Barclays' absence has been a major issue surrounding Apple Pay's long awaited move into the U.K., though with a formal announcement of Apple's mobile payment play coming as early as July 14, word of the bank's reversal started to circulate online.
The MacRumors site reported that a high-level executive at Barclays said the bank was anticipating "imminent" support of Apple Pay in the U.K., but did not indicate timing.
Barclay's support for Apple Pay is an important factor for Apple as it looks to spread its mobile payments wings. The MacRumors report indicates Barclays has been in long negotiations with Apple, quite possibly to determine how the mobile pay systems at Apple and Barclays could co-exist, complement each other or become partners in some fashion.
Barclays did not respond to PaymentsSource inquiries to clarify its stance on Apple Pay support by deadline. Apple also did not respond to inquiries and its web site did not reveal any new updates regarding the U.K. launch. Apple announced on June 8 that it was bringing Apple Pay to U.K. consumers this month.
[Editor's Note: After this story was published, a Barclays spokesman confirmed to PaymentsSource that the issuer plans to link its credit and debit cards to Apple Pay "in the future," but provided no further details.]
Barclays' track record with U.S. mobile wallets is spotty, considering it initially supported then bailed on the then-Isis mobile wallet launch (the wallet later rebranded as Softcard). But it also joined with Paydiant to further develop its branded wallet in a pilot test in Columbus, Ohio.
In the U.K., Barclays has no branded wallet to point to, or an indication it intends to launch one soon. As such, its delay in supporting Apple Pay is likely transaction-fee driven, along with some other issues that eventual partners have to iron out.
Barclays finds itself "between a rock and a hard place" in determining what to do about Apple Pay, said Greg Weed, director of card research in the financial services division of Phoenix Marketing International.
"Barclays has to worry about competing banks receiving transactions that they could have," Weed said. "If they decide not to participate, Barclays would have to come up with its own wallet solution in very short order."
In the meantime, Barclays has not wasted time in continuing its reputation as an early adopter of payments technology. The bank's card services unit, Barclaycard, revealed a new line of wearables that deploy the bank's bPay contactless payment system.
Because the bPay products allow consumers to use any type of debit card, it does not assure that a Barclays card will initiate the transactions, Weed said. Without support of Apple Pay, a Barclays branded debit or credit card "is nowhere in the mix," he added.
Barclays also is supporting Zapp as a digital commerce and in-store Near Field Communication-based system in the U.K. Industry analysts generally view Zapp as Apple's main competition in the U.K.
Because of its support of wallets in the U.S. and its prolific advancement of payment products, Barclays understands the value of a branded wallet, said Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC.
Most likely, the introduction of Android Pay, without many of the fees that Apple Pay requires, is prolonging the negotiations between Barclays and Apple, Crone added.
"However, research indicates that millennial consumers would be likely to switch banks in order to get a mobile pay capability at the point of sale," Crone said. "Barclays may have to give up the user interface to Apple, but it is far more costly to give up a customer to a competing bank."
Eventually, Barclays will likely join the other major U.K. banks supporting Apple Pay, Crone said. "Apple is very astute and skillful at approaching banks in the same way they approached the music and movie industry to support iTunes," Crone added. "They created a feeding frenzy."
Even though Apple keeps its product development and launch strategies close to the vest, it has been reported often by technology and Mac analysis sites that the company will launch Apple Pay in the U.K. on July 14.
Conflicting words from major banks in the U.K. have not helped confirm the launch, though it appears to be true in light of an HSBC tweet July 13 that expressed some excitement over tomorrow's launch. The bank quickly pulled the Tweet and informed followers that no launch date has been set, according to a report in TechCrunch.
HSBC is among six major banks initially supporting Apple Pay at launch, with other major issuers to join in the fall, Apple announced last month.
Forrester Research Inc. weighed in on Apple Pay's launch in the U.K. by indicating that no matter which financial institutions line up in support of the system, it will take some time for Apple to convince U.K. consumers to trust its services.
Only 27% of U.K. online consumers owning an iPhone would trust Apple to provide a mobile digital wallet, according to Forrester Technographics data from the first quarter of 2015. Most throw that trust to PayPal, at 43% or a card network at 40%.
That data indicates that as soon as U.K. consumers fully understand that Apple Pay actually rides on the major card network rails and utilizes Touch ID biometrics and tokenization, those numbers could change.
"Apple still has to demonstrate the added value it will bring to merchants (better experience, faster checkout, incremental revenues, etc.) and brands," Forrester analyst Thomas Husson wrote in a blog anticipating July 14 as the Apple Pay launch date in the U.K.
Regardless of any drawbacks, Apple Pay is likely to enjoy faster adoption in the U.K. than it did in the U.S. because the NFC and contactless ecosystem in the U.K. is more mature and there is no retailer-backed venture such as Merchant Customer Exchange developing its own system, Husson said.
However, faster adoption does not equate to scaling more quickly in the U.K., Husson added.
Uptake of Apple Pay in the U.S. has been steady, getting a boost each time Apple launches a new product or upgrade that incorporates the mobile pay system, according to Phoenix Marketing International research earlier this year. At that time, Phoenix estimated that 14 million iPhone users in the U.S. had linked a payment card to the Apple Pay system and about 90% of those had used the system for a payment.