Have a Good Cashless: 2019 Contactless Payment Trends in Japan and Beyond

Happy New Year! May 2019 be a great year for everybody. It will certainly be a very interesting one for contactless payments and Apple Pay: now that Apple has officially acknowledged that smartphone sales have peaked out, expanding services like Apple Pay and growing service revenue, is more important than ever. Contactless payments in Japan will be fascinating to watch as various payment networks and technologies vie for market share in an already crowded market that is heating up before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

If you don’t know anything about Japanese contactless payments, here is a handy intro presentation video Going Cashless in Japan made by Michael Sunderland during his internship at Tokyo FinTech Association. It’s not fancy or deep but covers the basics well such as why cash is so important in Japan. One important observation is that every country has its own money culture, so there will never be a ‘one size fits all’ solution. As I have always said, people don’t go cashless and use contactless payments like Apple Pay for buying a couch or a TV, they start using Apple Pay for coffee, sandwiches and train tickets, then migrate up from there. Here are some trends to keep an eye on in 2019, a year that may see some real progress in going cashless.

The 10% Consumption Tax
The #1 issue this year for Japan is the October 1 consumption tax hike from 8% to 10%. The Japanese government is still working on the details but the shape of it looks messy and stimulating. It has the potential to kickstart a cash to cashless transformation leading up the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and beyond. There are 2 main components of the package:

  • Point rebates for purchases made with cashless payment effectively reducing the tax down to 5% depending on the type of store. For example a customer who purchases items with Apple Pay Suica would pay the 10% consumption tax at the cash register but receive 5% back as JRE POINT.
  • Subsidies to smaller businesses and merchants to subsidize contactless payment equipment (readers, POS systems, etc) leading up to the 2020 Olympics.

JiJi News reported a preliminary list of 14 companies supposedly under consideration by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to carry out the point rebate program with more to come. Here is the initial list with comments for each section.

Credit Cards
Mitsubishi UFJ NICOS
Sumitomo Mitsui Card Co
UC CARD Co
JCB

Trend: The Kyash Visa prepaid card was easily the most innovative product from the credit card side in 2018 in a market already full of prepaid cards, the biggest advantage being person to person transfers that other mainstream prepaid cards do not, as yet, offer. Meanwhile Visa JP is busy sending mixed signals: they offer dual function EMV contactless/FeliCa plastic cards but still refuse to provide NFC switching services on Apple Pay and Google Pay for outbound Visa card users, a service that Mastercard, AMEX and JCB are providing. 2019 will probably be a holding pattern but could see some big gains with NFC Pay (EMV contactless) with major retail chains. Apple Pay can gain some traction by adding JCB branded Line Pay prepaid cards that are available in convenience stores and popular with younger customers. 

E-money/Prepaid Cards
WAON
nanaco
Suica
Rakuten Edy

Trend: Unless Apple Pay finally offers the remaining top-tier prepaid cards that are already on Google Pay (WAON, nanaco, Edy) there won’t be much action. JR East will roll out a Shinkansen e-ticket service for all Transit IC cards in April, the JR East version of SmartEX. Outside of that I don’t see anything new this year or even 2020. At least not until the Super Suica format arrives in early 2021 which will unify all the Japan Transit IC cards and get them on mobile.

QR Codes
Origami Pay
Line Pay
PayPay

Trend: Everybody and their uncle setup a QR Code payment system in 2018, creating smartphone apps and frantically building payment platforms like prospectors in a gold rush, all based on capturing merchants supposedly attracted by the allure of low transaction fees and minimal hardware investment. This will continue in 2019 and Japan will have “a QR Code payment app for that” for just about everything from convenience stores (FamiPay) to vending machines. Like prospectors of old the majority will end up bust. The real question is will Japanese customers actually use QR Codes again. The PayPay security meltdown poisoned the well already and merchants aren’t happy either: PayPay has mistakenly (?) listed business as accepting PayPay when they don’t, leaving customers irate with merchants when they really should be angry with PayPay. It’s a new form of blackmail. Last but not least don’t expect METI to add Chinese QR Code AliPay or WeChat Pay to the point rebate list.

Transaction Processing
Rakuten
Coiney
Square

Trend: Subsidized payment terminal hardware for smaller businesses is a good start but real change will require the right balance of lower processing rates and ease of integration/operation. Right now there are far too many POS systems that require double entry, once for the cash register, once for the cashless payment terminal. This must be eliminated and the entire transaction process ruthlessly streamlined for smaller businesses. Rakuten, Coiney, Flight Holdings, J-Mups and many others are marketing low-cost, easy to use payment terminals but they need to do a better job of making everything work together as a seamless whole.

Apple Pay
Apple can grow Apple Pay use in Japan by filling the gaps in the top-tier prepaid card lineup: WAON, nanaco, EDY, and work to get 2nd tier prepaid cards like Dotour onboard which don’t exist on digital wallets yet. Cards like Dotour would play very well as one year exclusive deals. There are big opportunities with Value Added Service (VAS) reward cards beyond Ponta as well such as T-Point and JRE POINT. Google Pay is well ahead of Apple in the reward cards area and they need to catch up.


Apple Pay VP Jennifer Bailey recently said that Apple Pay is doing well in Japan and has identified customer loyalty programs, access (contactless passes, hotel key cards, etc.) and transit as key growth areas worldwide. Smart Octopus will be arriving on Apple Pay soon thanks to Apple’s global FeliCa strategy and the expired Samsung Pay one year exclusive. The soon to open Hanoi Metro will also use FeliCa IC cards. Taiwan’s EasyCard and South Korea’s T-money are MIFARE based cards that could be added Apple Pay now that the technology is supported in iOS 12.

The opportunities are there, it’s simply a matter of how aggressively Apple goes after the business.

Advertisements

PAYGATE Station Android based smart payment reader

It’s rather unusual that a company would hold a press conference for a payment terminal but Daiwa House Group subsidiary Royal Gate Inc did just that last week for their new PAYGATE Station smart reader. Japanese IT journalist Satoshi Tanaka covered the rollout for IT Media.

The ‘thin client’ mobile Android based smart reader handles every payment protocol there is.

Contactless: EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE
Hardware: EMV IC, Magnetic stripe
QR Codes: D-Harai, Pay Pay, Line Pay, Ali Pay, WeChat Pay, Origami Pay, Rakuten Pay
Reward Cards: D-Point, Ponta, Rakuten

GMO Payment Gateway provides the payments processing backend for Royal Gate and Daiwa House Financial handles the business client support side. The product video shows the business target: small cafes, restaurants, boutiques. With the ever-widening rollout of EMV contactless and QR Code payments, Japan is turning into a very interesting and unique intersection point of Western EMV payments, home-grown FeliCa and China market driven QR Code payment schemes.

I don’t think having home grown QR Code payment systems around is a bad thing even though most Japanese don’t use them. The value is that it gives Japanese banks and companies a bargaining tool to use with Apple, Google, Amazon, Alibaba Group and WeChat. Never get in a sword fight without a sword.

New NFC Pay Readers for J Mups and CardNet

New NFC Pay / EMV contactless capable readers are being deployed on J Mups systems along with the necessary backend support for VISA / Mastercard / American Express / J Speedy EMV contactless transactions. The flaky old FeliCa only but Apple Pay Suica Express Card dumb JREM readers are being swapped out with ultra reliable Panasonic JT R550CR units.

The finicky UT1-Neo readers used by CardNet systems will also be gradually replaced with new EMV capable UT-X10 readers with the necessary EMV backend support that CardNet announced back in 2015. The current installed base of UT1-Neo readers is 200,000. Hopefully the migration to the new NFC Pay capable devices will not take too long.

J Mups and CardNet are very popular payment systems for smaller Japanese retailers and shops.

Contactless Payments White Paper

The Secure Technology Alliance White Paper Contactless Payments: Proposed Implementation Recommendations is an interesting read, not only for what it says but for finding out what’s on the collective mind of the credit card industry.

Here is a quick look…
<with comments>

About the Secure Technology Alliance
The Secure Technology Alliance is a not-for-profit, multi-industry association working to stimulate the understanding, adoption and widespread application of secure solutions, including smart cards, embedded chip technology, and related hardware and software across a variety of markets including authentication, commerce and Internet of Things (IoT)

<forget all the other shit, Secure Technology Alliance is a credit card EMV promotion society>

2.2 Contactless Acceptance Terminal Considerations
Contactless payments are not new. Contactless payments relying on magnetic stripe data (MSD) have been available since 2005. However, as the U.S. transitions to EMV, some payment networks are no longer recommending contactless MSD solutions. Moreover, some EMV contactless cards are being deployed without contactless MSD support, which can cause interoperability issues or cause a transaction to be terminated and processed using the EMV chip or magnetic stripe.

<contactless MSD is a crappy half-assed stopgap standing in the way of progress that nobody uses except Samsung Pay, get rid of it already>

2.2.4 Recommendations Figure 1. Enabling a Contactless Terminal at the Checkout

• Contactless terminals should be customer-facing
<duh>

• Customers should not need to tell cashiers how they intend to pay
<in a perfect world NFC is EMV contactless exclusively without complications from annoying FeliCa or MIFARE and credit card companies are the de facto treasury departments for all advanced nations of the world>

• The contactless terminal should always be switched on and ready to use; the cashier should not need to switch it on
<WTF, this is a recommendation?>

• The cashier should not need to enter the amount twice; the amount should be automatically displayed on the terminal

<oh I get it now, we’re talking about American cash register infrastructure>

2.3 Cardholder Experience: Different Contactless Form Factors
When performing contactless transactions, consumers already use a variety of form factors—contactless cards, mobile wallets on phones, wearables (such as watches, rings, or key fobs)—and there may be additional options in the future. While the “tapping” procedure to initiate the transaction should be the same regardless of form factor, other consumer behavior may not be consistent, especially when using a wallet on a mobile phone.

<I see, smartphone wallets with their own secure authentication are a problem, contactless credit card things with 4 PINs and meaningless terminal signatures are not a problem>

Transactions initiated using a mobile phone involve a two-step process: first, the wallet is activated (using an authentication method such as a biometric,4 PIN, or pattern); second, the phone is placed in proximity to the POS device for the contactless read.

Generally, however, the authentication mechanism used as the cardholder verification method (CVM) will be the consumer device cardholder verification method (CDCVM). CDCVM uses a mobile phone’s passcode or biometric user authentication to verify the cardholder for a payment transaction, removing the need for the cardholder to enter a PIN or provide a signature. Such use can result in an inconsistent consumer experience; sometimes a cardholder may be required to provide a PIN or signature on the terminal (for example, if the contactless terminal does not support CDCVM) and sometimes no verification will be required. However, as consumers become more familiar with the process and as older terminal functionality is replaced with newer technology, there should be fewer inconsistencies. In addition, note that, at this time, some networks may not support CDCVM with their U.S. common debit AID, which may result in inconsistent consumer experience for debit transactions.

 <blah, blah, blah, in other words credit card companies and payment networks will do as little as possible to clean up their own mess and blame somebody else for their problems, what else is new>

3.3 Contactless POS Infrastructure and Acceptance
Contactless acceptance is a major trend globally, with a significant percentage of POS terminals supporting contactless. The following are some key published market statistics:
• According to Juniper Research18 (Figure 5, Figure 6), 31.6% of all terminals in service in North America are contactless; North America accounts for 19.6% of the global installed base of contactless POS terminals.
• Visa has reported that, as of September 2017, 40% of U.S. face-to-face Visa transactions today occur at contactless-enabled locations, that a growing percentage of merchants are enabling contactless.

<wait a minute, what about that North America 19.6% figure? Contactless POS Terminals in Service as a Proportion of All POS Terminals: Asia: 43.6%, Western Europe: 14.3%, North America: 19.6%, we don’t want to talk about context here do we? Too embarrassing>

And the grand finale:

3.5 Open Loop Contactless Payments in Transit
Transit agencies are moving, or considering moving, to open payments with next generation fare payment systems—that is, credit and debit payments made using contactless EMV devices at transit points of entry (e.g., at fare gates, on buses)— to supplement traditional closed-loop acceptance. As noted in Section 2.5, consumer use of contactless payments for transit can help drive incremental transactions and top-of-wallet status for cards. Issuers contemplating transit as a factor in their contactless decisions should be aware that the specific timing for implementing transit open payments within a given region can have some uncertainty. In addition to the schedule impact of procurement and implementation timeframes, issuers should note that transit agencies interested in open payments may also consider the current state of contactless issuance and other relevant factors in their decision- making process.
Other relevant considerations include the following:
• As the market for open payments in transit is still emerging, the content of the authorization/settlement messages sent from different agency back-end systems may not be consistent.
• Transit merchants may require functionality that addresses transaction times and risk, such as offline data authentication (ODA) and/or deferred (or delayed) authorization.

<translation: credit card companies are falling over each other to get into transit and sucker convince transit operators into junking closed ticketing systems. Credit card companies have no interest in ticketing infrastructure outside of skimming their take. Let transit operators spend tax payer money doing all the back-end work and dealing with problems. Let them deal with transit user ire over slow EMV contactless transactions at overcrowded transit gates or when credit cards are de-activated in mid transit.>

What a sweet deal.

Dead HCE-F, Global NFC ≠ Global FeliCa, and Other NFC Confusion

Apple Pay Stacks Explained
A simplified look at the major parts of a NFC contactless payment system like Apple Pay

NFC is a confusing name. It’s an upside down umbrella that catches every single naming convention connected with it: Type A, Type F, EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, etc.  There are also all those smartphone platform and credit card company brand names built on NFC technology: Apple Pay, Google Pay, NFC Pay, Mastercard Contactless, etc. Companies have greatly added to the confusion changing brand names on a whim: Visa PayWave is now Visa Contactless, Google Pay was Android Pay and Google Wallet before that.

The confusion is perfectly captured by the ever-growing collection of acceptance marks cluttering up Japanese cash register counters.

How do you keep it straight? It helps to remember that NFC is just hardware.

NFC Certification = Global NFC
NFC-A and NFC-F support is required for NFC Forum certification for a device. NFC means NFC-A + NFC-F. NFC-B is optional. All NFC smart devices are Global NFC devices capable of supporting all NFC based payment systems. The street reality is they don’t because smart device manufacturers pick and choose what middleware they support. Everybody supports EMV but manufacturers pick and choose different middleware stacks for different models and different countries.

Global NFC ≠ Global FeliCa
Google’s Pixel 2 a perfect example of a Global NFC device that doesn’t do FeliCa because Google did not choose to license FeliCa middleware. Google also muddied the Android water considerably with the Google Pay Japan rollout that proves HCE-F is dead: Google Pay Japan is just an alternative front end sprinkled on top of existing Osaifu-Keitai middleware. We’ll see what Google cooks up for Pixel 3 but I suspect Google wants to have cake and eat it too: something like Real Google Pay for Pixel 3, Google Pay Lite for everybody else.

Apple on the other hand sells Global FeliCa iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch 3 worldwide. Inbound visitors to Japan with those devices can add a Suica card with all the benefits to Apple Pay. Inbound Android users are left in the cold feeling confused which is a shame.

It would be much better for customers if smart device manufacturers bundled all the major middleware stacks (EMV, FeliCa, MIFARE, China Transit, CEPAS) and simply called it Global NFC. Real Global NFC.

Until the industry does a better job of integrating NFC hardware and the various middleware pieces into a virtual whole, NFC confusion will continue to be a problem.