Westpac skirts Apple with launch of Samsung Pay

The 200-year-old bank has snubbed iPhone users, opening up Samsung Pay to its debit and credit card customers following its existing integration with Android Pay.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Westpac Banking Group has launched Samsung Pay, opening up the phone-based wallet to debit and credit card cardholders across both Mastercard and Visa.

According to Westpac chief executive of Consumer Bank George Frazis, the integration with the electronics giant sees Westpac become the first Australian-owned bank to offer Samsung Pay.

"Customer behaviour is changing all the time and the growth of mobile banking in the past three years has been exponential," he added. "Our strategy is to be where our customers are, and we are delighted to offer some of the world's most popular mobile payment platforms to our customers."

Samsung Pay is available wherever near-field communication (NFC) payments are accepted, and is compatible on Samsung devices such as the Gear S3 smartwatch and the soon-to-be-released Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus smartphones.

The integration with Samsung now sees the 200-year-old bank offer both Samsung Pay and Android Pay -- which it launched last year -- in addition to Westpac's own tap and pay function, which was unveiled to customers in 2014.

However, Apple Pay is not yet offered by the bank.

Westpac is part of the group of four banks that has been seeking regulatory approval since mid-last year to collectively negotiate with third-party mobile providers such as Apple on conditions relating to competition, best practice standards, and efficiency.

Last month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a determination denying authorisation for Westpac, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), the National Australia Bank (NAB), and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank to collectively bargain with Apple and boycott Apple Pay.

Throughout the process, the banks have claimed that they want access to the NFC controller in iPhones and reduced their argument in February to solely focus on such, as Apple currently does not allow any other entity direct access to its technology.

The group has been arguing 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 -- which is what Apple wants to avoid.

"We take a strategic partnering approach to payments innovation while continuing to develop our own technology," Frazis said on the matter. "Although we don't agree, we respect the ACCC's decision on our application which was about giving customers choice and all participants access to the NFC chip. We have seen no loss of business as a result of not offering Apple Pay."

In delivering its first quarter market update in February, fellow big four member Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) said that for the three months ended December 31, 2016, initiatives including Apple Pay and Android Pay drove ongoing net customer acquisition gains in its Australian Retail Transaction Banking segment.

ANZ was the first bank in both Australia and New Zealand to launch Apple Pay, in April last year.

Speaking with journalists in Sydney last week, Westpac CIO David Curran was asked if his bank was considering speaking with Apple in regards to Apple Pay, separate from the rest of the banking cartel.

"We were naturally disappointed with that decision ... phones are platforms, people learn to use them, so actually saying NFC is not open doesn't make sense to me as a CIO of a bank," he said in response.

"That needs to be open so we can innovate on it and the ACCC has made its decision and we respect that in terms of how that will continue and we are very open with and continue to work with Apple and will stay that way."

The CIO said that NFC is a platform that everyone needs to develop on, given its presence among retailers and other financial services companies, for example.

"It's not like Westpac and trying to protect something, it's actually, we're saying, it should be open," Curran added. "It's a platform we all use and we've used for a very long time. Why are we closing it? Naturally we're disappointed in it."

Curran said "time will tell" if not adopting Apple Pay under the iPhone maker's current terms will be a competitive disadvantage for his bank when compared to ANZ.

Last month, the bank launched Westpac Keyboard, which enables customers to pay friends and share their BSB and account details without leaving messaging apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and WeChat on Apple devices.

For the 2016 financial year, Westpac reported AU$7.4 billion in after-tax profit, representing a 7 percent drop year on year.

During the 12 months to September 30, 2016, Westpac spent AU$1.9 billion on technology-related expenses as part of its ongoing digital transformation.

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