There’s no shortage of ways to pay for stuff involving a mobile phone, even if most people still reach for the coin in their pocket — rather than trying to grapple with NFC or pay-by-SMS or scan a QR code or use a mobile wallet app or stick their bank/credit card in someone else’s mobile card reader or let a retailer snap your photo. The future of money is a pretty flavourful place already and it hasn’t even properly arrived yet. In all this noise one thing’s for sure: more entrants and experimentation are inevitable before some kind of order emerges.
Case in point: today another mobile payments player has elbowed in. U.K. startup CloudZync, founded in June last year, has just launched a wallet app called Zync Wallet (on iOS and Windows Phone, with an Android app due later this year) that seeks to combine preloaded mobile payments with in-app loyalty schemes and a messaging space for customers and merchants to share info with each other — e.g. stuff like discounts and offers, from the merchant’s side, and details of a favourite drink or sandwich, from the customer’s.
CloudZync co-founder and CTO, Andrew Smith, tells TechCrunch the problem this latest mobile payments startup is trying to fix is that existing payments systems aren’t actually broken — hence retailers’ sloth in adopting the various newfangled m-payments offerings. CloudZync’s premise is that a mobile payments offering therefore needs to more than just a conduit for payments in order to make it compelling enough for retailers to get behind it. It’s not the only m-payments startup thinking along those lines — another that springs to mind is Placecast’s ShopAlerts Wallet. And of course Apple added a loyalty scheme/mobile ticketing hub to iOS last year with its Passbook feature (fully-fledged mobile payments not included, however).
Smith said CloudZync has spent a lot of time over the past year talking to merchants, small and large, about what they want from “mobile technologies”, broadening the query beyond just payments. The resulting app is, he says, a “personal communications channel” between customer and merchant which also offers a payment facility — by allowing consumers to pre-load money onto their Zync Wallet which can be spent later via the app.
“The payments industry already works… I can quite easily pay with cash, I can pay with cards as they are, so mobile really needs to be an evolution of payments — add extra value to that particular process. Just being able to pay on a mobile phone isn’t enough,” he says. “Because of this we started to look at the different things that are important to a business at the point of check-out — such as deals, such as personalised deals, such as loyalty schemes.”
The app includes a personalised pinboard where merchants’ deals, vouchers and messages can be displayed to customers. CloudZync’s merchants’ service also includes a white label loyalty scheme so retailers can set up, brand and manage their own loyalty scheme within the app.
How does Zync Wallet work for consumers wanting to make payments? The app is unlocked with a PIN code, and the user then selects an option to make a payment, which brings up a QR code for the retailer to scan. The retailer of course needs to be using the corresponding merchants’ Zync Wallet terminal app to accept payments. This app allows them to verify the buyer’s identity by checking they match their Zync Wallet account photo ID. (Attaching a photo to your Zync Wallet is currently optional in version one of the app but Smith said users will be required to upload a photo of themselves in future versions, arguing it’s an anti-fraud safeguard that merchants are likely to appreciate.)
Because consumers preload money onto the app there are no credit or debit card fees for the merchant to process — which presumably makes CloudZync’s system more attractive than similar mobile payment offerings from banks and credit card companies that levy standard payments companies’ fees. Not that CloudZync is fee-less: it gives merchants two options to pay for using its service — either a basic pay-as-you-go package or a monthly subscription.
For merchants, the PAYG option means they pay purely for each completed transaction (with the fee ranging from 5p per transaction for up to 5,000 transactions per month, to 1p if they push 5,000+ monthly payments through the app), and don’t get any of the ‘value add’ business services. Ergo, it’s just a way to take mobile payments. Or merchants can opt in to CloudZync’s full business service package — getting all the additional services, such as the messaging facility, loyalty scheme option and ability to push offers at app users — for a monthly fee that starts at £40 (+VAT) for the entry level package.
Why should consumers use this app to pay when cash/card is apparently convenient enough already? Because Zync Wallet’s merchant customers will encourage them to do so, argues Smith — by touting the deals and discounts they will be offering via the app. CloudZync is thus co-opting its business customers into marketing the (free) consumer version of the app for it — which is probably a better bet than trying to convince consumers to abandon their entrenched cash and card habit and use (yet another) app instead.
CloudZync says it has signed up 280 merchants in London for launch — ranging from coffee sellers to beauticians, hairdresser and personal trainers — although it’s not clear how many of those early adopters are subscription fee-payers vs ‘give it a go’ PAYG users. For now, CloudZync says only that it’s planning to scale up and take Zync Wallet nationwide within three months.
The startup has previously raised seed funding but is not disclosing how much it’s backed by thus far, or who it’s investors are. Smith will say only that it’s currently looking to raise a Series A. Despite the initial focus on the U.K., he claims CloudZync has grand ambitions. “At the moment our target is the U.K… but the infrastructure that we’ve built is built entirely to roll out across the globe — so we’re already looking at rolling out into the US, Canada and other areas,” he adds.