Physical cards aren’t going away any time soon, but that doesn’t mean paying with them can’t become simpler and cheaper. That’s the basic pitch of London startup Curve, which wants to consolidate all the existing cards in your wallet into just one card and has just unveiled its product publicly for the first time.
Many in the FinTech community have been curious to see what exactly Curve does since it turned heads back in December with $2m backing from high-profile European FinTech figures including TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus, Betfair founder Ed Wray and Azimo/Tandem co-founder Ricky Knox.
Another reason it piqued interest is its founding team, which includes Tom Foster Carter (previously COO of kids prepaid app Osper), Schachar Bialick (an Israeli entrepreneur whose previous ventures range from medical marijuana to wireless tech) and Anna Mostyn Williams, formerly head of marketing at Xbox.
Curve, at a glance
> Users scan in an unlimited number of cards and pick the dominant one to pay with at the point of sale
> Curve’s card is powered by MasterCard, which means it’s accepted everywhere Mastercard is
> That includes Amex, meaning customers can pay using Curve in places Amex isn’t accepted
> Payments appear in a feed within the app to help users manage spending
> No battery required
> When travelling, Curve charges customers in their local currency at the point of sale
> Investors also include Seedcamp, Speedinvest, Kima Ventures and the London Co-Investment Fund
So wait, it wants to reduce the amount of cards we carry with…another card? Yes and no. Think of the concept behind mobile wallets like Apple Pay where you upload multiple cards and pay through one portal – except rolled into a physical card and accompanying app. The idea being that it offers the convenience of services like Apple Pay, but in a format that is widely accepted and familiar to consumers and businesses.
“Customers need a simple solution, but it needs to work with the existing infrastructure so you can pay with it everywhere,” co-founder Shachar Bialick told PaymentEye ahead of the launch. “Apple Pay is a spectacular vision but it doesn’t really work anywhere which means it cannot change your behaviour.”
It’s not a new idea, with 2007-founded Dynamics, which demoed in London at Finovate last week, an example of another company trying to combine multiple cards in one (albeit a battery-powered version). Coin had a similar idea and Plastc is another. As ever, however, it’s not the idea itself but the execution of it that matters and the space is still there for the taking.
Apple Pay wave
Curve is very much a product of its time. Apart from high levels of card penetration, it benefits from the amount companies like Apple have spent marketing their mobile wallets and educating customers about the virtues of simplifying their payment habits. It’s also a product of recent regulation – specifically the cap on interchange fees, which slashed the cost of acquiring transactions.
“This and e-money and regulation like PSD2 is the fuel that’s created a window for us and the Mondos and Tandems that are emerging,” he says. “You can now build a bank with a USD20m capital requirement. It’s unprecedented.”
For now, customers can only pay using Curve with the card, but Bialick says this will eventually act as a spring card to a mobile only solution. When customers are ready.
“It’s the card in fact which allows us to bring the promise of mobile payments to the consumer today,” he says. “For mobile payments to work, they need to accepted everywhere as well as used by more consumers, and this take a while to become mainstream. The business that successfully manages to transition customers onto future platforms will ultimately end up owning these customers.”
He says Curve will do this by “accommodating existing preferences” for cards via a mobile wallet on a physical card and when the time comes, users will be able to “discard” the card and use their Curve Wallet to pay with their smartphones. Curve is looking to release an Android version soon, which will use HCE technology and will allow users to pay with their Curve app on their phone.
Bialick acknowledges that in adding yet another brand to the payments space, Curve will need to cut through the very noise that it’s trying to eliminate. To do that it’s identified a very specific target audience with pain points that tesselate with Curve’s solution: what he describes as ‘solo-preneurs’ or freelancers and sole traders – a growing demographic that often juggles personal and professional financial accounts and is poorly served by traditional finance.
The firm makes money by charging a £35 one-off fee per card. It’s been operating a beta pilot and will now roll out to 10,000 trial users with plans to target the broader consumer market later in the year.
Meanwhile, the launch comes amid an uptick of activity around cardless ATMs with everyone from JP Morgan to FIS and Paypal exploring cardless futures.
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