The VISA JP Apple Pay announcement and digital banking wars

MacRumors: Customers with Visa cards…will be able to add their card to their Wallet on iPhone and Apple Watch.

Me: I like MacRumors but the writer here has no idea what the story is or that users have been using these cards in Apple Pay all along for store purchases.

MacRumors: Hey! Could you elaborate on what you mean? Visa cards issued by those banks now have Apple Pay, correct?

Sure Sami, here’s the elaborate story. Do you know FeliCa? It’s the Sony created NFC standard that has been around a long time, long before EMV grafted NFC into contactless credit cards. When mobile payments launched in Japan back in 2004, Mobile FeliCa was the only technology that worked. So mobile payments for all major credit cards and Suica were built on Mobile FeliCa, the contactless payments infrastructure in Japan grew from that.

Fast forward to 2016. Phil Schiller announced FeliCa for iPhone 7 at the keynote and the launch of Apple Pay in Japan. VISA Japan didn’t sign an agreement with Apple but it didn’t matter much because VISA JP cards were available for Apple Pay thanks to previous Mobile FeliCa agreements covering the iD and QUICPay networks for store payments. The other card companies (Mastercard JP, JCB, American Express JP) signed with Apple.

It was a big success. But the Mobile FeliCa agreements only covered store purchases, they didn’t cover things like in-app purchases. Even though many Japanese users added their VISA cards to Apple Pay they couldn’t use them to recharge Suica cards because in app purchases were not supported.

Fast forward to 2020. VISA JP is a major sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics showering sponsorship money to promote ‘VISA Touch’ EMV contactless cards. They want customers to use VISA Touch at stores, not iD and QUICPay because the margins are nicer and EMV contactless is a world standard except for places like Japan (FeliCa) and China (PBOC). Most of the POS equipment in Japanese stores is multi-protocol ready so the customer NFC flavor is a moot point. For whatever reason, let’s say marketshare, VISA JP finally signed on with Apple Pay.

What changed for all those VISA JP cards already working in Apple Pay Wallet these past few years? A VISA logo, in-app payments, dual mode NFC and Payment card Express Transit:

Did you get that Sami? Hello, anybody there?

Digital Banking Wars
Seriously though, it’s sad when tech writers don’t understand the technology in the stories they write. All major Apple sites ran the same wrong story. It should have been: Visa JP Cards now fully support Apple Pay. I think journalists do everybody a great service when explaining complex stories and connecting the dots in easy to understand ways. Nobody cares, which is a shame because there were other major things going on behind the VISA JP Apple Pay announcement that even the Japanese tech media missed: the very same day, NTT Docomo and MUFG announced a joint digital banking venture.

Let’s take a closer look at that VISA JP Apple Pay announcement, specifically the issuer launch list: APLUS, Cedyna (SMBC Financial), SMBC, Docomo, MICARD, Saison, JACCS, Rakuten. Do you see MUFG? Nope. MUFG brand VISA cards will join at some point, probably, but VISA has put all their eggs in the SMBC basket, the companies are not on the friendliest of terms.

NTT Docomo and SMBC/VISA group feuded for years and called a stalemate. It was only a matter of time before NTT Docomo kicked SMBC to the curb, which they did yesterday with the MUFG joint announcement. Docomo and MUFG are going to leverage dPoint into an economic zone to rival Rakuten and SMBC/VISA V Point. It’s as simple as that. And here you thought that VISA JP announcement was only about Apple Pay. Think again, the economic zone mobile digital banking wars are just getting started.

One last bit: if you want to know the reason why it took so long for VISA JP to sign with Apple go to the SMBC V Point App page and look at the Apple Pay • Google Pay section. ApplePay is dual mode, Google Pay is EMV only. It was the power play we suspected all along: VISA wanted to kill FeliCa, Apple stuck to its NFC switching dual mode guns. For a detailed list of VISA JP cards and supported features go here.