Super Apps Or Smart Wallets?

Super Apps Or Smart Wallets?

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What’s the best way to manage relationships?

There’s plenty of talk of super apps around at the moment as a variety of players attempt to become the western equivalent of the Asian app giants such as Alipay, Gojek and Kakao. But how do you get from a digital wallet to a super app? And, more to the point, are wallets or super apps the best way to manage the relationship between people and their economic avatars? Do you really want one app to do everything, whether it is super or not? What is the difference between a wallet and a super app anyway?

Select 9-1-1.

Helen Holmes © 2021

The starting point is mobile payment, and here the trends are pretty clear. As Christine Wagner, Head of Global Payments Products for FIS said in a podcast with Mercator Advisory Group last year, “even in the U.S., we’ve seen that checkout at point-of-sale using mobile wallets has grown a staggering 60%”. People seem to be very comfortable with using their phones to pay, and wallets are a pretty good way of managing their payments experience. When I go to my local supermarket, both my retailer co-brand credit card and my retailer loyalty card are conveniently stored in my Apple AAPL Wallet.

(Why they are separate, by the way, when I should be able to pay using my authenticated loyalty card is a different story.)

A wallet is a way of organising things. My Apple Wallet, just like my real wallet, doesn’t have any cash in it. It has credit cards, debit cards, loyalty cards, vaccination records, boarding passes, train tickets and soon driving licences as well (although Apple’s plans for driving licences in their wallet have recently been set back a little). These things are all held independently in the wallet: they don’t talk to each other and they don’t share data with each other. They are also, as you will have noticed, mostly about identity, not money.

The fact that wallets are really about identification, authentication and authorisation is recognised in, for example, the European Digital Identity Wallet initiative. Under this initiative countries will offer citizens and businesses digital wallets that will be able to link their national digital identities with proof of other personal attributes (e.g., driving licence, diplomas, bank account, COVID-19 vaccination details and so on). These wallets may be provided by public authorities or by certified private entities (presumably banks will be one category of wallet provider). Similarly, down under, the government of New South Wales has begun work on a digital wallet (they call it a “credential vault”, which I think is a much more accurate but much less marketable name) that will allow citizens to prove their identity and share decentralised credentials.

With underlying standards such as W3C “Verifiable Credentials” (VC) evolving, it does not seem fanciful to imagine interoperable digital wallets (provided by governments, or banks, or big techs or whoever) delivering a safe and secure ecosystem for citizens and consumers.

The Mobile Way

Wallets are one way forward, then. But if you have a successful and widely-used mobile payment scheme then there must be a great temptation to evolve it into a super app rather than remain content with being either a standalone payment app or one among many options in someone else’s wallet. PayPal PYPL , to choose an obvious case study, is steadily adding features to turn it from a payment scheme into a Home Screen Super App. PayPal savings, shopping, bill payments, rewards, gift cards, by now pay later (BNPL) and cryptocurrency are coming together in a single app that you need only log into once to have access to a spectrum of related services.

There are plenary of other examples of successful payment schemes evolving into super apps. M-Pesa, the most successful fintech in Africa, recently introduced its own super app across all its markets. It gives consumers access to another spectrum of services from e-commerce to e-government as well as a network of partners that send and receive money from more than 200 countries and territories. The M-Pesa open API is already being used by more than 45,000 developers and 200,000 SMEs and the company is expanding its ecosystem to reach large-scale and micro-enterprises.

PayPal and M-PESA and Alipay are examples of super apps growing out of payments and it is entirely possible that more successful super apps in Europe will come from that direction too. Lydia, the French mobile payment app (that has China’s Tencent as an investor), has made it clear that its target is not only to become the primacy account for 10m users but to become a financial super app for millennials and Gen Z, following in the footsteps of WeChat. Revolut will undoubtedly continue to evolve in that direction too.

Klarna and Shopify, to name two other obvious candidate Home Screen Super Apps, have been steadily expanding their range of services. Klarna launched their new app last November, consolidating instalment payments with shopping, support, delivery and returns with the goal of transforming themselves from being a payment provider into being an end-to-end offering across all online destinations whether connected to Klarna or not. (They also acquired comparison site Pricerunner for €930m in order to broaden their range of super app shopping services.)

Super Starts

The Financial Times summarises the landscape succinctly. We have super apps for physical things (transport, food delivery and so on) in the form of Uber UBER , Bolt, Grab and Gojek. Coming from the payment space we have the financial proto-super apps such as PayPal, Klarna and Revolut. In media, Spotify is on its way to becoming a super app for audio with podcasts and chat rooms as well its music library.

What is the real difference between a digital or mobile wallet and a super app then? I suppose the boundary is a little fractal, but let’s return to the central issue of identity. Let’s draw the boundary by saying that a super app shares an identity across its ecosystem of services whereas in a wallet each of the credentials has its own identity. The former offers undoubted convenience for consumers and incentive for merchants to join the ecosystem, but also has implications for privacy.

Personally, I want a smart wallet rather than a super app. And I mean smart in a very specific way. I want to use wallets that share not identity but authentication. I rather like the idea of going to log in somewhere and when I am asked if I am over 18, or have a drivers licence, or am a British citizen then have the wallet on my phone pop up with a list of credentials that a) will satisfy the criteria and b) are acceptable to whoever is asking, so that I can choose one and go about my business. I expect the wallet to present the credentials in privacy-maximising order, so that for almost all such interactions my “John Doe” IS-OVER-18 credential will be the default to present the persistent pseudonym necessary to enable the overwhelming majority of transactions.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how this space evolves in 2022, because identity is going to be an important battleground over the coming year.

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