Canada's biggest wireless companies are poised to reap a financial windfall in the years ahead as consumers begin using their cellphones to make payments at the cash register.
In the first of many partnerships expected between phone companies and banks, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Rogers Communications Inc. Tuesday unveiled a pact that will turn mobile phones into digital wallets.
CIBC will pay Rogers an undisclosed sum to store credit card information for Visa and MasterCard on Rogers phones, which can then be used to make payments in stores by emitting a signal to a special receiver at checkouts. Rogers will charge CIBC for space on its SIM cards, which are the tiny chips inside wireless phones that give them their identity.
CIBC said the deal won't result in new fees, since it won't charge consumers or merchants extra for the service. However, Rogers acknowledged it is collecting "rent" from the bank in exchange for access to its phones.
This money, along with similar deals struck with other Canadian banks in the near future, will be "new revenue" for the phone company, Rogers executives said. Meanwhile, wireless giants Bell Canada and Telus Corp. are said to be pursuing similar strategies with the banks, which could also prove lucrative.
For Rogers, though, the potential revenue opportunity extends far beyond merely extracting funds from banks to store information on SIM cards. It intends to offer up space on its phones for many other companies that might be involved in transactions with consumers.
Rogers executives say there are hundreds of millions of "cards" that could be securely distributed and stored in smartphones. Rogers' mobile wallet is eventually expected to store virtual debit cards, driver's licences, health cards, loyalty cards, gift cards, store cards, security credentials and transit passes.
"We see a world that is all about a mobile wallet. It's not about one credit card on one phone. It's about your library card. It's about your card that allows you to collect points at your favourite drug store," said Rob Bruce, president of communications at Rogers.
Though no specific date was given for the launch of the new service, CIBC said debit cards will eventually be added. David Williamson, senior executive vice-president of retail and business banking at CIBC, said the bank is rolling out the service to attract more customers. "It's such that we can absorb [the cost]and it's not something that we have to pass through … either to the merchants who are concerned, or to the clients," Mr. Williamson said.
Rogers will seek commercial agreements with a variety of companies, said David Robinson, Rogers' vice-president of emerging business. For example, it could offer free distribution to hold a retailer's charge card information on its SIM cards in exchange for a small cut of the transaction. Deals could also be struck with merchants who want to store virtual gift cards, loyalty programs or e-coupons inside a mobile wallet.
How much new revenue is at stake is unknown. Rogers' executives declined to specify when mobile commerce would become a significant revenue driver. Rogers has applied for a banking licence to become a credit-card issuer. If granted, Rogers could eventually get transaction fees on payments if its own credit-card credentials are stored in a customer's mobile wallet.
The service will launch on BlackBerrys first and other devices later. Mobile payments use Near Field Communications (NFC) which allow cellphones to communicate with a receiver when placed nearby. Rogers has about 300,000 customers with NFC-enabled phones, but estimates that number will grow to 750,000 by next year.