Ford, SumUp and Mastercard put more small-biz tech into cars and trucks

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The interior of a car or truck is a fintech frontier — one that is undergoing a trial by fire during the pandemic, including as a point of sale venue for small merchants.

SumUp and Mastercard are working with Ford to embed payment technology in commercial vehicles. The three companies are targeting small businesses that rely on the vehicles as an actual part of the business, such as a food truck, beverage supplier, florist or independent delivery businesses.

It's an attempt to specialize services that are often associated with technology companies such as Square or Stripe, which enable non-technical companies to accept cards or online payments by providing a digital overlay.

The businesses that Ford, SumUp and Mastercard are approaching usually accept cash for their services, or submit a bill to their customer.

The three companies jointly released technology that allows merchants to accept card payments, either via chip and PIN or contactless. The collaboration utilizes the automaker's year-old FordPass Pro app, which allows users to control their vehicles remotely. The app can link to as many as five vehicles, and is designed for small businesses (Ford has a separate payment app for larger corporate fleets).

A lifeline from banks and fintechs

Banks, which traditionally were seen as undeserving small businesses, have made a concerted effort to reach out during the coronavirus pandemic with a mix of lending, payment processing and general business consulting.

"At a time when customers and businesses alike opt for a rapid, safe and hygienic way to pay, being able to offer payment methods which are in line with the current health and safety guidelines is hugely important for merchants," said Alexander von Schirmeister, executive vice president for Europe for SumUp, adding the partnership addresses some of these new needs brought about by the pandemic by offering more choice to small businesses and enabling them to accept card payments, including contactless, as opposed to cash only.

Financial technology companies for years have focused on small businesses, partly because of the perceived disinterest from banks. These fintechs have turned to collaborations to combine digital payments with supply chain management, lending and other business functions.

Ford and Mastercard did not return requests for comment by deadline. Most of the Ford app's features thus far are tied to security, remote unlocking, locating vehicles in lots, alerts for gas and business management tasks. The Ford app will add a mobile payment feature as part of the collaboration, tying to SumUp's mobile point of sale hardware that can temporarily attach to a car as if it were a terminal in a small merchant.

The service will initially be available in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the U.K. SumUp recently released a payment card, and in the summer of 2019 entered a partnership with Mastercard which includes a five-year plan to deploy SumUp's card readers in new venues, as well as develop for wearables.

Under the Ford/SumUp/Mastercard deal, Ford customers will get discounted hardware, lower rates, and the first £1,000 ($1,360) of transactions fee-free. Payments taken on the platform are available the following day on the SumUp Mastercard, a decision tied to boosting liquidity, which is a common goal of pandemic-era small- business payment projects.

"Digital commerce has led to many fields previously seen as separate to become interconnected and in-vehicle payment technology is a step we are increasingly excited by," von Schirmeister said. "There should be a throughline between the card in your wallet, your smartphone and your car dashboard and there are many parties working on making that a reality while keeping all parts secure."

Automakers have been adding in-vehicle payment technology for years, but progress has been slow as developers tested designs, use cases and ways to ensure drivers and passengers can shop and make purchases safely.

Writing for PaymentsSource, Jim Carroll, CTO of Mobica, said in-car payments still require substantial IT work in order to expand beyond tool booths and in-vehicle payment at gas pumps, adding there are different ways to connect the in-vehicle entertainment systems to support most in-car commerce features to payment rails. "A car is of little use as a payment device if there are no devices available capable of accepting payments from them," Carroll wrote.

During the pandemic, Visa and Mastercard have worked to improve interoperability, hoping their scale and international networks create standards for in-car commerce. The Ford/SumUp/Mastercard partnership involves vehicles that are at rest — people don't make purchases from moving food trucks, so it's an intermediary step.

"In-vehicle payment technology opens up new doors including being able to pay directly via your dashboard at a drive-thru fast food outlet, or being an independent business owner operating from a food truck with a payment point already installed for consumer convenience," von Schirmeister said.

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Fintech Small business Retailers Mastercard Internet of things