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By Sarah Perez

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This week, two of the major players in the credit card industry, Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) launched their online digital wallet services. Known as V.me (Visa's) and PayPass Wallet Services (MasterCard), both are very similar initiatives which see the companies clamoring to become the credit card of choice for digital transactions, the way they fight today to be the credit card for all the other transactions taking place out there in the real world.

And, to be clear, a "digital" wallet isn't necessarily the same as a "mobile wallet," although a digital wallet service could also be housed in a mobile app interface, as both MasterCard and Visa plan on offering in the near future.

While neither of these companies are the types of early stage startups TechCrunch typically favors, their moves will have an impact on a number of companies already operating in this space, like PayPal and Square, as well as those that aim to disrupt the payments industry like Dwolla. Below are the details of what was announced and how the two services compare.

Visa V.me

Visa's digital payments service, V.me, wants to make it easier for consumers to shop online, whether via web, mobile or tablet. The service is effectively a digital wallet, which stores not only your Visa card information, but also your MasterCard, American Express (AXP) and Discover (DFS) cards. When you're on a supported merchant's website, instead of entering in your payment information and shipping preferences manually (as is par for the course today), you only have to enter in your V.me email and password. The merchant still receives your payment through Visa's network, but your 16-digit card number is not displayed on the site, which adds another layer of security to the transaction.

In the future, Visa plans to introduce a mobile payments element to the service as well by leveraging NFC, QR codes and "other technology," which would allow you to tap your phone to a secure reader at the point-of-sale in order to pay for your purchase, scan a QR code or perform some other type of interaction. Support for offers based on your activity and interests will be rolled out later on, too, the company says.

This week, Visa took a major step in making the V.me service a reality. The company announced its beta launch, with its first online merchants, PacSun.com and Buy.com, adding support for the program on its site. The V.me acceptance mark is now visible on the login and checkout pages of both sites.

Visa says it's currently focused on scaling V.me within the U.S. market, but a global rollout is on its roadmap. Over the coming months (Visa won't provide exact dates), V.me will launch on a number of other e-commerce sites.

MasterCard PayPass Wallet Services

MasterCard, too, has its own take on digital wallets, and unveiled its new PayPass Wallet service this week. The PayPass Wallet is an extension to MasterCard's already fairly well-known PayPass brand, which offers tap-and-go, NFC-enabled payments that work via PayPass-enabled (NFC) phones, cards, key fobs, or mobile tags at over 441,000 locations worldwide. The same credentials stored in the digital wallet for online payments (PayPass Wallet) can also be accessed for tap-and-go purchases on an NFC-enabled phone through a mobile app.

Like V.me, MasterCard's PayPass Wallet is an open solution, and allows consumers to add their Visa, American Express and Discover cards, whether credit, debit or prepaid. It also keeps your shipping info on file, for faster online checkouts. And, like V.me, PayPass Wallet is making a splash with some big-name launch partners. In this case: American Airlines and Barnes & Noble. Both merchants will incorporate the PayPass Online checkout button on their websites, and American Airlines will go a step further and integrate PayPass Wallet into its own mobile application.

Other merchants committed to the solution include Jagex, JB Hi-Fi, MLB Advanced Media (MLB.com), Newegg, Runningshoes.com, TigerDirect.com and Wine Enthusiast Companies.

Several banks are on board too, including Banesto (OTC:BNSTF), Bank of Montreal, Commonwealth Bank, Citibank (C), EURO6000, Fifth Third Bank (FITB), Grupo Banco Popular, Grupo BBVA, ICBA, Intesa Sanpaolo (OTCPK:ISNPY), Metro Bank (OTC:MBFS), National Bank of Canada, PSCU, RBS Citizens Financial Group (OTCQB:CFIN), SEB Kort AB Sweden, Sovereign Bank, Swedbank Sweden (OTCPK:SWDBY) and Westpac (WBK).

The solution will be offered as a white label, meaning banks, merchants and other partners can use the PayPass Wallet platform within their own digital wallets. This option will go live by Q3 2012, initially in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia.

Finally, like V.me, MasterCard's PayPass Wallet will roll out to point-of-sale and as a mobile application in the future, but MasterCard isn't providing exact timeframes on when those solutions will arrive. The mobile app, though, is not necessarily being targeted at consumers, but at the banking partners.

"This initiative provides issuers with a turnkey solution to quickly launch a wallet with their own branding using our reference wallet or the freedom to connect their own wallet into our PayPass network," explains Ed Olebe, Senior Vice President and Group Head, Emerging Payments, MasterCard. "PayPass Wallet Services will accept all credit, debit and prepaid MasterCard, American Express, Discover and Visa cards as long as the merchant or financial institution accepts those cards," he says.

Those with an NFC phone can continue to tap-and-go as they do now, but soon, both NFC and non-NFC users will be able to take advantage of the other benefits of the PayPass platform, including at-a-glance account information which you can peek at prior to making a purchase, spending controls, real-time alerts, and, of course, coupons and targeted offers.

The above solutions from the top two credit card companies are notable because of their news this past week, but they're far from being the only competitors in the space. Outside of startups like Square and PayPal, mentioned above, Google is dabbling with its own mobile wallet/mobile checkout play called Google Wallet and the U.S. mobile carriers are ramping up a mobile payments initiative called Isis. (Worldwide, other carriers have their own programs, too).

However, in terms of credit card companies, American Express is another important player in the space. With its previously announced Serve platform, it's not only competing head-to-head in the online payments space, it's also working to enable other features like peer-to-peer payments, for example.

With so many similarities between the services and some confusion on branding, the problem will soon become one of too much choice. Should you go with V.me or MasterCard's PayPass (or a PayPass Wallet rebranded by your bank, perhaps?), Serve or PayPal? Wait, PayPal works at point-of-sale too? Does Google Wallet work on my phone? What's Isis?

Although the names of the credit card companies are already familiar, the programs themselves are not. All the players will need to work to deliver clear messages to consumers about what they can and cannot do.

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Source: Digital Wallet Battle Heats Up As Visa And MasterCard Enter The Game