Amazon Eyes P2P Payments and Physical Commerce (Jan. 30, 2014)

E-commerce behemoth Amazon isn’t satisfied with success in the digital world. It’s seeking talent for a strategy that includes P2P payments and “building products and services, which will delight billions of customers as they buy and sell things in the real world (as opposed to online),” according to a job posting on Amazon.com for a senior technical program manager. The focus on P2P could be a signal that Amazon is seeking to build up a critical mass of consumers before it approaches brick-and-mortar retailers for acceptance at the POS, Nick Holland, senior payments analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research, tells Paybefore.

“This is pretty big news,” Holland continues. “We’ve seen Square and Google, for example, initially focusing their payment efforts on the POS now turning their attention to P2P payments with Square Cash and payments via Gmail. I think Amazon is tracking with that trend. It seems like the next logical step because once you have 100 million P2P users, it’s more compelling when you talk to merchants about acceptance at the POS.” Another thing that could convince merchants to partner with Amazon, despite the fact that it’s a major competitor to brick-and-mortar retailers, is that Amazon could help them bypass interchange if it relies on ACH payments, Holland adds. Furthermore, he says, Amazon is likely to be looking for brick-and-mortar retail partners to serve as drop-ship locations and may be willing to pay handsomely for such a service.

Amazon could not be reached for comment, but the job posting offers a bit more insight into its payments plans. “As part of this ambitious new initiative we need experienced Senior Technical Program Managers to help us deliver a set of innovative mobile- and cloud-based products. The customer experiences we are building are powered by secure, scalable and highly available cloud services,” it says. Last October, Amazon began offering other online merchants a way to enable customers to pay with their Amazon accounts through Login and Pay with Amazon.

U.S. Bank Testing Voice-Based Biometrics for Mobile Financial Services (Jan. 30, 2014)

U.S. Bank is testing a voice-based biometrics mobile banking feature that could foreshadow the future of mobile payments if consumers warm up to it, Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer at U.S. Bank, told attendees today at the Card Innovation Summit in Tempe, Ariz. U.S. Bank in September piloted a mobile app enabling users to use voice commands to check their balances, payment due dates and move funds between accounts.

“We’re working on voice biometrics that make it so there’s no need for consumers to manually enter a user name and password when accessing financial services on their smartphones, which would solve some big problems,” Venturo said. Other promising biometric approaches include fingerprint and facial recognition and systems to detect vein patterns in the hand, Venturo added. U.S. Bank is moving very cautiously with biometrics, but steadily testing new mobile banking and payments technologies because the pressure to give consumers faster, more convenient and secure mobile services is so intense, according to Venturo. “With 34 percent of the U.S. population now between 18 and 34—younger consumers we call ‘digital natives’— payments have to go mobile to keep up with the demands of our changing demographics,” he said.

Consumer trust in biometrics is the big challenge, as fewer than half of consumers would trust any organization with their biometric information, according to a new report Javelin Strategy & Research released today. But Javelin says banks have a big advantage here, as 45 percent of consumers said they would trust banks more than any other type of company with their biometrics. Javelin polled 3,200 U.S. adults online in September 2013 for its report. After banks, 31 percent of consumers said they would trust health care organizations most with their biometric information, followed by 21 percent who would trust the government most. Merchants ranked near the bottom, with only 6 percent of consumers willing to trust online merchants most with their biometric information, followed by 5 percent who would entrust their biometrics with retailer at the POS and 2 percent who would trust social networking organizations. Only 4 percent of consumers said they would trust digital wallet providers like Google Wallet most with their biometric information. The data suggest banks have a clear opportunity to partner with merchants to pave the way to widespread acceptance of biometrics in payments, Javelin concluded.

Service Gives Bitcoins for Starbucks Card Balances, New Virtual Currency Hits Market (Jan. 30, 2014)

Starbucks gift card holders now can redeem the unused balances on their cards for Bitcoin. Card for Coin, a new Website founded by 25-year-old Matt Luongo, enables cardholders to enter their card information and then receive an offer of payment for the balance in Bitcoin. Typically, the offer is for 60 to 70 percent of the remaining balance on the card. If the cardholder agrees to the price, the platform transfers the Bitcoin payment via the exchange Coinbase. The service is only available in the U.S. and Canada, and only for Starbucks gift cards originated in the U.S. The service is being positioned as a simpler and faster way to enter the Bitcoin market compared to signing up for an exchange, which can be complicated and time consuming, according to the company.

Meanwhile, a new virtual currency has entered the online marketplace. Dubbed Coino, the currency was conceived, in part, by a German online marketing agency, according to a release. The Coino wallet and mining utility is available for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, and the currency can be used anywhere in the world.

“The democratic, decentralized nature of Internet currencies has made them enormously popular in tech circles, but the general public is beginning to take an interest as well,” Coino’s developers said in a statement. Coino is seeking to “ride this second wave of adoption.”

Senate Committee Sets Hearing on Consumer Data Security (Jan. 30, 2014)

The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing next week on safeguarding consumers’ financial information in the wake of recent data breaches at several major U.S. retailers. Scheduled for 3 – 5 p.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 3, the Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance hearing will include officials from the Secret Service, the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the American Bankers Association and the National Retail Federation.