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MCX bows out as opportunity narrows for new mobile payment entries

MCX, the mobile payments platform backed by a consortium of big-name retailers, is reportedly putting a national rollout on hold, but it has likely missed the window of opportunity entirely.

With a Chase Pay partnership in place, MCX is shifting gears, postponing its consumer payments application, CurrentC, and focusing on building relationships with additional banks instead while also laying off 30 employees. The news suggests that the landscape for mobile payments is beginning to align along three main types of solutions: retailers’ branded apps, bank apps and OS- or device-driven offerings.

“I think it’s been four years since the announcement of MCX and in that time they have been unable to deliver a scalable offering,” said Thad Peterson, senior analyst at Aite Group.

“When they began they had an opportunity to define the mobile wallet space but their delays put them in a reactive position against major competitors, Apple, Google and Samsung,” he said. “They missed the window.

“The world is dividing into OS/mobile device wallets, proprietary bank wallets and retailer wallets, with each finding their own natural and generally noncompetitive audience.”

A tough sell
While mobile payments have been slow to take off, there is a consensus that the smartphone will be a significant part of the purchasing experience going forward.

The smartphone ecosystem requires the involvement of a number of different entities to bring solutions to consumers and a number of these have tried to gain a foothold in payments, recognizing the significant potential here.

However, several have now failed.

Softcard, originally known as Isis, shut down in the spring of 2015, dashing the hopes of wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA to own the payments’ experience.

Last fall, Google’s first attempt at mobile payments, Google Wallet, was repositioned as a person-to-person payment platform to make room for the company’s second attempt at a broader payments platform, Android Pay.

Customer friction
The CurrentC from MCX joins the list after numerous delays. There were also blows from several participating retailers that were anxious to get moving and either embraced competing platforms such as Apple Pay or launched their own payment solution.

Besides an inability to scale up on the retail side, CurrentC was also hurt by the fact that it requires consumers to download and register with a new app, thereby adding friction to the payment process.

“MCX and CurrentC were designed entirely to benefit the retailers originally looking to mitigate interchange,” said Jim McLeod, emerging payments practice lead at NTT Data Consulting. “What was lost was the attention to the customer friction caused by creating the funding source and the desired checkout experience for the customer.”

Coming into focus
While MCX has struggled, competing payment solutions have been entering the market and gaining ground, although adoption is still slow and no clear-cut winner is apparent yet.

Apple Pay made a big splash when it launched and continues to add banks and retailers. The solution also boasts a streamlined user experience.

Samsung Pay and Android Pay also continue to gain steam.

On the financial services side, banks have been slow to jump into mobile payments even though they are already trusted financial partners for consumers.

The imminent launch of Chase Pay could lay the groundwork for other banks to follow suit. MCX, which is partnered with Chase Pay, is reportedly setting its sights on this area for its own future growth.

Finally, retailers are increasingly launching their own mobile payments solutions. Starbucks has had significant success with this strategy and Walmart said this week that Walmart Pay will be launched nationally by the end of the summer (see story).

“If [the MCX] announcement came out a year ago, I would say it was not unexpected,” said Peter Olynick, retail banking senior practice lead at NTT Data Consulting. “I am a little surprised that it came out only six months after the ChasePay announcement, which I felt gave MCX a bit of a shot in the arm.

“All the mobile payment solutions are looking for that perfect balance of value to the customer, merchant, and provider,” he said. “To date, most have optimized one (or two) of these stakeholders, but not all three.

“We are in a high state of evolutionary change in the mobile payments space and should continue to expect new entrants and ‘extinctions.’”