per active card fell by 10% last year. On the other hand, Card-Not-Present (CNP) per active card increased by 23% and made up for one-third of all debit transactions.

Because CNP transactions are less secure than CP ones (due to lack of customer verification), the growth of CNP during the pandemic led to more fraud incidents. CNP and CP with PIN transactions both made up 34% of debit transactions in 2020. However, while the latter made up only 5% of the total fraud claims, the former were responsible for 81% of the claims. Among the CNP fraud claims, 47% were successfully recovered, meaning that consumers had their money back and merchants lost some revenue.

CNP Saw Many More Fraud Incidents Than CP
Figure 3 – CNP Saw Many More Fraud Incidents Than CP. Source: Pulse

Whenever a fraud claim happens, it brings an unpleasant experience to both the cardholder and the merchant in question. Hence, issuers may want to focus on ensuring that fraudulent transactions don’t even happen in the first place, especially with CNP.

Contactless and mobile wallet transactions are on the rise

According to the study, contactless is projected to be available on 64% of all debit cards by the end of 2021, up from 30% in 2020, and 94% by 2023. Even though contactless volume grew by 6 times in 2020, it still made up only 1.6% of total debit volume. As consumers become increasingly familiar with contactless and the feature is available on more cards, I expect the share of contactless volume to keep that impressive growth pace for at least a couple of years.

Meanwhile, mobile wallet transactions funded debit cards through three major wallets (Apple Pay, Samsung Pay & Google Pay) reached 2 billion in 2020, around 2.6% of the total debit volume, with the average ticket of $23, up 55% YoY. 57% of this mobile wallet volume were made in-app and the rest took place in stores. If we look at the competition between the aforementioned wallets, Apple Pay is the outstanding performer in every metric. In fact, Apple Pay had an overwhelming 92% share of all mobile wallet transactions using debit cards.

Starting 2022, Visa will put in place new interchange rules that are aimed to encourage more tokenized transactions such as mobile wallets. Hence, I expect that when we read the 2023 edition of this study or beyond, we’ll see a more prominent role of mobile wallet transactions in our society.

Contactless Volume Grew 6x But Still Made Up 1.6% of Debit Volume
Figure 4 – Contactless Volume Grew 6x But Still Made Up 1.6% of Debit Volume. Source: Pulse

Consumers’ Digital Wallets – Where Card Issuers Need To Be

In this post, I will touch upon digital wallets & checkouts as well as some market movements that make me believe that it will be strategically important for issuers to occupy consumers’ digital wallets.

Fast checkouts and payments are on the rise

Consumers love convenience. Instead of spending time to fill out addresses and credit card credentials, shoppers can finish the job with just a couple clicks. The same goes for in-store check-outs. It’s a far more convenient experience for consumers to hover the phone or a smart watch over a card reader than to drop whatever they are doing with their phone, reach for a wallet and pick out a card. Granted, even though they may not appeal to less tech-savvy shoppers, these fast checkouts, when absent, may be a deal breaker to the more technologically shrewd crowd. I mean, there has to be a reason why many stores accept the likes of Apple Pay or PayPal, despite losing a bit more revenue. Businesses know that by not enabling convenient payments and checkouts, they risk losing a whole lot more.

The more these payment applications are accepted at stores, the more they become useful to consumers and the more consumers they can acquire. The more consumers these wallets acquire, the more they can appeal to stores. The virtuous cycle keeps going. As they become popular, the mobile wallets become something like downtown Manhattan to card issuers. While it doesn’t guarantee success, being present in consumers’ phone and wallets suddenly becomes more critical. Furthermore, there are developments on the market that highlight the importance of this point, starting with Visa.

A new rule from Visa

Per JP Morgan:

In April 2022, Visa will introduce updates to existing domestic interchange programs with categories and rates for card not present Visa EMV token transactions. This includes both network tokenized transactions and digital wallets. With this update, a roughly 10 basis point reduction will apply for many card not present transactions that are Visa EMV tokenized in most segments.

In some cases, interchange rates for non-token transactions will go up, so while the net benefit may not reach 10 basis points, merchants that do not take advantage of the digital wallet incentive will undoubtedly be leaving money on the table. As ecommerce continues to grow, shifts like these to the overall cost of payments will have significant cost implications and influence a merchant’s product development roadmap.

The gist of this news is that Visa will allow merchants to keep more money from mobile wallet transactions but make them pay more whenever customers have to type in their information and card credentials. A few basis points may not sound much, but if your online sales is $1 million/year, the savings can be up to $10,000. Visa is the biggest network out there, accepted in virtually every store around the world. When the new rule comes into effect in 2022, its impact will be wide-ranging. I expect Mastercard to follow suit soon. The question for issuers now becomes: can they sit idly and let their rivals occupy the valuable real estate on our phones?

Apple Pay

Apple Pay is a proprietary mobile wallet by Apple that enables convenient payments by just a phone tap in stores or one click online. The feature is compatible on iPhone 6, all the models that came after and all Apple Watch. That should cover pretty much every iPhone user in the U.S, which makes up 60% of the mobile market domestically. Since its debut in 2014, Apple Pay has grown increasingly popular over the years. As of January 2021, Apple Pay is available in 90% of stores in the U.S and hundreds of websites, including those of major brands. According to the 2020 Debit Issuer report by Pulse, mobile wallet debit payments in the U.S in 2019 by Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay totaled $1.3 billion, of which $1.1 billion came from Apple Pay. As of this writing, major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, San Francisco & Washington D.C already allow passengers to ride transit with Apple Pay. This kind of integration will only boost its popularity more in the future.

Figure 1 – Apply Pay facilitated most of the mobile payment transactions funded by debit in the U.S in 2019. Source: Pulse

Almost all issuers in the US enable integration of their cards into Apple Pay. American Express lets users who are instantly approved add their cards to Apple Pay immediately. In July 2021, it’s reported that Apple is working on a BNPL service for Apple Pay transactions. Historically, Apple offers a payment plan for its select products & services via Apple Card. Apple Pay Later will allow approved customers to make four interest-free payments due every two weeks or monthly payments at an undisclosed yet interest. Customers can connect their Apple Pay with any card that they want and it’s not required to own an Apple Card. This service will make this mobile wallet even more attractive to customers, though right now whether or when it goes to market remains to be seen.

PayPal

Many people know PayPal as the known P2P platform or that payment option that used to be on eBay. Over the years, PayPal has transformed itself into something much bigger. It now provides a lot of services for both consumers and merchants. No longer restricted to online purchases, consumers can now use PayPal online and in stores with services such as QR Code, mobile wallets, contactless, debit card, credit cards, PayPal Credit and PayPal in 4.

Figure 2 – Discover’s communication to ask customers to link accounts to PayPal

The brand and the scale of PayPal are not to be underestimated. In Q2 FY2021, PayPal processed $311 billion in transactions, almost twice as much as $170 billion in the same quarter two years ago. The company’s YoY growth in transaction volume topped 40% in the last two quarters despite operating at an incredible scale. If you take out eBay, the growth rate was never lower than 45% in 2021. Additionally, there were 403 million active accounts, including 76 million Venmo and 32 million merchant accounts. Venmo’s transaction volume doubled in the last 18 months from $29 billion in Q4 FY2019 to $58 billion in Q2 FY2021. The scale of PayPal is also reflected on how fast they roll out new features. PayPal in 4 was launched in August 2020. Since launch, the service generated $3.5 billion in transaction volume, of which $1.5 billion alone took place in the last three months. Meanwhile, the number of merchants that enabled payments by QR codes leaped from 500,000 in Q3 FY2020 to 1.3 million in the most recent quarter.

On the earning call, the CEO of PayPal highlighted its imminent push into the in-store space.

Clearly, on the branded side, we think we add a tremendous amount of value, things that John talked about, buyer and seller protection, Buy Now, Pay Later at no incremental cost, fraud protection, highest checkout conversion, etc. But we took down rates for basic full-stack processing. That also was reduced somewhat substantially from the 2.9%, plus $0.30 to 2.59%, plus $0.49. And that is going to enable us to aggressively compete for all of the payment processing of the merchants that do business with us.

And you’ve heard us say time and time again, David, that we were going to move into the in-store space. We’re going to move so aggressively in there. We rolled out Zettle in the U.S., is a really beautiful full package. It doesn’t just include card reader but inventory management, sales reads out and allows a merchant to seamlessly load inventory in both their online and in-store locations and then, across multiple channels as well.

And so we’re, obviously, gonna be very aggressive on moving into in-store, and it’s always been part of our strategy. And by the way, if a small merchant does all of their business with us, they can actually see their overall costs come down. And we wanna encourage them to do all of their business with us because we are a trusted platform. They do turn to us, and we price, we think, the right way.

Source: Fool.com

If PayPal successfully becomes one of the de facto checkout methods in stores, given it’s already a popular checkout option online, how would smart issuers ignore the need to get into consumers’ PayPal wallet?

Shop Pay

Shop Pay is the native checkout feature by Shopify. Shopify is an eCommerce platform from Canada. It provides businesses with the tools necessary to build a customized online presence. When merchants list their products on Amazon or Walmart, they just rent a space and have little flexibility for their own branding. Plus, these merchants have to pay numerous fees to the likes of Amazon and Walmart. With Shopify, they pay a monthly subscription and a usage-based fee for some paid services. But stores can keep their own branding and gain more control over their destiny.

Shop Pay works similarly to Apple Pay, PayPal or Visa SRC. Once a credential is stored, customers can use Shop Pay across all stores powered by Shopify. In February 2021, Shopify expanded their checkout feature for the first time to all Shopify-powered stores on Facebook and Instagram. The collaboration was successful that a few months later, they decided to roll out Shop Pay to all merchants on Facebook and Google. This move can bear significant ramifications. Facebook owns the most popular social networks in the world like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. Their access to billions of consumers is what retailers want. Google has the dominant market share in search and as a result, a unique access to consumers globally. As these tech giants make a push into eCommerce, Shop Pay will benefit from this partnership and grow even more.

Figure 3 – Shopify’s GMV in Q2 2021 was higher than that of the entire year of 2018. Source: Shopify

Between its launch in 2017 and the end of 2020, Shop Pay facilitated $20 billion in transactions. The cumulative figure increased to $24 billion as of Q1 FY2021 and $30 billion as of Q2 FY2021. As you can see, Shop Pay is growing increasingly fast. The growth of Shop Pay coincides with the growth of Shopify. In the last quarter, Shopify processed more volume than it did in the entire year of 2018. As this company continues to expand and by extension, so does Shop Pay, how long can issuers be absent from this checkout option?

In summary

Engaged customers will add their favorite card to their mobile wallets. The challenge is for issuers that don’t occupy the top-of-wallet position yet. Customers can still rotate cards and choose a certain one at the time of purchase. Hence, being in a customer’s wallet doesn’t mean a card will be used often. Card issuers still need to offer values and work hard to increase engagement. But as the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it.

As contactless payments become more popular in the US, card issuers should beware of Apple Card

Costs and benefits of a credit card from an issuer perspective

Issuing a credit card is a business and hence, it comes with risks, expenses, revenue and hopefully profits. A credit card issuer’s revenue comes from three main sources: interchange, fees and finance charge. Finance charge is essentially interest income or the interest on outstanding balance that users have unpaid at the end of a cycle. Fees include late fees, cash advance fees or annual fees, just to name a few. Interchange is what an issuer receives from merchants on a transaction basis, according to a rate agreed in advance and usually dictated by networks such as Visa or Mastercard. There are a lot of factors that go into determining what an interchange rate should be, but for a consumer card, it should not be higher than 3% of a transaction’s value.

As an issuer thinks about which credit card product to issue, it needs to balance between the benefits of the card, the expenses and the profitability. For instance, nobody would be paying $100 in annual fee for a credit card that has a standard 1.5% cash back without any other special benefits. That product wouldn’t sell. Likewise, an issuer would flush money down the toilet if it issued a card with a lot of benefits such as a Chase Sapphire without a mechanism to make money on the other side, like an annual fee. The art of issuing a credit card is to make sure that there is something to hook the users with and a way to make money.

The dynamic between a brand and an issuer in a Cobranded credit card agreement

In addition to having cash back or rewards on generic categories such as Dining, Grocery or Gas, an issuer can appeal to a specific user segment by having a special benefit dedicated to a brand. That’s why you see a Co-branded credit card from Walmart, Southwest, Costco or Scheels. These brands work with an issuer to slap their brand on a credit card. What do the parties in this type of partnership get in return?

From the Brand perspective, it offers to an issuer Marketing Assistance and an exclusive feature to appeal to credit card users. To the fans of Costco, a Costco credit card with 5% cash back; which should be very unique, is an enticing product to consider. Why saying no to extra money when you already shop there every week without it already? Moreover, a Brand can also be responsible for rewards at or outside their properties. For instance, Costco can pay for rewards at Costco stores or on Costco website or purchase outside Costco or the combination of all. It varies from one agreement to another.

From the Issuer perspective, it has to compensate the Brand in the form of Finder Fee, which is a small fee whenever there is a new acquired account or a renewal, and a percentage of purchase volume; which you can consider it a tax. The issuer, of course, has to take care of all the operations related to a credit card such as issuing, marketing, customer service, security, regulatory compliance, fraud, you name it. In return, issuers have an exclusive benefit to appeal to credit card prospects. They will also receive all the revenue, net the compensation to the Brand, as I described in the first section. Therefore, the longer a customer stays with an issuer and the more he or she uses the card, preferably revolves as well, the more profitable it is for the issuer.

BrandIssuer
What to offer– Marketing Assistance & brand appeal
– Rewards
– Finder fee (a fixed fee for every new account and/or a lower fee for every renewal
– In some cases, issuers fund rewards as well
– All operational needs related to a credit card
– A percentage of purchase volume
What to gain– Finder fees
– A tactic to increase customer loyalty
– A percentage of purchase volume from the issuer
– An exclusive feature to appeal to credit card users
– Revenue, net all the compensation to the Brand

Typical credit cards

Based on my observations, there are three main credit card types on the market which I assign names for easier reference further in this article:

  • The Ordinary: cards that have no annual fees, but modest benefits such as 1% or 1.5% cash back on everything. These cards are usually unbranded
  • The Branded: these cards are Co-Branded credit cards that are issued by a bank, but carry a brand of a company. These cards can come with or without an annual fee, but they reward most generously for purchase at the company’s properties, such as 3-5x on every purchase. Then, there is another reward scheme for a generic category such as 2-3x on dining/gas/grocery/travel. Finally, there is a 1x on everything else
  • The Premier: these cards are often accompanied by a high annual fee. To make it worthwhile for users, the issuers of these Cards hand out generous benefits and/or signing bonus. For instance, a Chase Sapphire user can get 60,000 points after spending $4,000 the first 90 days.

All the three types usually work well with mobile wallets and have a delay on when rewards are posted (usually it takes a cycle). This delay isn’t particularly enticing to users because when it comes to benefits, who would want to wait?

Apple Card

Apple Card is a credit card issued by Goldman Sachs and marketed by Apple. The card has no fees whatsoever, but comes with some special features:

  • An expedited application process right from the Wallet app on iPhones
  • Instant cash back in Apple Cash – no delay
  • Native integration with Apple Pay
  • 3% cash back on all Apple purchases
  • 12-month 0% interest payment plan for select Apple products
  • 2% on non-Apple purchases through Apple Pay
  • 1% on non-Apple physical transactions through a chip reader or a swipe

Without the 2% cash back with Apply Pay, Apple Card would very much be for Apple purchases only. But because there is such a feature and Apple Pay is increasingly popular, I think Apple Card should be something that issuers need to beware. Let me explain why

With the increasing popularity of Apple Pay, Apple Card should not be taken light

Last month, the Department of Justice filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Google. Interestingly, the lawsuit said that 60% of mobile devices in the US were iPhones. That says much about how popular Apple’s flagship product is. With the easy application process and the native integration into iPhone and Apple Pay, Apple Card has a direct line to consumers. Once a consumer contemplates buying an Apple product, it’s impossible not to think about getting an Apple Card and reaping all the benefits that come with it. With the existing iPhone users, the extensive media coverage and the marketing prowess of Apple will surely make them aware of Apple Card. Therefore, other issuers are on a back foot when it comes to acquiring customers from iPhone user base. However, most people have multiple cards, so one can argue that this advantage may not mean much. To that, I’ll say: fair enough. Let’s look at other aspects.

If you compare Apple Card to the Ordinary above, Apple Card clearly has an advantage. In addition to the 3% cash back on Apple purchases, there is also 2% cash back on other purchases through Apple Pay, higher than the 1.5% offered by the Ordinary. Granted, Apple Pay’s presence is a requirement, but as more and more merchants and websites use Apple Pay, it’s no longer relevant. It almost becomes a given and this advantage Apple Card has becomes more permanent. Besides, Apple Card has no fees and can issue cash back immediately after transactions are approved, compared to a host of fees and a delay in rewards from the Ordinary.

Between Apple Card and the Branded, it’s harder to tell which has the advantage. It depends on the use cases. For on-partner purchase (purchase on the brand’s properties), Apple Card has no chance here as the reward rate from the Branded is much higher: 3-5x compared to 2x from Apple Card. However, things get trickier when it comes to non on-partner purchase. If a non-on-partner purchase warrants only 1x reward from the Branded, Apple Card has an advantage here as it can offer 2x rewards with Apple Pay. If a non-on-partner purchase warrants 2x reward from the Branded, the question of which card consumers should favor more rests on these factors:

  • How much do consumers care about receiving immediate cash back?
  • Can the transaction in question be paid via Apple Pay?
  • How much are consumers willing to go back and forth in their Apple Pay’s setting?

Between Apple Card and the Premier, the comparison depends on which time frame to look at. Within the first year on book, the Premier should have an advantage. No one should pay $95 for a card and does not have a purchase plan in mind to get the coveted signing bonus. In other words, savvy users should plan a big purchase within the first 90 days to receive thousands of points. In this particular use case, the Premier clearly is the better card. However, it gets trickier after the first year on book. Without a signing bonus, users now have to determine whether it’s worth paying an annual fee any more. The usual benefits from the Premier should be better than Apple Card’s, but the high annual fee and the delay in rewards may tip the cost-benefit analysis scale to a tie or a bit in favor of Apple Card.

Given my arguments above, you can see how Apple Card, provided that Apple Pay becomes mainstream, can become a formidable competitor to issuers. Apple Card may not affect the acquisition much, but it may very well affect the purchase volume and usage of other issuers’ cards, and by extension, profitability because, as I mentioned above, issuers’ revenue come partly from interchange. In other words, Apple Card should not be taken lightly as a gimmick or a toy feature at all.

How popular is Apple Pay?

In Q1 FY 2020, Tim Cook revealed that Apple Pay transactions doubled year over year and reached a run-rate of 15 billion transactions a year. Loup Venture estimated that 95% of the US top retailers and 85% of US retail locations adopted Apple Pay.

Source: Loup Ventures

According to a research by Pulse, in the US in 2019, there was around $1.3 billion worth of debit transactions through mobile wallet, $1.1 billion of which came through Apple Pay. This level of popularity will leave retailers and merchants with no choice, but to have Apple Pay-enabled readers; which in turn will gradually benefit Apple Card.

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Source: Pulse

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio

Weekly readings – 14th November 2020

What I wrote

My reaction to Biden’s win

My thoughts on DoorDash’s S-1 filing

Business

Loup Ventures on Apple Pay

CBInsights has a long helpful piece on ByteDance, the owner of TikTok

Is advertising a new source of revenue and profit for big box retailers?

Apple’s transparency report which includes data on how often it complied with requests from authority

Technology

A couple of reviews of Homepod Mini by The Verge and WSJ

Apple executives talked to The Independent about the new chip M1 and how they were surprised at their breakthrough. Safe to say, there won’t be Macs with touchscreens any time soon.

Autonomous vehicles are hard. Really hard. Uber now wants to offload its autonomous vehicle arm to Aurora.

What I found interesting

The EU is about to relax regulations on encryption, a move that can threaten user privacy

Why Democrats lost Latinos in South Texas

Less screen time and more sleep critical for preventing depression

Apple’s latest move to increase services revenue

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Apple made a very interesting acquisition of Mobeewave, a fintech startup, for an alleged amount of $100 million. From Bloomberg

Mobeewave’s technology lets shoppers tap their credit card or smartphone on another phone to process a payment. The system works with an app and doesn’t require hardware beyond a Near Field Communications, or NFC, chip, which iPhones have included since 2014.

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant paid about $100 million for the startup, one of the people said. Mobeewave had dozens of employees, and Apple has retained the team, which continues to work out of Montreal, according to the people familiar. They asked not to be identified discussing a private transaction.

What does Mobeewave do?

Mobeewave is a Canadian startup whose technology enables merchants to accept mobile-based contactless payment by just tapping customer contactless credit/debit cards or wallets such as Apple/Samsung Pay on the back of an NFC-enabled device such as iPhone. In partnership with Mobeewave, Samsung launched Samsung POS in Canada in 2019. Participating merchants only needed to download the Samsung POS app onto their phones and go through a quick sign-up process for immediate use of the service. Here is how Samsung POS works:

Benefits from this kind of service include secure payments, reduced costs for merchants and enhanced user experiences. These benefits are particularly attractive to micro merchants such as street artists, small restaurant owners, flee market vendors or delivery drivers to whom every saving is critical. As contactless payments become increasingly popular around the globe, there is a lot of adoption opportunity for technology like Mobeewave’s. In June, Visa report that excluding the US, 60% of global face-to-face transactions were tap-to-pay. In the US, Visa had 190 million tap-to-pay credit cards with the goal of having 300 million by the end of the year. From the merchant side, 80 out of the top 100 enabled tap to pay. Covid-19 aided the adoption of contactless payments and even when the pandemic blows over, I can see that the new trend will be here to stay.

In Canada, Australia and European countries, contactless payments are capped. In Canada, the cap amount is around $CAD 250 while that in Europe is usually €50 EUR, according to Mastercard. In Europe, banks are required to prompt a PIN request when 1) after a customer has five contactless payments or 2) payments total €150 EUR. Though the requirements are aimed to bolster security, they present additional user experience, investment in hardware and security challenges.

What to expect from Mobeewave in terms of security

Mobeewave’s solutions do address the security challenges across markets, including EU. But the most innovation and exciting solution from the startup is the Mobeewave Limitless, which leverages 3D Secure 2.0, a new security standard used for online transactions. With Mobeewave Limitless, a cap on payments as well as a PIN entry are removed. Also, the chargeback and fraud liability are shifted to card issuers, away from merchants.

PIN entry on a consumer off the shelf (COTS) device can present a number of issues when needing to make a high value purchase. Our Mobeewave Limitless™ solution eliminates all of these while shifting the liability of the transaction away from the merchant. With Mobeewave Limitless™, we combine risk mitigation best practices of both card not present and card present technologies…

Eran Hollander, EVP Product at Mobeewave – Per Financial IT

What does it mean for Apple?

Personally, I had some difficulties with Apple Pay at stores in Omaha in the past. For whatever reasons, my attempt to pay with Apple Pay sometimes failed and it wasn’t a nice experience, especially when you left your credit card and wallet home thinking that your iPhone should be sufficient. The acquisition of Mobeewave, I think, will not change much the flow of how a customer uses Apple Pay. If anything, I hope that the technology will make every NFC-equipped device a more reliable POS than the current hardware available on the market.

I think this is a play to increase the Total Addressable Market (TAM) and services revenue for Apple. Reportedly, there are 25 million micro merchants and 5 million merchants in the world. There will be a small cut for Apple for providing this technology to merchants. Even at 0.01% of a transaction value, millions of transactions can result in a nice additional revenue source for Apple. While big name retailers can be a potentially massive market, there are a few operational challenges and quirks to figure out. I don’t expect Apple will reach this kind of market any time soon. If how Apple usually rolls out its products, services and updates teaches me anything, it may take one or two years before we can see Mobeewave available in countries.

Even though Mobeewave technology is available on Android, I won’t be surprised that in the future it will not be. Restricting the technology to only iOS will contract the TAM, but making it available to other app stores presents some challenges: 1/ will Apple create an app that works well on every both iOS, Windows and Android, and maintain it? and 2/ Apple is notoriously known for wanting to keep an iron grip on total user experience. Lending Mobeewave’s technology to other phone manufacturers may not make sense from this perspective.

Apple’s M&A success is something that, in my opinion, goes under the radar quite a bit. They have been pretty successful so far as CNBC noted:

Cook bolstered his point: “An example of that was Touch ID. We bought a company that accelerated a Touch ID at a point.”

There are other examples, too: In 2017, Apple bought Workflow, an automation app, which is now the Shortcuts app built into iPhones. In 2018, it bought Texture, a digital magazine subscription service, which is now the basis of Apple News+. The Animoji avatars users can drop into texts came out of the 2015 acquisition of FaceShift. Siri was the product of an acquisition. Apple’s industry-leading mobile chips are a direct result of the 2008 purchase of P.A. Semi.

Other deals were for companies that are closer to being competitors to Apple. In 2017, Apple bought Beddit, a hardware sleep tracker from Finland. Apple still sells Beddits, and even updated the hardware, but they had a lot of features removed in 2019, and Apple will add sleep tracking as a feature in its latest Apple Watch software this fall.

In short, I see a lot of potential and good things out of this acquisition and am excited to see how it will pan out in the future.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio.

3% cash back at Nike with Apple Pay

Today, I received this email from Apple

Here’s something to cheer about: now you can save 3% at Nike every time you use Apple Card with Apple Pay. This includes all purchases at Nike retail stores, Nike Factory stores, and on nike.com and Nike apps.

It is quite a notable development. Apple Pay is already the number 1 mobile payment application, surpassing even the famous Starbucks application (Source: zdnet). Nike is one of the most popular brands in the world with more than 1,000 stores worldwide. In 2019, revenue from Nike Direct, which comprises of sales from retail stores, mobile applications and websites, reached more than $11.7 billion.

Source: Nike
Source: Nike

I did a quick search on the best cash-back credit cards. 3% cash back is among the most competitive offer for retail stores like Nike. Plus, you can earn 3% through mobile apps and websites. The extra 1% in addition to the standard 2%, and the convenience of using Apple Card through Apple Pay will surely spark consumer behavior.

It’s very interesting to see how many more major partners will join the 3% cash back list. Companies will monitor closely the popularity of Apple Pay among consumers and wonder if it will be beneficial to be left out. Once more partners join, Apple Pay will have a bigger appeal to prospective partners and more leverage. The cycle will keep going from there.

Disclaimer: I do own Apple stocks in my portfolio

Weekly readings – 5th October 2019

Grab Accounts for 73% of Ride-Share Trips in First Half of 2019 in Vietnam.

Retailer Adoption of Apple Pay Quickens. Since I was able to use Apple Pay on my phone, I have been using it as the first payment method, even in a city as small as Omaha. I have been a pretty happy user ever since.

Source: Loup Ventures

Comparison of smart digital assistants by Loup Ventures

Meet the Women Leading Netflix Into the Streaming Wars

The man who built his own Lamborghini

Dog-walking startup Wag raised $300 million to unleash growth. Then things got messy. SoftBank doesn’t seem to be the Midas that some hyped it to be with its massive checkbook, does it?

Latest memo from Howard Marks: On the Other Hand

Researchers Discover the Tallest Known Tree in the Amazon

Measuring Apple’s Content Distribution Arm

WeWork Used These Documents To Convince Investors It’s Worth Billions. A long but good article on the accounting jujitsu that WeWork employed

Thoughts on Apple Card

On Monday, Apple introduced its in-house credit card called Apple Card. Since it’s not available yet and the details are quite numerous, you can read more in these two articles on TechCrunch and The Verge or watch the presentation yourself here. I’ll just lay out my thoughts on the card below

I am convinced that Apple Card will attract a lot of sign-ups. After all, it’s Apple. The application process is reportedly straightforward and easy (we’ll see soon in the upcoming months). You can apply for the card from your Wallet app and the card will be shipped to you. If you use an iPhone 6 or later and are a fan of Apple, you will likely want to try your hands on the beautiful-looking titanium card for free, as long as you qualify for one. Plus, there are millions of installed iPhone 6 or later out there. So getting folks to sign up won’t be an issue. What about the usage for Apple Card? For consumers to use the Card, Apple has to give them a reason to, an incentive.

Security & Privacy

Security & Privacy is a big sell from Apple and it’s no different in this case. Apple Card comes without the stuff that makes credit card fraud possible from the physical card perspective. Plus, the way Apple sets it up makes credit card fraud significantly more difficult

Because of the way it is set up, every purchase with Apple Card requires biometric identification aside from purchases with the physical card. In the case of a non-Apple Pay transaction online — you must get your card number from the app and that is unlocked via Touch ID or Face ID, so biometrics are still in the path. And, for Apple Pay transactions, they are authenticated at the time of transaction. I personally think it would be cool to optionally require a confirmation from your phone to let a charge go through as well, but that is likely a v2 situation.

From TechCrunch

In other words, somebody needs to steal your card, your phone and either your thumb(s) or your face to make an unauthorized purchase.

Apple claimed that it wouldn’t know anything about consumer purchases using Apple Card. Plus, Goldman Sachs won’t sell data to marketers. If you care about privacy, it is attractive. Now that I work in the credit card industry, I can tell you that the level of privacy intrusion by banks is crazy. It is entirely possible to track the location of a cardholder to a store, know whether a purchase is made and if a purchase is not made, use the user data to run ads offline and online to motivate spending. If Apple and Goldman Sachs can do what they claim, this is an appealing feature, but I doubt it will be the dominant one.

No fees

According to Apple, you won’t be charged with late fees or penalty fees. You will just incur interest on your late payments. A nice feature, but from my perspective, it is not a hugely attractive one, especially if you are like me who isn’t late on credit card payments. After all, late payments will affect your credit score and consequently future APRs.

APRs

Pretty in line with the industry standard. Nothing special about this as far as I am concerned

Visibility into purchase details

Apple claimed that users could see more details on what a purchase was and where it happened from the Wallet app, instead of the user-unfriendly lines you see from your balance statement or mobile app. Once again, a nice feature that won’t be a dominant one.

Cash back

Above is the cash back policy for Apple Card and Apple Pay. 3% on Apple-related purchases is nice, but it is not a daily event, given how expensive Apple items are. 1% cash back with the physical card is nothing special. It’s even less attractive than many credit cards out there on the market. The interesting one is Apple Pay

From Creditcards.com

Because other credit cards offer two percent cash back or more on certain categories only, two percent cash back on every category by Apple Pay is more beneficial to users. According to Apple, Apple Pay will be available in 40+ countries at the end of this year. The number of merchants that accept Apple Pay is impressively high in some countries. Here is what Apple reported on the presentation

There are cases in which Apple Pay will not be competitive. For instance, if you have a card that gives back 4% cash back on dining, it sure is a better alternative than Apple Pay, even if Apple Pay is an available option. Or if you have a co-branded credit card such as a hotel or airline co-branded credit card, there is a switching cost as you want to increase your rewards points.

But using a physical credit card isn’t as convenient as a contactless option such as Apple Pay, nor is it as secure. So which payment option works in a situation depends on what situation that is and what kind of credit card user you are. If you care a lot about rewards and cash back, as well as have the time and mental fortitude to remember all the details, using multiple cards is the way to go. Nonetheless, if you are like me, a “one guy, one card” type, I would prefer something simple and easy to use/remember. Then I can see the appeal of Apple Pay. Contactless, fast, secure and decent cash back.

A push for Apple Pay

I believe that Apple Card is another push for Apple Pay to make it the “iPhone” equivalent of payment methods. Since Apple Pay is not ubiquitously available, the Card offers the connection between Apple Pay and merchants who don’t accept the service yet. If you use the Card, you’ll earn cash back that can be, in turn, used for Apple Pay. As explained above, Apple Pay can seem to be an attractive payment method to a certain type of users. According to Apple, they are on their track to meet the goal of 10 billion transactions on Apple Pay this year. If you are already satisfied with Apple Pay, I suspect that you will get more hooked when Apple Card is launched.

It makes sense to push for Apple Pay as I think Apple will earn more revenue from the service than the Card. After all, whatever revenue from the Card will have to be split with Goldman Sachs as well.

To recap, I think that this is a push for Apple Pay from Apple, an attempt to thread a delicate line between getting into the financial world and not suffering from the regulatory headaches that come with actually getting in there. Personally, I don’t think it is a “winner takes all” situation. I suspect that users will carry multiple options around and that each type of credit card user will display different levels of love towards Apple Pay and Card. I am excited about the future updates from Apple for the Card, regarding features and benefits. After all, this is just their first iteration.