2015 in review: EMV, mobile P2P, blockchain

We talked a lot about mobile payments in 2015, but the EMV liability shift in the U.S. was a big milestone for the payments industry.

It was three years in the making, but it seemed that no one in the industry or the mainstream media gave it much thought until the final weeks before the Oct. 1 deadline. And some retailers still aren’t ready.

U.S. EMV transition

No payments-related story was bigger in the U.S. this year than the EMV transition. And it’s still ongoing as consumers adapt to a new way to pay with credit and debit cards.

Banks will continue to issue chip cards well into 2016, and maybe into 2017. Financial institutions and independent deployers still have until next October to make their ATMs EMV compliant for MasterCard transactions, and until October 2017 for Visa transactions.

And operators of automated fuel dispensers have until 2017 to become EMV compliant for both MasterCard and Visa.

The transition, however, hasn’t been without its hiccups.

Many retailers who have the proper equipment to take chip cards still have not activated acceptance. Some retailers who have activated acceptance provide an uneven checkout experience because store staff is not properly trained about EMV. Consumers, in turn, have complained about longer-than-usual checkout times.

Meantime, there’s optimism in the industry that the EMV surge in the U.S. will lead to more proximity mobile payments via NFC as new point-of-sale terminals have the ability to accept contactless payments. And as consumers become frustrated with dip-and-pay, tap-and-pay via smartphone suddenly becomes a more attractive option.

Mobile P2P

Much like the mobile wallet market, mobile person-to-person products flood app stores on both Android and iOS platforms.

Venmo rules with millennials. Facebook in 2014 hired former PayPal executive David Marcus to revamp Facebook Messenger and he eventually turned it into a mobile P2P vehicle. Square Cash is still going strong.

Messaging app Snapchat added Snapcash a little over a year ago and that system rides Square Cash’s rails. Sweden-based mobile wallet provider Seamless and Dwolla announced last month that they have reached an agreement to enable person-to-person funds transfers in the U.S. via Seamless’ SEQR product. Google Wallet is now a mobile P2P app.

WeChat is popular in China, while Line is the mobile P2P app of choice for many Japanese consumers.

But it took some Apple rumors for everyone to start paying attention to this area again.

Apple reportedly is in discussions with banks to develop a mobile P2P service that would rely on Apple Pay in some way. While nothing is official, such a product seems imminent from Apple’s perspective as it moves into providing financial products on a basic level. While mobile P2P is not lucrative for providers, the consumer financial data that comes with such services is invaluable to companies that are developing new products.

Blockchain

Bitcoin had a weird 2015. Its value bottomed out at $177 in January only to rally in recent months as it hovers over the $400 mark. But most of the talk about Bitcoin this year had to do with the underlying technology: the blockchain.

When news broke in September that some Wall Street heavyweights had invested a combined $30 million in chain.com, a blockchain developer platform that serves the enterprise market, it represented a “come to Jesus” moment not only for the traditional financial industry, but also for those Bitcoin enthusiasts who once were the sole guardians of the virtual currency’s underlying technology.

The cat is out of the bag regarding the power of the blockchain.

“All the banks are starting to see the benefits of a system of information stored on central location [and capable of] faster transactions,” Paul Vigna, co-author of “The Age of Cryptocurrency,” told the audience at a panel discussion during September’s ATM & Mobile Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit is an annual event co-hosted by the Electronic Funds Transfer Association and Networld Media Group, publisher of Mobile Payments Today, ATM Marketplace and Virtual Currency Today.

But some Bitcoin supporters are wary of the banks’ recent infatuation with the blockchain.

Rupert Hackett, the community manager at BuyaBitcoin.com.au, recently wrote a contributed piece for VentureBeat and said the banks’ vision of the blockchain is naïve on some levels.

“Most conversations seem to gloss over the fact that you cannot make a blockchain without a digital currency,” Hackett wrote. “The statement “I’m big on blockchain but not Bitcoin” really means you want the innovative technology without its decentralization, a separation that has yet to be proven possible.”

Hackett went on to quote something Andreas Antonopoulos, the author of “Mastering Bitcoin,” said in a recent Google Hangout interview.

“[The banks] want to adopt the efficiencies without the decentralization, the low cost but with control, and the global nature but with censorship,” Antonopoulos said. “You can’t have the revolutionary nature of Bitcoin while stripping it of all the things that make it innovative and exciting.”

Click here for more of 2015 in review.

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