The Apple Pay/CurrentC Battle Is Still A Ways Away

The geek world has been fired up this week about the decision from a group of high-profile retailers (Walmart, CVS, Best Buy, Rite-Aid and others) to disable NFC payments (including Apple Pay) from their store registers. This decision would appear to be fueled by the fact that all of these retailers are working on an alternative product called CurrentC.

It’s hard to fault retailers for taking this action. If they are hoping to release an alternative product (and CurrentC is an alternative since it doesn’t use NFC) then it’s best not to let people get used to better alternatives first. And there is no doubt that Apple Pay, Google Wallet and other NFC-driven payment systems are much better for consumers. Much (digital) ink has already been spilled about the downfalls of CurrentC, so there is no reason to rehash all of them other than to say that the multiple steps involved will likely scare off many people, and the direct access to a bank account required will scare off a bunch more.

The problem with CurrentC is the execution, not the the concept. The concept is essentially to replace the debit card with an app. It’s not a credit card replacement though, which is why the decision to block NFC devices is so curious. In order to use something like CurrentC, a person would have to have the funds in their account at the time. The problem is that a lot of younger people use credit cards all the time, even if they pay them off every month. They offer protection that direct bank account access doesn’t. And if a credit card account is compromised, it’s much less painful for a consumer than getting a new bank account would be.

Unfortunately it sounds like the main reason retailers want to push CurrentC is so that they can remove credit card companies from the equation. These credit card companies charge fees for transactions that the retailers have to pay. But handing over bank account information to retailers, especially ones like Target, who already proved they can’t protect data, won’t be something most people are willing to do.

But all of this conversation is way ahead of the game. Even Apple Pay isn’t really real at the moment. It’s only available on the iPhone 6/6+, and it’s not accepted everywhere. There doesn’t seem to be people talking about Google Wallet all the time so presumably that isn’t all that widely used yet either. Credit Cards aren’t accepted everywhere still. And certain credit cards (like Discover and American Express) aren’t accepted even at places that take Visa and Mastercard. And because this is tied to a phone, that has to be working and charged, this is far from a safe enough solution for consumers to be relying on for more than just sporadic payments.

So while the decision by retailers to not accept Apple Pay is stupid, and the implementation of CurrentC is even stupider, none of this really matters yet. This technology has to become more mainstream (at least a year, probably two) before it’s more than a bunch of people living on the cutting edge getting riled up for nothing. The market will dictate everything, there just isn’t a market yet.