Apple Pay Cash and the matter of trust


Over more than a decade now we have seen the launch of mobile wallets and prepaid cards, the high hopes for them and an often lukewarm response from the customer, followed by a phased withdrawal. I have myself been involved in a number of launches, in roles at many different parts of the payments, banking and money transfer ecosystem. There have been clear benefits we could demonstrate for our customers, but inescapably, with each extra “pot of money” a customer creates, there is more to manage. So the benefit must be compelling.

The big question in my mind when Apple announced the launch of Apple Pay Cash in the US on December 5 was naturally, how will this product fare? Will the path we see look much like that of the Google payment card, which launched with great fanfare and soaring expectations, but just fizzled out? Apple has proven they can launch products that are accepted and can change customer behaviour, getting them to do things they never used a phone for before. So will the Apple track record be enough to carry through this new product to success and help Apple Pay Cash to succeed where others failed?

The new Apple Pay Cash card image, copyright Apple Inc.

With the growing threats from cyber security, from a myriad of digital players on a range from pesky to all out criminal, customers are increasingly on the look out for ways to transact securely while on the go. Could a prepaid card from Apple that can hold some money that you use to pay be of interest, by addressing the customers critical and growing need of trust? Apple Pay has been relatively successful in mobile payment, but research from “Apple Pay Stats” seems to indicate a plateau in uptake over the last few years.

The offer seems not too new, and by now customers should be familiar with what to do and how to do it, having used their mobile phones with PayPal, Square, Venmo and other payments and money transfer applications. The Apple Pay Cash debit card works “like a bank account”, allowing you to send and receive money on the go.

Apple has attempted to make it easy for customers to get started, but as they cross certain thresholds they are asked for more identity verification. For instance if you want to receive $500 or more your identity would be checked, but it may be checked even otherwise, based on the way Apple sets up its rules. You may choose to verify your identity upfront, for instance if you want to use it at your favourite retail store. The identity check is managed through Green Dot Bank, the Apple Pay Cash card service provider. You must provide name, address, last four digits of your Social Security number and date of birth, as of now.

If trust is to be the draw, launch timing seems really unfortunate.  We just found out that since 2016 Apple has been slowing down processes on older iPhones.  Whether this was meant to nudge customers towards buying a new phone before they planned to or was an error of judgement that lead the team to choose this as a “fix” for older batteries, trust in Apple has taken a beating. Apple has apologised,  but a clear statement on what customers may expect going forward may still be critical, to re-establish the kind of trust customers need to deepen a financial services relationship.

So the new Apple Pay Cash launches in a climate where trust in the Apple brand is not at an all-time high, while trust towards America and American brands has also taken a beating. The repeated high level data breaches in 2017 and use of our personal data as the price we pay for “free” services has left customers somewhat jaded.

Customers need brands they can trust and brands need customers, for which they must meet customer needs. As we enter 2018, for me success of every product and service will hinge on deepening trust. Trust is something customers often took for granted in the past. Now each breach is likely to cause a reaction that could take brands by surprise.

The War of the Red Envelopes in the Year of the Goat

From the land that brought some of the most remarkable inventions in the world between 2000 BC and 200 BC, such as cast iron and the suspension bridge, the new frontier for modern day innovation in 2015 is Digital Money.



There is a drama unfolding in China with continued strategies and lobbying between the top players – Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, China UnionPay, the banks, the regulators and others. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each large group is assembling their “armies” – a number of different companies, groups of companies and partnerships that will help them obtain dominion over the fast evolving digital money market.

We will soon be in the midst of one of the greatest migrations in the world, as Chinese from around the world travel home to celebrate the Year of the Goat. While I wish my dear Chinese friends a wonderful New Year, I am keenly interested to see who will win the War of the Red Envelopes or 'Hong Bao' as it is called.

What is Hong Bao?

In China it is a very important tradition to gift money in red envelopes to children and younger members of your friends and family. The envelopes are red, as are most things associated with the Chinese New Year.

Last year, for the Chinese New Year, Tencent's WeChat (similar to WhatsApp) stole a march over Alipay by launching a viral and hugely enjoyable way to gift red envelopes electronically.

Tencent's WeChat got 5 million customers to send over 75 million red envelopes within 24 hours, through an electronic substitute for the centuries old tradition of Hong Bao.

This was just one in a string of digital money initiatives from the Internet Tech Giants of China. However it was highly significant in terms of gaining adoption for the WePay mobile wallet service.

What made Tencent's Hong Bao click?

In the year when the mobile internet overtook the PC internet in China, the market was just ripe for this service and Tencent pulled off a classic marketing promotion.

For me, the primary innovation was in the manner of embedding this into normal social interactions that had soared in popularity, not just in urban areas but across most of China.

The second innovation was in offering an alternative means of paying by getting people to link in their bank accounts, something we may find commonplace in the West but was quite an achievement in China at that time. Of course, now WePay had customers with means of paying, not just for the New Year but as a strong base for all the various services they launched subsequently. In 2014, China became the largest online retail market in the world, and many of the transactions now take place using smartphones.

And of course last, but by no means least was the way that the giving of Hung Bao was turned into a game. As my dear friend Michelle Zou explained to me, it was great fun for her to send money this way as an element of suspense was introduced in the way the allocated money was shared out between the designated receivers of red envelopes.

How did Tencent build on this success?

Soon after the New Year Tencent established the Weixin Group on May 6, 2014 and rebranded to create Weixin Payment services.

Last month WePay’s WeBank became the first online private bank to launch in China. One step led to another and an important first step was their New Year Hung Bao service.

So what could we expect this Chinese New Year?

So what may competitor Alibaba do this year? Their recently created ANT Financial Services Group (that includes Alipay) is well poised to counter this success. Alibaba has many significant achievements as I've described in my previous posts, and the group is shortly to launch their own private online bank.

How will competitors stay in the centre of Chinese New Year celebrations? And will one of the many other new third party payment providers (our report out this week describes 264 licenses/extensions) also have some tricks up their sleeves.

We'll know soon enough, and it is bound to be interesting.

  • Have you tried the new Hung Bao services?
  • Has anyone outside China thought of doing this for the extensive communities around the world?
  • What innovations do you expect to happen this year?
  • Have you seen a mobile wallet that achieved similar traction to what Tencent managed last year? I believe such adoption rates are very hard to achieve.
  • Would you use electronic red envelopes, or must it be cash?

I would love to hear your thoughts!


viewport_china_2015 We are proud to announce that our latest Viewport “Digital Money in China 2015” has just been launched this week. Do drop me a line at to know more about this report that is not just relevant to those doing business in China but is a must-read for anyone interested in the fast evolving Fintech, Payments and Financial Services markets.

Check out our “Focus on China” posts created in honour of The Year of the Dog, Chinese New Year 2015. Happy New Year to all our valued Chinese customers and friends around the world!

Why I wrote The Digital Money Game

Thanks for the outpouring of support to me, on the publishing of my first book, The Digital Money Game, now available on Amazon sites around the world. After I last shared about it, A number of you asked me what made me want to write this book, so I’d like to say a bit about this today.

DMGCoverWhen I strayed into the world of payments, after being in Telecoms for many years, it opened my eyes to so many new possibilities. This was around 2005 and it seemed to be a no-brainer for a telecoms operator to build new revenue streams from payments.

This proved elusive though. Firstly it was a personal challenge to try to understand so many new areas all at once, and then be able to position the business case to top management in a way that communicated both opportunities and risks. All of us had spent our lives in Telecoms, IT and non-Payments functions, and we had to rapidly understand Payments, E-Money, Regulations, Prepaid, Cash Networks and all this across multiple geographies.

Regulations did not help. At the time I blamed myself, thinking there was something more I could do. Ten years later, having worked with a world leading bank and the largest money transfer operator in the world, I got to understand regulations so much better. Now I KNOW there was little else I could do: One depends on regulators, who themselves have such a difficult time coping with the large number of changes, with a heavy burden of responsibility on their shoulders.

The truth is, this is all new. We are all learning. But that doesn’t take away the stress of not knowing, as so many of you across the world would agree! I wish I had had someone to tell me what was happening, how it would affect me and what I needed to know to stay ahead. I wanted practical cases I could learn from, and reassurance that this was an exciting space to build a new career.

This is my chance to make that wish a reality for others, by sharing the lessons I learnt and offering some tips from over 10 years I have spent launching services of the different kinds discussed in this book. I hope it will help you in some small way, to reinforce decisions you have to make, to help you to put your case forward to management and most of all to feel good about yourself and what you are achieving in this highly competitive and changing space.

I would love to hear your feedback. Did this book help you? What further questions did it raise?

Click here to go to the Amazon site. To your right you will see a green panel suggesting the most convenient online store for you. Do let me know if you face any difficulty getting access.

The Digital Money Game– a multi-trillion dollar industry emerges



I have great pleasure in announcing the launch of my new book, The Digital Money Game. I describe the multi-trillion dollar emerging industry I term “Digital Money” from the perspective of very many different industries. It is not just meant for payment experts in large organisations, but for anyone who wants to understand how people pay, and how this is changing in each part of the world.


The penetration of mobile phones and smartphones is transforming the way in which consumers interact with brands and greatly facilitates a move towards non-cash payments around the world. To play the game properly though, one needs to understand the changes in a much wider set of fundamentals - identity, security, authentication, regulations, technologies and more, so as to create appropriate vision that goes across channels, services and market segments. That way you have a more effective roadmap with respect to new entrants, and a better chance that what you plan now will still be relevant when your projects go live. I share more about why I wrote The Digital Money Game here.


The book is based on Shift Thought research in markets around the world, and my interviews with experts from all the different industries that now participate in payments and financial services. I did my first set of interviews in July 2011. Four years later, the wisdom that they, and countless others shared with me has helped to shape this book. This is the first book in The Digital Money Series and we are currently working on others in the series.

Since then I have learnt so much from so many conversations that unfortunately it is impossible to thank each one of you by name – I hope you will recognize your contributions when you read the book!


The book is designed to help you to spot opportunities and gain confidence and insights to channel your work in a way that benefits you, and the markets you serve. It addresses multiple functional areas and levels: Chief Executives, Technologists, Business Development, Market Development and Product Development executives from Banking, Cards, Money Transfer, Telecoms, Payments, Technology, Retail, and Venture Financing Industries.

The digital money approach described in this book can help you create products and services that are secure, convenient and empowering to a whole range of consumers and merchants, across a variety of channels. The goal is to create a shift in thinking – from merely addressing the new opportunity provided by mobile phones, to launching holistic services that build solid brands.


My book is available on Amazon stores around the world, priced in local currency and immediately accessible as an  Amazon Kindle download that works across Kindle for PC and a host of commonly used devices. In case it says “Pricing information not available” just look to the right of the screen to select the Amazon site in your country.

In the first 2 days that the book has been available I am delighted to say that it has already been bought from many countries around the world. Thank you so very much for your support and kind words.


Have you bought my book? I would love to have your feedback and can direct you to further resources that may be of interest. Do drop me a line at

A digital wallet-fuelled disruptive model disrupts London traffic

Around the world the way people pay for travel is changing as people pay without pulling out a wallet. But does this work for everyone? In London this month chaos reigned as the London black cabs protested over the Uber app. This app works so well for passengers and for the new breed of private vehicles that use it that it cuts to the heart of the London back cab model, a business model that dates back to 1834. Although incumbents know that change is on the cards, it is not always easy to adjust.


London, UK – June the 11th 2014. The height of the tourist season in historic London. But I’m glad I was not out on the town that day. Here is what tourists generally enjoy.

By Arriva436 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Sadly this picture of tourist heaven was rudely shattered when the black cabs went on strike. Who were they protesting against and what were they protesting about? Why did they have to strike to get their voices heard?

Horses disrupted

Back in 1834, London black cabs themselves disrupted horse drawn carriages, the first hackney-carriage licenses that date back to 1662. UK regulations define a hackney carriage as a taxicab allowed to ply the streets looking for passengers to pick up. The Uber app targets their competitors, the private hire vehicles (sometimes called minicabs), which may pick up only passengers who have previously booked or who visit the taxi operator's office.

The coming of the digital wallet

At Shift Thought we term 2011 as the year of the digital wallet. In the transport world we saw the launch of digital hailing applications for cabs in many parts of the world, including USA, India, China, Canada and even Azerbaijan. These operate through smartphones and include not just Uber, but a number of other such services GetTaxi and Hailo. Many of these applications also facilitate payment and tracking of the taxicabs. They are made possible because of the new access that consumers have through smartphones and digital wallet payment mechanisms.

The Uber App

The Uber App provided to private minicabs aims to provide a seamless experience to travellers, to enhance the experience of travelling through London. You can see how much a trip is expected to cost and book it with your smartphone app. You can see who will pick you up and when, on a map. Yet you don’t need to pull out your wallet to pay.  It’s a card-on-file application that means no cash changes hands. Just one of the ways in which travel is going cashless in London.

A marketplace for cabs

Just as eBay created a marketplace for buyers and sellers on the Internet, and Amazon lets us sell those books we no longer need, the Uber App and others like it empower a new category of providers, lowering the entry barrier and letting the new entrants create massive value for customers.

Let’s relook at the framework of the “7 Cs”, a model we at Shift Thought created back in 2011, to consider how to build services that please both consumers and merchants.



The Uber app ticks many of the boxes for the consumers and for the new set of cabbies it serves. A journey across London cost a mystery passenger from the half the price of a black cab. For private cabs, it requires much less knowledge of streets as there is an app for that.  It makes it easy for passengers to get a cab, trust a cab and make payments. I wondered if tips were down. Perhaps the new app does not make it easy to tip? But no, in actual fact a default tip of 20% is automatically added by the intelligent designers of this app. Here is what Uber advises on Tipping :



So merchants and happy. And customers are happy: Well those who travel regularly enough to use the app and have a payment card that they can register. The Uber app is like Oyster-on-steroids as it is tightly linked to an inexhaustible supply of real money. Created by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, Uber now operates in 37 countries.

Unfortunately it leaves the incumbent merchants, our existing highly experienced London black cabs feeling “short changed”.

So what can those disrupted do?

There are no easy answers. The immediate course of action London black cabs are taking is to argue that calculating the final cost only after the journey is complete is a metered ride, only allowed for black cabs. This does not unfortunately address the issues at the heart of what’s really causing them pain. And this is the case in the 36  other countries where Uber operates. Will we see the demise of the talented cab driver who knows London like the back of her hand? Like horse carriages, will these be the “premium rides” we only take as a treat, and to remember the good old days? 

Come join our Digital Money (open) group on Linked in to have your say on this. Are you the disruptor or the disrupted in the Digital Money Game that’s being played out around the world? Check out the 1900+ examples of new payment methods that we share on this portal.

If you’d like to know more about the Shift Thought Digital Money model and framework just pop us a note at . We shared our recent research through presentations just delivered at the London PayExpo 2014:

(1) Digital Money in Retail

(2) Mobile Money around the world

Let us know if you would like a copy!

Digital Money in Retail –3 years on, where are the digital wallets now?–Blog 1

In mid 2011 we saw the launch/announcements regarding digital wallets from Google, Visa, MasterCard, American Express and many more. Would this mean the end of PayPal’s 10 year domination of this space? 3 years down the line let’s take a look at how these digital wallets fared.



In Mid-2011, led by Google Wallet, digital wallets became the new kid on the block. Shift Thought defines these as customer accounts that can hold stored value and allow users to make electronic commerce transactions.

It was recently reported that Google has no intention of giving up on its slow-growing wallet service or mobile payments, and amusingly it was reported “We have been doing this for a while ..And we’ll continue to keep doing this for a long while.”. By “this” I am sure they do not mean growing the wallet slowly. This piqued my curiosity. Where are the digital wallets now? What are the gains and losses?

In March 2014 Eat24, a restaurant delivery app which integrated with Google end November 2013, reported customers spend an average of 11% more when paying with Google Wallet. Subway was one of the first to accept the Google Wallet, offering the option in 5 markets since 2011. Jack in the Box also started testing Google Wallet in 35 of its restaurants in the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets in November 2011.

Now Google is reportedly changing the way they support contactless payments on the newest versions of Androids. This seems a good time to share our research on how each of the different digital wallets announced in mid-2011 have fared since then.

I’d like to share a bit about the landscape at the time when they launched, as a backdrop for discussing how this has changed, and the main initiatives we see today. In 2011, I created the figure below to explain in one page what the Digital Money ecosystem looked like then.image

There were 7 billion consumers making payments in the world at the time, which included payments between each other (P2P), to and from governments (P2G/G2P) and corporates (P2B/B2P). The figure shows the main industries and players that supported such payments.

In that year banks and money transfer operators were joined by new entrants to create a vastly different competitive market for payments. Alipay and Paypal led the world at the time, but expectations were high for the new Google wallet which offered a business model based on ‘Google Offers’, a targeted sales mechanism that sent promotions to smartphones. This was a scheme by which consumers and merchants benefited, but it raised concerns about personal data.

In the next blog posts I will look in more detail at each of the industries in this figure to see how they have moved on since 2011.