Where's the Weve Wallet?

Alex Spencer

When UK operators O2, Vodafone and EE first announced they would be working together on a mobile payments joint venture, then called 'Project Oscar', it looked like the nascent space could be theirs for the taking. 

But that was two years ago, and we still haven't seen the promised mobile wallet from the company, now known as Weve. The wallet is on its way, marketing director Tony Moretta has confirmed to Mobile Marketing – but not until the second half of 2014.

Taking its time

To be fair, Weve has certainly been busy in the meantime, first securing approval from the European Commission, and then setting up its mobile marketing business.

“We were always going to start with advertising first,” says Moretta. “That's a pre-existing business which was already contibuting revenues to our shareholders, so we had to take that over and keep it running.”

Speaking to Mobile Marketing, a representative of the company admitted that there's a market perception that Weve is moving slowly, perhaps even behind schedule, but maintained that this is a necessity for a joint venture operating at such scale, especially when it has such lofty ambitions.

“We don't want to release it bit by bit, covering one handset or one bank at a time,” Moretta says. “I'd rather be slower and make sure we do it properly than just throw something onto the market.”

Making a single push

When it does arrive, Weve's payments platform will offer a mixture of payment methods, initially including QR codes and barcodes. But as time goes on, it will move towards relying on NFC technology, through handsets' SIM cards.

“The SIM means we're using consistent technology across operators and handsets. We don't have to worry about the OS, or making deals with separate manufacturers,” says Moretta. “You're also able to tell consumers that it's the same technology as their credit or debit card, which solves concerns about security – and in some ways, this approach is actually more secure. If I lose my phone, for example, the SIM card can be deactivated over the air.”

Of course, one issue with any implementation of NFC technology is that it's not available on iOS devices – though Moretta assures us “our understanding is that NFC is on Apple's design roadmap”.

From the consumer's point of view, the end result will be a set of individually branded wallets from Weve's shareholders, each integrating the operator's own services, as well as third-party apps taking advantage of the technology using an API.

According to Moretta, there might be some common branding to say these are being powered by the same technology, but otherwise Weve will stay behind the curtain, just as it has done with its mobile marketing business. 

“There's the question of whether you name or brand this ability to pay through tap, as happened with chip & PIN,” he says. “What you may see, between the operators and banks, is a consistent marketing campaign. If you look at contactless payments so far, there hasn't really been that – but woudn't it be great if 80 per cent of the banks and operators in the country were making this single push?”

Overcoming difficulties

Let's not put the cart before the horse, though. The wallet is still at least a year away – so what's taken so long?

There have been a number of obstacles along the way, starting with the EU investigation. Until the venture was greenlit, it couldn't make any progress on developing its technology or strategy. Because the operators weren't allowed to do anything which anticipated the decision, they weren't able to share info, or even halt their existing payment strategies – like O2 Wallet, or Orange Quick Tap.

Speaking of which, it's worth noting that the operators will also continue to develop non-NFC payment projects on an individual basis. Part of the challenge for Weve has been bringing these divergent strategies in line with one another, and making sure the infrastructure is there.

“The idea of our advertising business is that it's a one-stop shop, and payments will work similarly,” says Moretta. “So if you're a bank, for example, we'll provide a single point of technical integration. But that infrastructure takes time to get into place.”

The final issue, according to Moretta, is “branding, and the question of who owns the wallet”.

“So far, there's been a deadlock between banks, mobile operators and players like Google – which is where we come in, because we can offer a neutral platform. And because the platform is an aggregator, it helps combat app fatigue for users who already have four screens full of apps.

“We're solving the mobile wallet wars by being open.”

Put to the test

As it stands, Weve is in discussions with major banks and payment providers, with an official announcement expected in the next few months, and trialling its offering with retailers.

These trials have focused on the wallet's loyalty functionality – Moretta says it doesn't need to trial NFC, because “it's been done to death”. To start with, it has run a pilot with three independent retailers in London, and this will shortly be carrying over into a trial with a “major UK retailer”.

Eventually, the idea is to join up the two halves of the business into a “virtuous circle”, where each feeds into the other. 

Moretta uses the example of Starbucks sending a consumer a location-based message with an offer, and a link to add it to their wallet. If they go into a branch of Starbucks, they can then transact the offer, make the payment, and add points to their loyalty card, all in one tap – but more importantly, Weve will capture the data that the promotion was successful. This will then be used to guide future promotions, and to better target that individual consumer.

This sounds very promising, but Weve has got to make sure its wallet is a success first. After all, a year is a long time in this business, and there's a chance the platform will be too late to make the splash Moretta is hoping it will.

“By then, contactless acceptance will have improved, and we have the advantage of working as a coalition, whereas other approaches have been scattered,” he counters. “All of the main players in the UK who want to get this done, we're already working with them.”