Curve enters the fearsome market for all-in-one cards

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The all-in-one card market is littered with the carcasses of unsuccessful ventures, but Curve's Shachar Bialick insists his initiative has a model and a headstart that will help it fight the market's considerable headwinds.

"From the outside it sounds like all of these all-in-one cards are defaulting one after the others," said Bialick, the CEO of the London-based Curve. "But those other ventures didn't always work. And when that happens you still have to bring all of your cards with you. We have a way to only require Curve."

Curve formally launched its all-in-one card last week, with a pitch that sounds familiar. Consumers can load their card accounts onto a single card, avoiding the hassle of searching through different cards in a wallet. The card is free, though there is a $60 premium option with more features. Curve is focused mainly on Europe, where the fintech ecosystem is more advanced than in the U.S. and the data access is easier through PSD2 and other regulations, according to Bialick.

The idea of a multi-account card has struggled mightily in the past, enough that in at least one case the technology wound up buried in a fitness band instead of at the top spot of a wallet.

That card, Coin, reportedly suffered from usability issues at point of sale terminals and distribution problems. Coin used Bluetooth technology to pair with smartphones, a model that other all-in-one cards such as Bluenio also attempted (Bluenio also struggled; no record of the card could be found beyond 2014). Coin eventually sold its technology to Fitbit to embed transaction capabilities into wearable devices.

Other multi-account cards also sputtered. Plastc shut down in the spring of 2017 after losing support from an investor. Stratos shut down but was later acquired by CardLab Innovation for further development in 2017. Dynamics recently introduced an internet-connected version of its high-tech payment card, addressing the issues that troubled its original model.

There are differences with Curve that give it a better chance, Bialick said.

Curve is using the Mastercard network—the cards are usable at all Mastercard accepting terminals, which should dilute the access and usability problems that other multi-account cards have had since Curve's usage resembles a traditional card, Bialick contends. (Coin had a development partnership with Mastercard that ended when Coin sold its technology to Fitbit, a Mastercard spokesperson said in an email.)

"Pairing Bluetooth to a phone is hard to do. We have all the card tech that the banks have," Bialick said. "We're an antibiotic instead of a headache pill—targeting the source of the challenge."

Curve also touts an existing user base from tests. It reports more than 100,000 sign ups who have altogether spent $120 million during beta. This demonstrates a market need that isn't met by smartphone-based mobile wallets, Bialick said.

"The [mobile] wallet infrastructure isn't there yet today, and mobile wallets still do not work as well as cards," Bialick said. "We can breach this infrastructure gap, presenting a multi-card option with the same user behavior."

Curve is additionally working on a broader product set, having already released a "back in time" feature that allows users to change the card used to fund a purchase after the fact. It's also working on an installment feature that would work similar to Klarna, and this would make Curve more of a flexible payment tool than traditional all-in-one card.

There's still user habits to overcome that make the all-in-one market a challenge for entrants, according to Rick Oglesby, president of AZ Payments.

"All-in-one cards struggle because consumers have trained themselves to use their existing cards. They make their payment choices on a habitual autopilot," Oglesby said. "If they are to change their intentionally-created habits, they need not only compelling reasons to do so, but also reminders at the point of purchase to help them through the transition."

Curve represents yet another effort to overcome this habitual momentum.

"Its success depends on its ability to convince consumers to carry only the Curve card. Consumers that simply add Curve to their card collection are most likely to default back to their previous habits," Oglesby said.

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