When MCX on Monday (May 16) issued a statement that “MCX will postpone a nationwide rollout of its CurrentC application,” it was akin to U.S. presidential candidates who suspend their campaigns. It’s a polite way of saying “it’s over” without having to say those words outloud.
But for many reasons, CurrentC never had much of a chance, having been created in the most merchant-centric (OK, I’ll admit it: Walmart-centric) manner possible. It’s creation was to give retailers a way to sharply cut back interchange fees and it was being pushed by a merchant who was already paying among the very lowest interchange fee percentages of anyone.
(Related Story: With A New Mission, Walmart Pay Goes Live In Arkansas, Texas.)
It’s helpful to make sure we differentiate MCX and CurrentC because, especially in the last year or so, they have gone in different directions. And very little is because CurrentC was given such a dreadful name. Who thought it was beneficial to take such a tortured route to a not especially funny name (unless you like puns, which few do), one that doesn’t resonate with the average consumer anyway? (This is merchant-centric again. This name wasn’t created because consumer research showed it would be popular with shoppers.)
CurrentC doesn’t even mean anything. There was never anything especially “current” about the product and the only connection to “C” might be the grade that a very permissive college busines professor might give a student who proposed this idea.
But let’s get back to what MCX said. Let’s examine the complete statement—attributed in its entirely to MCX CEO Brian Mooney—part by part.
“Utilizing unique feedback from the marketplace and our Columbus pilot,…”
Not clear why this feedback was one-of-a-kind (aka unique), given that there has been no shortage of industry observers (present company included) pointing out CurrentC flaws for many years.
“… MCX has made a decision to concentrate more heavily in the immediate term on other aspects of our business including working with financial institutions, like our partnership with Chase, to enable and scale mobile payment solutions.”
In other words, MCX’s work with coupons and other purchase incentives is worth continuing—but as a service to be intergrated into merchants’ own mobile wallets and potentially other companies’ mobile wallets. Indeed, with CurrentC out of the way, MCX’s efforts could be integrated into Web offerings and other vehicles. (Would it be asking too much to beg for them to not call a product/service a solution? Yeah, I thought it was.)
“…As part of this transition, MCX will postpone a nationwide rollout of its CurrentC application. As MCX has said many times, the mobile payments space is just beginning to take shape – it is early in a long game. MCX’s owner-members remain committed to our future.”
Postpone? By a few weeks? A month or two? Or, most appropriately, three days after the sun stops burning hot in space?
If you’re truly wondering which timeframe they meant, the next line in the statement makes it clear.
“As a result, MCX will need fewer resources. This change has resulted in staff reduction of approximately 30 employees. These are very tough decisions, but necessary steps. For those employees leaving us, we want to thank our colleagues for their hard work and dedication to MCX over the last several years.”
If it’s merely postponing a nationwide launch date, aren’t you going to need those people? Let’s also put this figure into context. Before the staff reductions—which happened sometime in May—MCX employed 70 people, according to MCX spokesperson Jonathan Lowe. That is a 43 percent slash in headcount. All of those figures, Lowe pointed out, “does not include staff inside MCX’s merchants and partners dedicated to working on MCX’s platform.”
Back in the very early days of MCX’s creation, in 2013, one Walmart executive said one of the mobile payment problems MCX was trying to address was payment confusion at the POS. Jamie Henry, then and now Walmart’s senior director for payment services, said during an NRF panel that supporting a wide range of mobile payment options would be bad. “One customer’s face pops up on the screen. The next one keys in their phone number. The next one tries to tap their phone,” he said, suggesting it would cause associate and customer confusion, on top of sharply slowing down checkouts.
But that was ridiculous. Walmart already accepted tons of different payment options—from cash, checks and traveler’s checks to assistance cards to a wide range of different credit as well as debit cards—without a lot of confusion at checkout. Accepting lots of different kinds of payment mechanisms is customer-centric—taking whatever the customer wants to give—whereas forcing mobile customers to use an MCX system is merchant-centric.
Some have said that Apple Pay killed CurrentC, but there are many indications it would have failed even had Apple never embraced NFC magic.