Category: Payments

Curve launch – The embodiment of the Faster Plastic Horse?

Following on from my recent post about Faster Plastic Horse, and the importance of plastic cards for a long time yet, I was contacted by Anna Mostyn-Williams of Curve asking if I would like to find out more about their fantastic plastic product. I said yes as it sounded brilliant.

On Monday I had a chat with two of the three founders of Curve Anna and Tom Foster-Carter the COO of Curve. The CEO is Shachar Bialick.

In their own words this is what Curve is.

‘Curve simplifies payments by combining all of a person’s bank cards into one card which is accepted everywhere.

Curve is supported by a mobile app and contains chip and pin, magstripe and contactless technology.

Built on the MasterCard® Network, Curve works just like a standard bank card, unlocking a set of services to help everyone become savvier with their money, underpinned by simplicity, control, security and fraud protection.’

Combining all cards into one has been offered before by some of those Kickstarter backed wunder cards which require bluetooth connection to a phones and battery power of its own but this is the first time (to my limited knowledge) anyone has done it behind a normal piece of plastic and available in the UK.

You choose the card you want to use in app and it is then set to the default card for use by the Curve card. Once set you can just pay as normal. No need for your phone at all really if you just want to take the card.

They are offering some nice transaction categorisation features and allowing you to group more easily your actual card spending across multiple accounts. Manual process at the moment to begin though. There are realtime notifications aplenty too (which I suspect a lot of cards added to Curve might not have today).

There are a few killer features that the card has above the ones already mentioned. The ability to use Amex more widely i.e. everywhere Mastercard is accepted. You still collect all your usage benefits from any card added e.g. air miles, loyalty points etc.


The ability to add cards from other country based accounts and then take away the FX complication. They will do the conversion at wholesale rate and then charge a fee on top. This means people traveling or new to country can use existing accounts more easily. This FX play is also a big reason that Taavet Hinrikus of Transferwise invested early on. Partnership opportunities are clearly another great future benefit for Curve.

They will also have the ability in future to reverse decisions made e.g. if you accidentally charge a business expense to a personal card. Talk of a platform play in this area was very interesting indeed but that is one for the future and has real potential to insert new features into the existing purchase process and rails.

There is however a downside, they do not have an Android app yet (the COO is an Android user so he assured me it won’t be long) which meant I can’t become a beta user because I would use this service as I have multiple cards to help manage the family finances. There is also a one off charge of £35 which may put some people off but I suspect not too many.

Any other challenges I can see? Getting people onboard is obviously the big challenge and ensuring they get enough fee earning business/partnerships on top of the one off joining fee to make it viable in the long term.

I think it is a great looking product, the key will be execution and if it really can work across geographies and card schemes as seamlessly as they are proposing / demoing / beta testing with iPhone owners then they have a great opportunity to build something smart on all that existing plastic based infrastructure that we all know and love and understand how to use. I wish them luck and I hope they get that Android app sooner rather than later because I want to use this. Thanks to Anna and Tom for the demo.

They have published a nice video giving an overview of the features. It has a killer last line taking a dig at those other battery powered cards trying to do something similar.

You can sign up here

You can find out much more about the team and the product in their press area

Faster Plastic Horse

Whenever some new fancy change to the ubiquitous plastic payment card my default reaction is usually negative. I know what let’s add something to the well known and used plastic cards that make it seem innovative! How about a real time balance display? A Passcode generator? A fingerprint reader? Let’s get a Kickstarter going to combine all your cards in one handy must be charged and Bluetooth connected to your mobile phone and can only be used in a country that has not implemented EMV yet* card, yeah? Please stop. I should embrace these innovative attempts to improve the humble and ubiquitous plastic card. They feel like like the embodiment of faster horse, which I agree with another Davies is not necessarily a bad thing but still are they really worthwhile?

*Coin coming soon in EMV flavour!

In the flurry of PR when these things are announced certain details are often left out of breathless press releases and masturbatory tech site reviews. Why not say how much they cost to make and issue in comparison to normal plastic? Say how many you will issue in this first phase and how you will be different from all those other plastic enhancement projects that never got past the (I suspect very limited) pilot stage? Be more honest about the realistic aims of these things.

Experiments yes but solving real issues? Really? Is this stuff really going to have a measurable impact outside of limited prototypes and trials? Yes mobile payments is still in its infancy, yes people are used to plastic but surely there are things between the two that move people along the seemingly inevitable journey to software based payment devices? But…not everyone has an NFC equipped smart phone. If you are too poor for a smartphone capable of these payments innovations then the chances are you are also too poor to be chosen for expensive plastic proofs of concept? Normal plastic cards probably cost under a dollar, these prototypes 10-20 dollars? Is that sustainable for a wider roll out?


Stable infrastructure

But what if the little plastic card that could did continue to be ubiquitous and software did not eat it but just augment and cement that ubiquity? Are the plastic rectangles the optimal technology for payments? The plastic card links to the ecosystem very well via embedded infrastructure. How many 85.60 × 53.98 mm size slots are there in the world? Millions? Billions? Every Point Of Sale terminal, ATM, card payment enabled vending machine, parking meter etc. The move from physical to software brings some benefits but enough to phase out this infrastructure? Not any time in the next few decades.

The mobile can easily be tied to the interaction of the card and terminal today. Realtime notifications are becoming widespread for plastic interactions. The payment information can easily be tied to the mobile device. The back end systems to support payments and feed them to whatever realtime system needs them. The front end process and interaction has time to morph as infrastructure is upgraded. If it needs to at all that is. Plastic cards are already pretty good, durable, inexpensive, known & understood.

Whether or not the behaviour or value of paying with your actual mobile device will ever beat some other payment device i.e. card, sticker, embedded chip etc. I am not sure anymore. Can mobile interaction better the already pretty slick process of contactless plastic? Chip & Pin? Maybe America was forcing the hand of a move to mobile payments by choosing to go chip & signature instead. (You fine American folk seem to love paper almost as much as you love guns)


You can lead a horse to water…

Mobile payments adoption has been slow and fragmented so far. Even the deified Apple Pay is not getting the traction we had all hoped. Even rich people who can afford an iPhone 6 are too lazy to stop using plastic cards and paper money it seems. It may need a generational shift to make it truly mainstream, the children for which plastic swiping and inserting habits are not yet ingrained.

We are yet to see software based payments really come into their own. Tokenisation and in app payments and stores without physical checkouts are all at the experimental stage at the moment and there are a whole host of design and behaviour challenges to overcome before we move away from the act of inserting or tapping to pay altogether. For most plastic still is the main form of payment interaction.

The changes to plastic cards over the years that have made it to near ubiquity are those proposed by the EMV giants. Chip cards and contactless being the big ones. Very worthwhile changes at differing levels of adoption. All the other trials and examples have not really gotten close. Could that change? What if these trials involved more companies? What if some of those Kickstarter experiments actually were moderately successful? Results of trials were shared more widely? Opened up somehow? Share more and maybe the chance of growing and wider adoption increases.

If you really are as customer centric as you say you are then you are industry centric too and not just in it for yourselves. Hippy Utopian dreamer that I am I know this is probably unrealistic. When atoms are involved it gets harder, when payments networks and regulations are involved that difficulty level passes extreme add in ego, greed and competitiveness and we can see why payments evolution has taken so long.


The finishing line

What I would really like to see gain a lot of interest and PR is the results of these trials. Let us know how many people tried them, how far and wide they have been rolled out, Did they solve the problem you thought they would? Did new interesting problems arise? Will they replace all cards going forwards? Will there be a phase two? What have you actually learnt from the trial? Those answers are the rewards for the company running the trial I suppose (to the pioneer the spoils) but I think it would make for a much more worthwhile experiment and more laudable PR if more of the hypotheses and results were shared rather than just the shiny faster plastic horse. Show the thing yes, but show more of the thinking and working out too.

Fervency as a metric

WOOOOOOOO AAAAPPPPPLLLLLE PAYMENTS ARE NEARLY HERE. Apple seem to have screwed down their partners to get maximum value from all sides of the deal, years of iWallet patents are ready to spew forth into the public conscience and take over the payments world, a beauty parade of top line merchants are ready to show off and launch a set of use cases for rich people and we might even see a payment capable wearable. WOOOO, WOOOO and thrice WOOOO.

My question is this…

Do Apple wait until the moons are fully aligned (moons = every piece of the business model and technology puzzle) or do they actually measure and judge their new launches based on the levels of fervency they expect them to reach? If they don’t score highly on the Fervency Scale their launch is delayed another year? My bored train journey mind likes to think of the latter when obviously it is the former. Here is my even lazier scribble of the Apple Fervency Metric Chart (good luck reading my handwriting)


fervency scale


Last year it was all about the Touch ID, a piece of infrastructure that made payments potentially a possibility perhaps and a cheaper model expanding the Apple ecosystem to even the poorest of folks i.e. rich. The year before that it was all about a bigger form factor (much the same as one of this year’s key themes).  This year is the fervency scale right? Will the launch of payments have free reign and not be dwarfed by other meagre feature adds (or a broken aerials)? Can they tie all those previously launched pieces together? Coupled with the launch of a wearable that might have NFC and enable payments without distracting you from looking at your screen, will it break the fervency scale?

I don’t know but I do know that on September the 9th at 6pm Greenwich Mean, 10am Pacific the fervency metric will be pretty near the top of my silly chart. Also the mythical Apple folk that score their new releases by this mythical measurement will be classed by their new iWatch as hyperactive near death via euphoria. Will the public reaction in usage be the same? Time will tell…or the device that historically told the time will tell.

What if Apple is rotten at payments?

The rumour mill is being spun by a torrent of leaks and is grinding out all sorts of breathless commentary and hyperbole because pretty much everyone connected with mobile payments and NFC has been waiting for Apple to enter the payments and NFC game for several years.



Obviously because most people think Apple will redefine payments and bring about a wave of innovation the like of which the banking world has never seen.


But what happens if they mess it up?


  • They seem to be partnering with the old guard (Visa, MC, Amex). Will there be room for the new (BTC, XRP etc)?
  • Will it be US only? That would be laughable. They surely can’t launch in all iPhone markets though can they? Surely not China? Partnering with the big 3 will help though
  • Will people use it less than Siri? Will it be more Ping than Pingit?
  • Will the lose credit card details as easily as they lose nude celeb photos? Not PCI-DSS but more PUSSI-DSS? (sorry for both the crude pun and the lazy observation, they have never lost any credit card numbers and it is yet to be proved they were hacked…brute force failure on find my iPhone aside)
  • Will it only work with TouchID therefore alienating a large portion of their customers and making old hardware incompatible? Unthinkable, and BLE is in most of the previous generations of hardware
  • Will they have access to payment/transaction data? If not why bother? If so what will they do with it?
  • Will the telcos/carriers be involved? If not will they get annoyed and not sell it (HAHAHA)?


I do not think they will screw it up, the other innovation giants have tried and largely failed outside of single markets *cough* Google Wallet *cough* (maybe HCE and tokenisation will change their fortunes and make things more global), but payments and banking is really hard. I think if they do announce it will be baby steps at first and playing nicely with the big boys (they don’t want to be a bank or a money transmitter).

I am just playing the negative card because if Apple does screw it up then does mobile payments join NFC in the trough of disillusionment? Will it stop mobile payments entering the mainstream for another decade? Will it prove the real doubters’ right when they say mobile payments offers no value over cards? The 9th of September should give us an early indication. I really hope I am wrong…I mean all the rumours could just be nonsense and they announce nothing to do with payments at all.