First Data ties into Apple's channels to fuel its mobile strategy

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For the second time in less than a week, First Data has found an already speeding car to hop on board in the company's strategy to cover as many digital commerce bases as quickly as possible.

By supporting loyalty and gift card products for Apple Pay through First Data's Clover mobile point of sale platform, the company is supporting Apple's mobile wallet just as Apple Pay shows signs of progress. Apple just announced a new geographic expansion for Apple Pay, and carries a large share of transactions in the markets where it's already active.

"The way consumers are paying is changing and the rate of change is going to accelerate," said Mark Schulze, a vice president of business development at First Data. "Once a new innovation catches on at a certain location, it grows to be a large portion of the market quickly."

As part of an expanded collaboration with Apple announced on Monday, First Data's Clover Go, an EMV and Apple Pay-enabled mobile card reader, will be available shortly on and in retail stores across the U.S. First Data hopes the moves and tie-in to Apple will create brand awareness for Clover Go.

The marketing collaboration, Apple VAS, or "value added service" will reduce the amount of navigation and registration required for loyalty or rewards programs accessed through Apple Pay and Clover. "You can join a program with one tap. It makes it a more compelling program," Schulze said.

The extended Apple collaboration comes a few days after First Data announced it's acquiring BluePay, a processor that specializes in powering transactions for independent software vendors and technology developers. That market i's getting larger as more companies turn to third-party developers to build out parts of their businesses.

And an earlier deal to acquire CardConnect allows First Data to accelerate development of processing, CRM, e-commerce and marketing for merchants.

The acquisitions and Apple collaboration are distinct moves, but all give First Data the ability to scale quickly as different use cases for mobile payments ramp up among various merchant and business sectors. First Data's already a distribution partner for CardConnect and BluePay, and more than one million First Data merchants accept Apple Pay, giving First Data a ready-made audience for different mobile activities and a way to build relationships by easing technology integration.

The rush to mobile payment enablement has driven a level complexity that challenges the simplicity of payments at the point of sale, said Tim Sloane, vice president of payments innovation and the director of the emerging technologies advisory service at Mercator Advisory Group.

"It is far easier to deliver a simple and easy payment via a mobile app combined with a card on file," Sloane said, adding that in a rush to deploy NFC and EMV while making these migrations "backwards compatible" with all existing card types, the networks created complexity that has delayed deployments.

There's also a competitive stress in the broader merchant acquiring business to offer more payment types and address different uses cases through a single hosted service. JPMorgan Chase is acquiring WePay to compete with Stripe and Square in the race to provide merchants an easy upgrade to mobile payments; and Google just announced a feature that makes it easier for merchants to accept mobile payments beyond Android Pay.

"More convenient payments and loyalty will transform small to medium business, and First Data and Clover wants to be the tip of the spear on that," Schulze said. "The merchant space hadn't seen a lot of innovation in years, but now there's a lot of tech and it's converging with NFC and looping in things like gift cards and loyalty services. We're going to see real innovation in the next three to five years."

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Mobile point-of-sale Payment processing Apple Pay Apple First Data