COVID-19 pushes Westpac to jump on Apple Pay

Westpac also announced it would be copping a AU$2.2 billion impairment charge in its first half financial results as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Westpac customers finally have access to Apple Pay, with the red and white bank making the iOS wallet available for customers who have an eligible Mastercard debit or credit card, or Eftpos Handycard.

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"We are pleased to announce that Westpac customers can now use Apple Pay to make fast and secure payments. This comes at an important time for our customers, who are looking for an alternative to cash," Westpac Group chief executive of consumer David Lindberg said.

"We have seen a significant increase in customers using digital banking in recent weeks as more Australians stay at home. With the introduction of Apple Pay, it will now be even easier for customers to pay for goods and services in stores, via apps or online without the need for a card or wallet."

See also: Mastercard ups contactless payment limit to AU$200

Westpac in December announced the adoption of Apple Pay across a handful of its financial services providers, but actual customers of the red and white bank itself were told they had to wait until June 2020.

Apple Pay is also now available for St George, BankSA, and Bank of Melbourne customers that have an eligible Visa debit or credit card.

Westpac, alongside the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), the National Australia Bank (NAB), and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, had previously joined forces to go after Apple and its control over its own near-field communication (NFC) technology.

After a few months, the group of banks reduced their demands to only seeking access to Apple's NFC tech, annoyed that Apple did not allow any other entity direct access to its technology.

The group argued that access would enable them to offer their own integrated digital wallets to iPhone customers in competition with Apple's digital wallet without using Apple Pay -- something Apple wanted to avoid.

The banks lost their fight in March 2017, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) handing down a determination denying authorisation.

Prior to the ACCC's determination, the banks baulked at settling for payment alternatives such as Android Pay, calling them unrealistic in the Australian market.

"These alternatives are unrealistic in Australia, which has the world's highest adoption of contactless NFC card payments and one of the world's highest iPhone market shares, particularly among customers likely to use mobile payments," the banks said, pointing to Android penetration in the rest of the world being higher than in Australia.

"In Australia, potential mobile wallet providers other than Apple are locked out of the established payment infrastructure in respect of the clear majority of relevant customers."

Apple had its own view on the battle, arguing to the ACCC previously that the collective application was not about access to the iPhone's NFC technology, rather, it was an attempt to avoid paying the fees associated with using Apple Pay.

Since then, both CBA and NAB have adopted the Cupertino tech, with the yellow bank making the feature live in January last year and the red and black bank caving in May 2019.

ANZ, meanwhile, has had Apple Pay available for customers since April 2016.

Also on Tuesday, Westpac announced it would be copping a AU$2.2 billion impairment charge in its first-half financial results.

The impairment charge includes approximately AU$6 million from individually assessed provisions and net write-offs, as well as approximately AU$1.6 billion of additional impairment charges predominantly related to COVID-19 impacts.

"The world is going through a once in a lifetime health and economic crisis and we are committed to assisting as many customers as possible to bridge this shutdown period," Westpac CEO Peter King said.

"Our packages are already providing relief to individual and business customers.  It is however unfortunate that some customers will not be able to navigate the financial and economic changes of this crisis and may not re-open. Nevertheless, we will work closely with those customers to help them through that process."

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