What does the ACCC’s Apple Pay decision mean?

Angus Kidman 30 November 2016

SulkingKids_Shutterstock

Will it speed up or slow down rollout in Australia - and does anyone really care?

After five months of deliberation, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) yesterday announced that it wasn't going to authorise four major Australian banks (CommBank, NAB, Westpac and Adelaide & Bendigo Bank) to collectively negotiate with Apple over access to Apple Pay and the iPhone's NFC chip. While the ACCC hasn't issued a final determination, it's rare for it to change its mind in these instances. So after the sulking stops, what happens next for everyone involved and does it really matter?

Let's be clear here. There's absolutely nothing stopping executives from Westpac (or any other bank) sitting down individually with Apple and trying to nut out a deal for Apple Pay. Proof: while this issue has been deliberated by the ACCC, Apple did come to an agreement to provide access to Apple Pay to many credit unions. It's simply that Westpac is not allowed to do that in collaboration with other major banks, because that's seen as lessening competition and reducing consumer choice.

The main barriers to an agreement are twofold: Apple won't let the banks access the NFC chip in the iPhone directly through their own wallet apps, and it won't let the banks pass on the costs of Apple Pay to customers. Apple will let the banks use Apple Pay via their own apps, but it still expects a cut of the transaction in that case. As I've noted repeatedly when writing about this issue, the core motivation on both sides is greed. Everyone just wants as much money as possible. That's business for you.

So we'll lumber on for a bit longer, and the ACCC will eventually issue a final determination, and it's likely that will change nothing. At that point, the banks can either decide to put up with Apple's terms, or can just conclude that it's not worth the hassle.

The latter remains a distinct possibility. Australians are amongst the most enthusiastic adopters of contactless payments in the world, but we've done that with cards, not phones. Yes, it's potentially more convenient and more secure to make payments through a phone, as you've got one less thing to carry and no-one can use the service without your fingerprint. But while Apple Pay could be convenient, it doesn't yet seem essential.

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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