2.14.19 Your morning briefing

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The information you need to start your day, from PaymentsSource and around the Web:

Around the world
Ant Financial has entered a deal to acquire London payment company WorldFirst for about $700 million, giving its affiliate Alibaba and its mobile wallet Alipay a deeper hold in European markets and countering a potential money transfer play by Amazon and Western Union's collaboration, which is just starting to add countries.

The price is in line with earlier estimates and the deal is not a surprise, given WorldFirst recently announced it would close its U.S. operations, a move considered to be a hedge against U.S. regulatory pressure. Ant's earlier attempt to buy MoneyGram fell through because of political pressure, though MoneyGram still supports Alipay.

WorldFirst will keep its brand and operate as a U.K.-headquartered business, according to CNBC and wire reports, and will gain access to Alipay's customer base of more than 550 million people and a substantial merchant network in Europe that already accepts Alipay. The scale of Alibaba's e-commerce business also acts as another competitive threat to Amazon's ambitions in Asia and Europe.
No Apple at Kroger
Kroger is blending incentive marketing with payments, launching Kroger Pay and Kroger Rewards, in an effort to streamline the shopper experience as grocery technology such as cashierless technology starts to take hold.

Kroger Pay will provide a single-use QR code to scan at checkout, transmitting both payment and loyalty card information, such as digital coupons and personalized offers in the same scan. As Macrumors points out, the QR code system means Apple Pay still can't be used to make contactless payments, so for now Kroger's not joining other long-time Apple Pay holdouts that have finally accepted the app, such as Target, CVS and 7-Eleven.

Kroger's new app debuted in Columbus, Ohio, and will expand to other markets this year. The grocery chain also in January announced a partnership with Microsoft to develop in-store technology.

Watch out
Sony is taking preorders for its Wena Wrist in the U.K., the first market outside of Japan for a device that's neither a watch or a smartwatch, though it supports some digital functions such as contactless payments.

Wena is a strap that attaches to traditional watches, with less function than most smartwatches but with an appearance that looks more like a traditional timepiece.

While Wene is priced similar to Apple Watch for most models, and has less function, the watch may appeal to people who view watches as a fashion accessory, according to Engadget.

Getting paid
Starling Bank has raised close to $100 million as it plots its post-Brexit strategy and manages a quickly expanding money transfer business.

Merian Global Investors led the round, which will be used to manage greater volume. The bank's app launched in 2017 and has reached 460,000 consumer and 30,000 small business accounts, and is on pace to hit one million by the end of the year.

DLT on the move
The Italian Banking Association has entered pre-production for a blockchain-powered reconciliation project, as new use cases start to emerge for blockchain.

ABI Lab, a research group, operated by the Italian Banking Association, is running the project along with R3's Corda platform, Sia and NTT Data.

The group has signed up 18 banks, or 78 percent of the country's banking market, to support the project, which uses a permissioned ledger to reconcile payments faster, but with increased checks to manage risk.

From the Web

Alipay accepted at over 3,000 Walgreens drugstores in the US amid overseas push by China payments firm
South China Morning Post | Thu February 14, 2019 - Chinese consumers in the US can now use Alipay to pay for purchases at over 3,000 Walgreens drugstores, as Chinese mobile payments operators continue to expand overseas. Walgreens is the latest in a string of retailers outside mainland China to accept Ant Financial Services' Alipay as a payment method.

GDPR: Not Heavy Handed Yet, But Driving Data Breaches Into The Open
Forbes | Wed February 13, 2019 - With the European Union’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) now in place a bit more than eight months, it seems that at least one of its messages has had some major resonance: A cover-up will be worse, and more expensive, than a crime.

The great Equifax mystery: 17 months later, the stolen data has never been found, and experts are starting to suspect a spy scheme
CNBC | Wed February 13, 2019 - Equifax's data breach on Sept. 7, 2017, stunned markets and American consumers, but where the data of those 143 million people disappeared to has remained a mystery. CNBC talked to experts, intelligence officials, dark web data "hunters" and Equifax to discover where they expect the data has gone, and what it is being used for.

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