By Sarah Perez
As the digital wallet battle rages on here in the U.S., with Google Wallet, Amex's Serve, MasterCard's PayPass, Square, PayPal, carrier-backed Isis, and others all wrangling for a piece of the action, Visa's digital wallet V.me is today exiting from beta, and announcing numbers related to its current traction. The company says that it has now signed up over 50 financial institutions to its platform, including two of the largest retail banks, PNC and U.S. Bank.
It also has 23 merchant partners participating, with some of the bigger names including 1-800-Flowers, PacSun, Shoebuy.com, Buy.com, and MovieTickets.com, for example.
However, it's the list of banking partners that is today's bigger news. In October, PNC became the first U.S. banking partner to announce its launch with the service, and in a month's time, Visa (V) has expanded to 52 other banks as well. These relationships are critical for a digital wallet platform like V.me, because the banks have pre-established relationships with their consumers that Visa can take advantage of to push its service forward.
For those unfamiliar, V.me is Visa's digital wallet platform designed for both online and mobile commerce. An open platform, the service supports not only Visa cards, but also MasterCard (MA), American Express (AXP) and Discover (DFS). The idea is that a consumer can load up their cards into V.me, then use the V.me checkout option in lieu of filling out multiple forms when online shopping - a pain point that's more acutely felt on mobile, than on web, of course. But while the service is currently focused on online shopping integrations stateside, Visa is planning to roll out V.me internationally and on point-of-sale terminals in early 2013, says Jennifer Schultz, Visa's global head of eCommerce. That would put it more head-to-head with other mobile payment services like Square, which recently activated 7,000 Starbucks stores, following the Starbucks partnership and investment, as well as PayPal which has been growing its brick-and-mortar footprint in places like Home Depot (HD), Jamba Juice (JMBA), Toys R Us (TOYS), Foot Locker (FL), Office Depot (ODP), and others.
"In early 2013 - not necessarily in the U.S. - you'll see physical implementations of V.me," says Schultz, explaining that mobile has enabled new ways to shop beyond online checkout, but may also include things like mobile shopping combined with in-store pickup, for example. V.me's mobile payments mechanism can take advantage of NFC, more popular overseas than here, but it can also support QR codes, barcode scanning or other methods. Those initial POS rollouts may focus on the NFC support, though.
Having V.me become not just an e-commerce and m-commerce option, but also a mobile payments option, will further clutter the digital wallet landscape, now filled with a number of digital wallet and mobile wallet contenders. But that won't always be the case, says Schultz. "Right now we're in the proliferation stage," she explains. "Over time, you will see a consolidation. And where will that consolidation end up? It will end up with trusted brands. It will end up with consumer-centric value propositions…And it will be about acceptance and scale." With this announcement, Visa is aiming to show just how quickly it can drive scale, and it will be the first of many more announcements to come, Schultz says. (One notable merchant partner was to be a part of today's release as well, but was pulled at the last minute because Visa is now planning on an even bigger launch around their participation in V.me.)
In addition to expansions on the merchants and banking side, the company also has plans to roll out its own cross-platform mobile applications in early 2013, around the time when the point-of-sale integrations begin to go live.
The complete list of V.me partner banks as of today's launch includes the following:
A + Federal Credit Union, Affinity Bank, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, Alliant Credit Union, America First Credit Union, Arvest Bank, Bank of Tennessee, BB&T, BBVA Compass, Cabela's World's Foremost Bank, Capitol Federal Savings Bank, CEFCU (Citizens Equity First Credit Union), Commerce Bank, Commonwealth Credit Union, Community Credit Union of Florida, Credit Union of Colorado, CSCU, Deere Employees Credit Union, Digital Federal Credit Union, Directions Credit Union, First Financial Bank of Ohio, Greater Texas Federal Credit Union, IBC Bank, ICBA, Listerhill Credit Union, Members 1st Credit Union, Mercantile Bank of Michigan, Meritrust Credit Union, Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, Motorola Employees Credit Union, New Mexico Educator Federal Credit Union, Patelco Credit Union, Pentagon Federal, PNC, PSCU, Royal Credit Union, SCE Federal Credit Union, State Employees Credit Union of Maryland, StellarOne Bank, Susquehanna Bank, Synovus Bank, TCF Bank, The Members Group, Union Bank & Trust, University Federal Credit Union, U.S. Bank, and Xceed Financial Federal Credit Union.