RBC’s Digital Wallet Profiled, But Can It Ever Rival Apple Pay?

Rbc wallet

Remember that moment when CIBC and Rogers announced the “first mobile credit card transaction in Canada” on November 2, 2012? That day, the RBC team working on their own mobile wallet solution realized two things: 1) they failed to break the ice of bringing the first mobile wallet in Canada, and 2) they realized that they actually gained some time to bypass some of the obstacles Rogers’ digital wallet was facing.

The Globe and Mail has a lengthy story about RBC’s digital wallet and how it was born. The bank decided to walk its own — patented — path: instead of storing client info on SIM cards, the guys from RBC had the idea for a cloud-based digital wallet heavily relying on so-called tokenization.

The [patent] application, which sported a bland title—“Secure Processing and Storage of Payment Data”—outlined a clever system that connects smartphones to the cloud to approve and process payments. The system doesn’t require the bank to share vital and valuable customer data with retailers, phone manufacturers or wireless service providers. RBC considers it to be a world-beating new technology, one that will make the bank a global player in the processing of mobile payments.

The idea came from Edison Ortiz, an engineer with a diploma in electronic engineering, and Terry Lee, one of the fathers of Internet banking at RBC.

Despite being an elegant and clever solution, in practice it had to comply with the reference model for mobile payments endorsed by the other Canadian banks and the big telcos. Since Ortiz and Lee feared that hackers could break into the cloud system and steal sensitive data, they decided to create a system that is able to fend off hacker attacks. They succeeded by keeping telcos in the loop. The meetings with Bell were especially critical, says Linda Mantia, executive vice-president in charge of cards and payment solutions.

The result: on March 27, 2013, David McKay (group head, Personal & Commercial Banking, RBC) initiated the first contactless mobile-phone debit card transaction in Canada in a McDonald’s in Toronto. After nine months of trials and intensive testing, RBC launched its take on mobile payments with the RBC Wallet in January 2014.

Just a few days ago, Apple’s Tim Cook emphasized the success Apple Pay is having in the US, accounting for “more than $2 out of $3 spent on purchases using contactless payment across the three major U.S. card networks.” The RBC Wallet has been around for a year now, but the adoption numbers are under wraps, which means it is still waiting to catch fire. Will Apple Pay reignite the Canadian mobile payment market? or Can the RBC Wallet rival Apple Pay? That’s something only time will tell.

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