When JPMorgan Chase & Co. said this week it was shutting its Chase Pay app, it was a sign of struggles — and opportunities — for banks and tech firms as Americans lag the world in paying for stuff with their smartphones.
The winding down of Chase Pay , a mobile wallet app for in-store purchases, cedes ground to competitors including Apple Pay, which is used by as many as 43% of global iPhone users, according to an estimate by venture capital firm Loup Ventures. Launched in 2015, Chase Pay will still work on participating websites and merchant apps, which the company says is used by 51 million “digitally active” Chase customers.
Chase also announced Wednesday that customers can soon use Chase Pay in Grubhub apps and with other apps and merchants.
The best prospect for Chase Pay is through a button featured directly on retailers’ websites and apps, Eric Connolly, who leads the product, told Barron’s on Wednesday.
But that will not be an easy task. It’s the kind of offering that has become nearly synonymous with PayPal, whose “buy button” is supported by an industry-leading 69.5% of online retailers, according to PYMNTS.com. Apple, meanwhile, launched the Apple Card to all U.S. customers, with perks including 3% cash back.
The significance of Chase’s decision is complicated by the byzantine e-wallet space. In the U.S. alone, the mobile wallet market pits large tech companies and financial institutions against FinTech startups and, increasingly, retailers.
Consumers can choose between native smartphone apps, such as Apple Pay or Android Pay, and options from tech giants like Square (through the Cash App) and PayPal, which owns Venmo. Citi and JPMorgan Chase are among banks that rolled out their own apps in recent years, sometimes operated on secondary wallets from networks like MasterCard. Merchants ranging from CVS to Wendy’s are also using dedicated payment apps.
“In terms of the broader ecosystem, I believe that customer behavior will gravitate towards one of two methods for checkout/payment: the platform wallet (i.e. Google, Apple) or Paypal,” Scott Harkey, head of strategy and payments at the IT consulting firm Levvel, said in an email. “The platforms can ultimately offer the most integrated experience and could build partnerships to offer loyalty and other incentives to the customer.”
Chase Pay’s demise raises the key question of whether Americans are really ready to adapt such a payment option, or whether they will remain behind the rest of the world.
The consulting firm Capgemini’s 2018 World Payments Report, released last October, showed a stark divide in where mobile payments are growing. Of the estimated 41.8 billion worldwide transactions conducted via e-wallets in 2016, more than 38% took place in China alone, thanks in part to the lack of other financial infrastructure.
“In America we have a very well-entrenched payment system that works with cash, credit cards, and debit cards,” said David True, a partner at PayGility Advisors, a payments and FinTech consulting firm. “For paying at a point-of-sale, there’s not a lot of incremental value to it. The places where paying with a phone is needed are places where it does something that can’t be done through another way.”
For impact investors, one message is clear: digital-payments growth, for the moment, can be found in emerging markets.
E-wallet transactions are particularly attractive for consumers who lack access to traditional financial services. Up to 1.7 billion adults are unbanked, according to a 2018 report from the World Bank, but two-thirds of them own a mobile phone. The financial services gap has been narrowing considerably—in part thanks to the adoption of mobile payments, a global market that still has ample room to grow.
The share of adults in sub-Saharan Africa with a mobile money account has doubled since 2014, but there are almost 95 million more who get paid in cash for agricultural products and would benefit from such accounts. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are 30 million unbanked, the vast majority of whom have a mobile phone.
As JPMorgan withdraws from part of the U.S. mobile space, a rival is looking to expand abroad. This week, Reuters reported that the Facebook-owned WhatsApp is in talks to offer mobile transaction services in Indonesia, which already boasts 100 million users of the messaging app. WhatsApp Pay recently moved closer to a reality in India, which will soon be a $1 trillion market.
“There are other parts of Asia where it will catch on,” said True, the payments consultant. “It will be where you don’t have card acceptance already, and people are moving to something like the QR codes that you see with WeChat Pay and Alipay.”
If the American market remains slow to embrace mobile payments, there are millions of customers elsewhere who will oblige.