Westpac signs up for Samsung Pay in Australia

Angus Kidman 11 April 2017

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Ironically, the move fans the dying flames of the Apple Pay wars.

Westpac has become the first Big Four bank to launch Samsung Pay in Australia, setting off a new chapter in the ongoing smartphone payment wars. From 8am today, Westpac will offer access to Samsung Pay across its credit card and debit card portfolio.

Samsung Pay launched in Australia back in June 2016, with just American Express and Citi on board, and to date they have been the only bank providers down under. Westpac's deal with Samsung is particularly interesting given its recent disputes with Apple Pay (more on that in a moment)

Samsung Pay offers similar functionality to Android Pay (and Apple Pay, come to that), allowing you to make payments using most contactless payments systems using your smartphone rather than a credit card. One advantage it offers is the ability to use a magnetic coil built into newer Samsung models in countries where NFC payment terminals are not that common. Australia is not one of those countries, by the way; we've been very keen to adopt contactless payments, with 82% of us using our cards to do that.

Samsung's other potential advantage has been its dominant share of the Android marketplace, which means it can ensure Samsung Pay is preinstalled on phones. However, that's of little use if your bank doesn't support the platform. As you can see from our full guide to cards supporting Samsung Pay in Australia, while both Citi and American Express do offer the option on lots of cards, you don't have any other bank choices.

Westpac's deal suggests that might soon change. The bank has been involved in a long-running dispute with Apple over access to the Apple Pay platform, one which it took to the ACCC along with traditional rivals Commonwealth Bank and NAB. The ACCC has ruled against allowing the three banks to collectively negotiate. Apple's unwillingness to allow access to its NFC platform, as well as the rates it wants to charge the banks, have proved major sticking points.

The fact that Westpac has managed to secure a deal for Samsung Pay suggests that Samsung has been more flexible on those points. While that flexibility might in part be due to Samsung's own desire to score some good news after last year's Note 7 fire dramas, the end result is that it now has a major Australian bank on board.

There are two possible outcomes at this point. Samsung might simply be happy to have Westpac on board, and Westpac might be equally happy to gloat about that possibility (just as ANZ has frequently gloated about offering Apple Pay).

But it seems more likely to me that Samsung will move to get other banks on board, and try and firm up a market advantage while the Apple squabbling continues. Right now in Australia it's largely a positioning play, given how happy most of us are to simply use cards. But it would seem foolish to assume that phones won't ultimately be an important part of how we pay for our purchases, and I'd expect at least one more Big Four bank to soon be on board with Samsung Pay.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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