A Rant About Mobile Wallets

Suretap in Action

“Mobile wallet” launching in Canada within six months, carriers currently in final talks with banks – April, 2012

Rogers and CIBC launching “suretap” later this month, will bring mobile payments to Canada with NFC-enabled BlackBerry devices – October, 2012

RBC launching Secure Cloud, promises cloud-based mobile payments for Canadians – July, 2013

TD Bank and PC Financial announce Ugo, ‘Canada’s First Open Mobile Wallet’ – November, 2013

Ok, seriously… this madness needs to stop. Carriers and banks in this country have messed up mobile wallets so bad that honestly, I’m no longer interested. That last headline is particularly insulting; the requirements for the “Ugo” system are a TD or President’s Choice credit card — in what universe can you call that “open”?

Rogers’ Suretap is even worse, working only with a CIBC account and requiring a special NFC-enabled SIM card. But it won’t work with iPhone, only Android and BlackBerry devices that already have the technology on-board. And enjoying RBC’s Secure Cloud at some unnamed point in the future will require service from both RBC and Bell.

It didn’t have to be this way, you know…

Google Wallet Transaction

This is a receipt of my first and only successful Google Wallet purchase in Canada, made possible in late 2011 by an early alpha of CyanogenMod 9 and a $10 USD credit for new Wallet users from Google . It was every bit as convenient as a PayPass MasterCard and whatever VISA calls its identical technology. And I’ve not since been able to replicate that success — even with proper Google Wallet support on other ROMs.

The new Nexus 5 and other KitKat devices will have support for NFC Host Card Emulation, which looks very much like a way to sidestep the proprietary wares of both banks and carriers, making mobile wallets actually usable on Android as a result. But according to Google’s own support pages it won’t work in Canada:

*Must be used with a US-based SIM card.

While Google may be the bearer of bad news, I put the blame for this squarely on the banks.

You might be led to believe that credit card companies (via the banks that offer them) are just trying to protect you from someone stealing your phone and going “tap, tap, tap” all over the city, buying cars, big-screen TVs, tickets to Vegas… you get the idea. This is a lie.

It ignores the founding principle of the relationship between you and the bank that issued your credit card. You won’t find it on any card holder agreement; it’s a tacit understanding and the reason why some kind of card is always available with no annual fee. The deal is this: in return for charging you outrageous interest rates on the balance that you carry, they’re supposed to have your back on any fraudulent charges to your account.

These hyper-secure (i.e. non-standard) mobile wallet systems are just the banks shirking their responsibilities as a safe point for fraudulent use. At the very least they want in on that sweet, sweet user tracking and extra fees made possible with this new form of electronic payment.

Meanwhile, in Japan, this all seems to have been figured out years ago. Though I wasn’t able to pay for anything with my Nexus when I visited last spring, I was nonetheless amazed that the NFC-based transit cards there not only worked across multiple rail lines —owned by different companies, if you didn’t know — but across multiple cities, as well.

That it’s somehow so monumentally difficult to get this Presto thing installed system-wide on Toronto’s TTC gives me zero hope that mobile wallets will ever be anything beyond a proprietary mess. At the very least I should be able to install an app from my bank and use it with the NFC chip that’s already on my phone; instead, each of us has to wait for that narrow intersection of compatible carrier, credit card and mobile OS.

To all Canadian banks and carriers: You’re doing it wrong.