MCX postpones rollout of Apple Pay rival CurrentC, lays off 30, will focus on bank deals

As merchants like Walmart move ahead on their own mobile payment strategies, a consortium that once counted Walmart — along with a number of other big retailers and brands — behind it, has taken a step back. Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) today announced it would postpone a nationwide rollout of CurrentC, a smartphone payment initiative originally conceived as a mobile wallet rival to smartphone-led services like Apple Pay and Android Pay. As a result, MCX said it would lay off 30 people as it shifted its focus to working with financial institutions.

A statement from MCX CEO Brian Mooney noted that the company would forge ahead instead on partnerships with banks like Chase:

“Utilizing unique feedback from the marketplace and our Columbus pilot, MCX has made a decision to concentrate more heavily in the immediate term on other aspects of our business including working with financial institutions, like our partnership with Chase, to enable and scale mobile payment solutions. As part of this transition, MCX will postpone a nationwide rollout of its CurrentC application. As MCX has said many times, the mobile payments space is just beginning to take shape – it is early in a long game. MCX’s owner-members remain committed to our future.

As a result, MCX will need fewer resources. This change has resulted in staff reduction of approximately 30 employees. These are very tough decisions, but necessary steps. For those employees leaving us, we want to thank our colleagues for their hard work and dedication to MCX over the last several years.”

The Columbus pilot Mooney refers to was in place with nine retailers — including Walmart, CVS, Target and more — with dozens of others preparing to add their names to the mix.

A spokesperson for MCX would not provide any further detail on the timeline, if any, except to stress the “long game” in payments.

There was a lot of noise about CurrentC when it was first revealed in 2014 as a joint effort from dozens of large and small retailers after what looked like years of planning. The thinking was that these retailers could develop their own payment services to avoid credit card transaction fees and to keep the likes of Apple and Google out of the equation when it came to payment relationships with their customers.

But the writing on the wall may have been there for CurrentC and MCX for a while now: The company was supposed to roll out service in 2015, but then there were reports last August that it would be pushed back to this year. There was also a cloud over the technology that underpinned CurrentC. Originally its payment service was based on QR Codes at a time when others were swapping to faster, secure NFC-based “contactless” solutions; later MCX said it would position itself as technology-agnostic.

While the consortium has been plagued with delays in its development, retailers effectively defected from the effort by working on their own solutions and offering interoperability with other third-party services like Apple Pay. CurrentC also faced a number of controversies — perhaps most notably user privacy breaches after the service was hacked.

At the same time, the rest of the payments industry has continued to evolve: The largest businesses, like Walmart, have been developing their own services. Existing mobile wallets like Apple Pay have continued their expansion globally, while other large payment businesses have consolidated their position.

Notably, Paydiant, the company that powered the CurrentC application for MCX, got acquired by PayPal last year — and that too may have left a question mark over how it would be developed going forward. On top of all this, there is a general commoditization afoot in payments, and white label solutions — such as this one from WePay announced today — are becoming more widespread.

In that context, it’s very unsurprising that efforts that are costly or clunky (or both) are getting abandoned.