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Visa revitalizes wearables with NFC-enabled payment ring for Olympic athletes

Visa is hoping to drive a resurgence in interest for wearables by rolling out a payment ring allowing athletes at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to make purchases by tapping the accessory against any NFC-compatible terminal.

Visa, the exclusive payments provider at the Paralympic and Olympic Games, is attempting to bring a sleeker spin to the wearable device market by opting to introduce a simple ring instead of a more cumbersome bracelet or smartwatch. Although the NFC-enabled ring will only be available to Team Visa athletes in Rio de Janeiro, the product could offer inspiration for other financial institutions seeking to innovate within smart devices.

“Visa is a leading payment innovations company that has continued to evolve and meet the needs of consumers’ changing purchasing habits,” said Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer at Visa Inc. “As more consumers are using digital payment and ecommerce solutions, we want to ensure that we’re able to provide payment options, including wearables, that align with their preference whether they choose to dip, tap, swipe or click, at checkout.”

Spotlighting new payment experiences
The financial company will distribute its payment rings to Team Visa athletes, a group consisting of 45 Olympic participants from around the world. The wearable device leverages McLear & Co’s patented NFC Ring design, which includes a secure Gemalto microchip as well as an embedded NFC-enabled antenna.

Individuals will not have to recharge the ring or replace any batteries, resulting in a seamless wearing experience. The ring is also water resistant up to 50 meters, a feature that will allow Olympic swimming champion Missy Franklin to wear the accessory during her warm-ups and races.

Visa is developing the entire payment system infrastructure throughout all venues in Olympic Village and Olympic Superstores, including stadiums and press centers. The brand is also implementing 4,000 NFC-enabled point-of-sale terminals in Rio, which will accept wearable and mobile payments.

Therefore, Team Visa members will not need to carry around a physical wallet or even a smartphone while visiting various stores and Olympic Village locations.

Additionally, athletes and spectators will be able to take advantage of their Visa accounts leading up to and at the Games. For instance, consumers can book and plan their travel and accommodations by leveraging Visa Checkout, a one-click payment solution, or make purchases at shops in Rio by tapping their smartphones against NFC terminals.

Visa has been heavily innovating in the payments space as of late, introducing new features and platforms designed to entice merchants as well as consumers.

Pizza Hut, Virgin America and Fandango are several of the brands leveraging Visa Checkout’s new spin on mobile payment checkout buttons that allows shoppers to make a purchase by swiping, reflecting growing interest in swipeable commerce (see story).

Meanwhile, several months ago, Visa rolled out a new service that enables cardholders to set spending controls, temporarily suspend accounts and receive transaction alerts on mobile in a bid to prevent fraudulent transactions, a move that brings the financial marketer up to speed with its competitors (see story).

Wearables of the future
Visa also demonstrated an advanced prototype of its payment ring – containing tokenization via Visa Token Service – in New York last week, making the wearable the first-ever tokenized payment ring. Tokenization replaces consumers’ specific payment details and account numbers with a unique digital identifier that can process transactions without exposing personal information.

If Visa’s payment ring experiences a successful pilot at the Rio Olympics, it could spur other financial marketers to begin experimenting with sleeker wearable devices equipped with contactless payment capabilities.

The controlled test group of 45 Team Visa members will likely help the company pinpoint any issues that may arise and continue optimizing the checkout experience.

“Visa uses global, high-profile events such as the Olympics to serve as a test ground for Visa’s payment innovations,” Mr. Curtin said. “As a long-time partner of the Olympics for the past 30 years, Visa is the exclusive payment brand throughout all 2016 Rio Olympic competition and non-competition venues.”