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Where In The World Is ISIS Wallet?

Written by Karen Webster
June 24th, 2013

Karen Webster is CEO of the Market Platform Dynamics consulting firm and serves as President of PYMNTS.com.

My, how time flies when you are having fun in the digital wallet space! With all of the recent attention to Google Wallet, thought it might be interesting to do the same about some of the other digital wallets in the market – there are so many now! Since someone was asking me just the other day about ISIS, and its been a while since we’ve heard from them, I was inspired. So, just Where in the Wallet World is ISIS these days? Well, the short answer is: not in very many places.

It’s live in two cities, so they can officially use plural words when describing its deployment, but unless you live in Salt Lake City or Austin (and own particular handsets with NFC) you are SOL in being able to engage in the ISIS experience. According to Mike Abbott, ISIS CEO, at a presentation this past May, ISIS will expand past those cities when they are good and ready. And after all, what’s the rush, especially when you have Big Daddy Telebucks (AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon) bankrolling you?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane now and refresh our collective memories on the ISIS Wallet evolution.

It seems like only yesterday – but it was actually November 2010 – when the news first broke that AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless had formed a JV to build a “transformative” mobile commerce network called ISIS. The emphasis here is the word network. The original ISIS ambition was to create a mobile network to compete with V and MA and AXP, touting its ability to bring 200 million subscribers to the mobile commerce party, which the three founding telcos paid $100 Million to throw. The model was to have a single issuer, BarclayCard US, power the solution, which would run over Discover’s rails. This was all going to happen by way of NFC.

Fast forward to May 2011. After the initial heavily-funded-start-up-with-lofty-ambitions euphoria wore off, the reality began to set in. New network that competes with incumbents: hard. Mobile: hard. NFC-based: harder. No available NFC handsets: much harder. No merchants with NFC-enabled POS: much, much harder. Consumer adoption: yikes! They’d have to ditch their existing cards, which they could use everywhere, switch their accounts and get a Barclays Card, buy a new phone … only to not be able to use it many (any?) places. Not a very enticing value proposition – and many, many really hard platform business problems to solve all at once!

So, ISIS pivots, moving away from its network ambition to a mobile wallet ambition, now partnering with V and MA. What happens then?


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2 Comments | Read Where In The World Is ISIS Wallet?

  1. Aaron Jaeger Says:

    Where is ISIS? Good question. Google Wallet may not be usable everywhere, but it is available at far more locations than ISIS is. If it wasn’t for the collusion among the ISIS backers, it’s likely that far more people would be using Google Wallet already. And that would get the attention of more merchants which could accelerate the roll-out of NFC terminals.

    Also, you may want to separate ISIS from Google Wallet in the final paragraph when you say ~”putting the needs of carriers before the needs of consumers.” ISIS may have done this, but I don’t think Google Wallet ever did. Google has remained carrier agnostic and just wants its product in the hands of as many people as possible.

  2. Cy Fenton Says:

    You are so right on about their trying to solve all the hardest business problems all at once. The consumer adoption side of this is the key! There is no circumstance where the consumer will think that it’s more convenient to have anything attached to a phone (or a new phone for that matter) to pay when they can do so with the tried and true, always works everywhere credit card. And where are the daddy warbucks wireless companies here? Has ANY of them delivered on ISIS enabled handsets? – Nope.

    If the money to be made here is in the disintermediation of the traditional big credit card companies by setting up an alternate payment ecosystem, ISIS hasn’t found anything in the way of traction there either. To me, Square (and to a lessor extent PayPal) are the ones to watch in this space. They are actually solve both of the problems that folks care about – ease of use and convenience for the consumer, and reducing fees and friction at the cash wrap for the retailer. Square Wallet has the potential and the market share to really make a move on the front side of this problem!

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