Apple and Goldman Sachs may soon issue a credit card together

The Wall Street Journal reports that the iPhone maker from Silicon Valley and the Wall Street stalwart are mulling over the idea of jointly issuing a credit card to Apple users.

Quoting people familiar with the situation, the paper claimed that Apple and Goldman Sachs may start a trial of the card on their own staff in the coming weeks before it is launched later in the spring. A similar partnership was earlier reported in May 2018 by the same paper.

If this does happen, it will not be the first time Apple takes part in card issuing. The company has already partnered Barclays to issue Barclaycard with Apple Rewards, by which users can earn points from purchases made at Apple or elsewhere, which can then be converted to Apple Stores or iTunes Store coupons.

Nor is Apple the only internet company to issue bank cards. Amazon, for example, has partnered with multiple banks (including RBS and NatWest in the UK) to issue different kinds of credit, debit, cash-back and other types of cards with different benefits.

Where the Goldman Sacks card will be different, according to the WSJ article, is its tighter integration with features offered by the Apple Wallet app on the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

By now, users of Apple Wallet can store in the app “credit, debit, and prepaid cards, store cards, boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons, rewards cards, student ID cards” etc. Then users can use “passes on your iPhone to check in for flights, get and redeem rewards, get in to movies, or redeem coupons. Passes can include useful information like the balance on your coffee card, your coupon’s expiration date, your seat number for a concert”, and so on.

The speculated card is said to work with these Wallet functions as well as with upcoming features. For example, Wallet may keep spending limits, track rewards, encourage users to pay down their credit card debt, and manage balances. These will not be fundamentally new ideas. Apple Watch is already attempting to improve the user’s physical wellness, and the recent update on iOS has added notification of user’s screen time.

This may bring addition benefit to Apple, at a time when its Products business is slowing down while Services is growing to be more important. As a concrete example, Apple could get higher commission fee from transactions on its own cards then on those made through Apple Pay linked to cards issued by other institutions.

For Goldman Sachs, on the other hand, the main driver would be the iOS users. Traditionally an investment and wholesale bank, Goldman Sachs only recently opened an online retail banking business in the shape of Marcus by Goldman Sachs. A joint credit card would be a good channel to access the iPhone users, which are believed to be higher spenders among smartphone users. Eventually, WSJ claimed, the card may expand to offer personal loans, wealth management services, and other financial products, which would be closer to Goldman Sachs’ heart.

JP Morgan launches its own cryptocurrency but don’t get too excited

JP Morgan has created the first cryptocurrency to be backed by a U.S. bank but you can’t buy any and it’s not obvious what the point of it is.

“The JPM Coin is based on blockchain-based technology enabling the instantaneous transfer of payments between institutional accounts,” said an announcement based on gibberish-based grammar. In essence this seems to be a digital mechanism designed to speed up the movement of money within JP Morgan’s systems, nothing more.

They gave the exclusive to CNBC, which also got to chat to Umar Farooq, head of JP Morgan’s blockchain projects, who likes to start his sentences with ‘so’. “So anything that currently exists in the world, as that moves onto the blockchain, this would be the payment leg for that transaction,” he said. “The applications are frankly quite endless; anything where you have a distributed ledger which involves corporations or institutions can use this.

“Money sloshes back and forth all over the world in a large enterprise. Is there a way to ensure that a subsidiary can represent cash on the balance sheet without having to actually wire it to the unit? That way, they can consolidate their money and probably get better rates for it.”

So in essence JP Morgan is offering to exchange their client’s dollars for cryptocurrency tokens representing exactly the same amount, which it reckons they’ll be able to move around more easily. This is quite a different concept to something like bitcoin, which has seen massive fluctuations in its value against the dollar. One JPM Coin will always be worth one dollar.

JP Morgan’s Q&A sheds a bit more light on the matter. It has much more in common with stablecoin than cryptocurrency in that it’s strictly pegged to the dollar, so it’s basically a digital IOU. The big difference is that JPM Coin is private and only available to JP Morgan institutional customers. Once again: the main point of it is to reduce settlement times, nothing more.

Right now JPM Coin is still in its prototype phase and the stated use-case feels like a bit of an anti-climax for people hoping this signifies the next phase of the cryptocurrency revolution. Maybe the such a public endorsement of the technology by a big establishment name will catalyse something, but it’s unlikely to be the kind of total financial autonomy for the individual dreamt of when bitcoin first arrived on the scene.

Prepaid market is an operator blind spot – research

Some new research commissioned by mobile financial services company Juvo has concluded operators are wasting loads of cash through prepaid churn.

The research was conducted by Strategy Analytics, which is having a busy day. It took a look at eight prepaid-dominant markets: Argentina, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa and Thailand; and concluded that in these markets alone, operators wasted $670 million last year replacing lost prepaid subscribers.

Otherwise known as PAYG or contract-free, the prepaid market probably gets a bit overlooked in developed markets as there’s nothing operators like more than signing someone up to a nice, fat two year contract. But as well as being a big piece of the action in developed markets, it tends to dominate developing ones.

Now, on one level remarking that churn is an issue in a market with no contractual obligation involved seems like a bit of a redundant statement. Of course punters are going to shop around and exhibit minimal loyalty. But the apparent point of Juvo commissioning this study is to show there are still plenty of things that could be done to efficiently reduce this churn.

It should also be noted that Juvo, in common with all other companies, doesn’t tend to just commission surveys for a laugh. It contends that what it has to offer can help operators with this prepaid lack of stickiness and has consistently messaged on the matter of prepaid churn. But that said, the findings of this study still have independent merit.

Prepaid accounted for 71% (5.7 billion) of global mobile connections and 32% ($265 billion) in service revenues in 2018. In developing economies those numbers move strongly in the direction of prepaid, for example is accounts for 94% of connections and 80% of revenue in Africa. SA also says it’s more profitable than you might think, with EBITDA margins of 40-55% in developing markets (apart from India, where Jio has thrown a spanner in the works).

SA Juvo 1

This background is designed to set up the punchline which is, of course, churn. The second chart below shows monthly prepaid churn of 3.1-6.5% across the countries studied. This equates to 37-80% annually meaning that, on average, operators have to totally replace their prepaid subscriber base every couple of years.

SA Juvo 2

“Until now, the industry has been in the dark on the scale of the costs associated with prepaid mobile churn, and the portion of prepaid OPEX spent on reacquiring the same customers,” said Phil Kendall of SA, the author of the report. “What this research allows us to do is to confidently calculate the profit that can be unlocked when prepaid churn is reduced. Success in the highly volatile, promotion-fueled prepaid market will go to those operators who can improve customer loyalty, allowing them to make strategic choices between OPEX reduction, accelerated growth or investment in service differentiation.”

“The market opportunity here is 5.7 billion customers and over $265 billion in annual revenue,” said said Steve Polsky, CEO of Juvo. “However it is hampered by huge churn and missed opportunities. As an industry, we need to talk about prepaid, we need to change our approach and we need to put identity at its heart. Prepaid customers in emerging markets consistently churn because they are constantly told ‘no’. No you’re out of airtime. No you don’t have enough money. We have to start with ‘yes’.”

The report, called ‘Death by a thousand nos’, offers a deeper dive into the prepaid churn issue, as well as some top tips on what to do about it, and can be downloaded from the Juvo website. With a major driver of the postpaid demand – the smartphone market – in significant decline, it seems likely that prepaid will become a bigger deal for all operators. So it’s probably a good idea to start thinking about how to make the most of it.

Is mobile payment going too far when cash has become unacceptable?

When mobile payment with smartphones has become the means of choice at retail outlets, the central bank of China needed to remind businesses they should not reject cash payment.

Once upon a time, people said “cash is king”. Not anymore.

In most retail outlets in China, mobile payment with smartphone apps WeChat Pay (of Tencent) and Alipay (of Alibaba) has become the de facto option. Customers with credit or debit cards only, including the cards on UnionPay (China’s clearing platform), are sometimes in bad luck. It turns out even cash payment may not go all the way, which prompted the central bank, People’s Bank of China, to issue a warning notice to the retailers that rejecting cash is against the law.

This fast and massive move towards mobile apps based payment dwarves the slow uptake of NFC based contactless payment championed by the technology companies. This is despite the tech heavy weights Apple and Google having been supporting NFC payment since 2014. The enthusiasm in which consumers and businesses embrace it, even with the clout of Apple and Google thrown behind it, has been underwhelming.

According to the research firm Berg Insight, the total number of NFC enabled POS terminals grew by almost 100% in 2017 to reach 54.5 million, most actively in North America and Western Europe. Only about 30 million of the terminals have been activated.

Apple has refused to disclose user numbers or transaction values related to Apple Pay, although different research has put the number of users who could pay with Apple Pay and who actually did it at about 3%. The uptake of Android Pay is no better. The comparable adoption rate is estimated at about 1%.

It is safe to say Apple CEO Tim Cook’s ambition to replace wallets with Apple Pay has not gone too smoothly. Mr. Cook himself was reported to have been rejected to pay for his coffee with Apple Pay by a barista, reported The Information.

In contrast, WeChat Pay and Alipay did not only handle over 90% of China’s $16 trillion mobile payment transactions in 2017, they are also actively expanding overseas. An agreement was signed last week with the Kenya based Equity Bank to bring the services to eastern Africa including Uganda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Rwanda, in addition to Kenya. With a smartphone penetration level much lower than in China, we do not believe retailers in Africa will rush to refuse cash payment though.

Crime moves upmarket as fraud becomes the UK’s number 1 offence

New research from Experian claims fraud is now the UK’s most common criminal offence, much to the dismay of thugs and hoodlums everywhere.

The company’s Annual Fraud Indicator 2017 estimates the annual cost of fraud in the UK is £190 billion, exceeding the total Gross Domestic product of 148 out of 191 countries on the planet. Splitting it down, private sector fraud costs the UK economy £140 billion over the course of 2017, while it is only £40.3 billion in the public sector.

“Awareness of the dangers fraud poses is growing, but the total of £190 billion is startlingly high,” said Nick Mothershaw, Director of Fraud and Identity Solutions at Experian. “Plastic card and online banking fraud continues to increase, so new regulations which make it harder for fraudsters to use someone’s cards online are a necessary step.

“Fraudsters are shamelessly opportunistic and are now turning their attention to the pensions release, lured by the promise of high value returns when their scams are successful.”

Procurement has been pinned down as the biggest sucker for fraud, but the report notes new technologies are opening up new opportunities for the tricksters. Online Banking fraud has grown by 226% and Telephone Banking Fraud by 178% in the past year, with millennials getting caught out as well.

While this number is surprisingly high, the growing popularity of mobile money and contactless payment solutions might add to the problem. Another area which we haven’t seen the impact of is social media.

With the online world taking more control of our daily lives, authentication techniques using social media accounts are becoming more common. The vast majority are used for free services, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t work out how to commit a white collar crime using this little development. Individuals seems very enthusiastic about handing out their personal information online, and in truth we haven’t seen any particularly devastating negative impacts yet. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible though.