Folks, I must admit that in the debate over “mobile payments,” I’ve been out of touch, of late.
Today, for example, I neglected to mention a longish note — 29 pages — that came out late Monday from Morgan Keegan, assembled by Tavis McCourt, who follows Apple (AAPL), as well as some colleagues of his, Matt McKee, who follows communications technology, and Roberd Dodd and Robert Ladyman, who follow transaction processing.
The note’s interesting, so I thought I’d mention it, even though I missed my chance earlier.
The authors offer the view that there is “substantial” potential for near-field communications (NFC) chips embedded in a phone as a mobile “digital wallet.”
But the obstacle is that the status quo is likely to prevail, basically because of the risk of fraud.
Merchants are likely to take awhile before they will move to NFC. Why? Because the most likely method of funding a mobile wallet, by tapping into a bank account, called “ACH,” doesn’t actually clear the funds till an overnight update happens, unlike traditional debit cards, where money is cleared right away. Which means merchants can be left hanging when there are insufficient funds.
Unless the banks can underwrite/insure the funds to protect against fraud, in a cost-effective manner for merchants, than the status quo will prevail, which means digital wallets will just be a thin layer riding on top of the current payment system of the “networks” — Visa (V), MasterCard (MA), etc.
And in that system, Visa and MasterCard still make most of the money. Which means little actual direct share of profit for Apple, Google (GOOG), and other smartphone vendors.
“The mobile payment opportunity is more of a cost burden than a real benefit” to Apple and others, they write. Putting an NFC chip in a handset can cost $2 to 4$ per handset, they note. Apple and others might not get any share of the actual transaction dollar amount, they argue.
One real beneficiary of any NFC buildout might be VeriFone (PAY), which already sells terminals for credit-card processing. They’ll have to supply merchants with point-of-sale terminals for the buildout of NFC. Morgan Keegan rates VeriFone’s shares Outperform.
The Morgan Keegan note echoes a lot of skepticism voice Monday by Toni Sacconaghi with Sanford Bernstein, who follows Apple. Among his concerns is that putting those NFC terminals in retail locations could take five years or more to happen.
And then putting an NFC chip in the iPhone could add $450 million to $900 million to the cost of goods for the thing Apple’s 2012 fiscal year, which could lower Apple’s gross margin by 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points. Then, too, it’s unclear if Apple and others could command a meaningful cut of the transaction, as McCourt and company point out.
Sacconaghi concludes we won’t see NFC in Apple’s next iPhone: “We do not expect the iPhone 5 to feature an NFC-based payments solution, and instead expect Apple to evaluate and come to market with partners or a complete solution later, perhaps when NFC infrastructure is more established.”
Then again, BoyGeniusReport’s Jonathan Geller speculates today Apple might actually be planning already to implement NFC terminals in its own retail network.
Article courtesy of Tech Trader Daily