Decoupled debit cards, which enable payments from a checking account at a separate bank, are getting a lift from gas stations — but the product is also under fire from new products, including mobile wallets.

In earlier years, decoupled debit cards were pitched as products for banks and merchants to use to get customer spending without owning the whole relationship. They're also inexpensive, typically relying on automated clearing house transactions for funding.

"We have had ACH [payments] at the pump for three years and it's a lower cost than a normal debit card," says Bill Deichler, manager of payment methods for El Dorado, Ark.-based Murphy Oil USA.

Murphy Oil offers three cents off on a gallon of gas, or whatever the lowest price at the pump was in the last 24 hours at that location, Deichler says.

Gulf Oil/Cumberland Farms' SmartPay operation in Framingham, Mass., is one of the most successful decoupled debit programs, mainly because it offers customers 10 cents off at the pump, he says.

"They can afford to offer 10 cents off because they can make that up with purchases in their stores," Deichler says. "I can't do that, because my stations are set up with payment kiosks, located in Walmart parking lots."

Cumberland Farms enrolled 100,000 new customers within three months after offering its SmartPay decoupled debit card and mobile app, and is processing 30,000 transactions on peak days, says Dave Banks, Cumberland's chief information officer.

Banks downplayed customers' reluctance to provide their banking account and routing numbers, a common argument against a decoupled debit program.

"The enrollment process was a bit onerous because it takes a couple of days to confirm everything and approve it, and I was worried about that," Banks says. "But it didn't seem to be a problem."

The mobile app asks users to enter a PIN, pump number and station location, then communicates with the station network to apply the 10-cent discount, Banks says.

Fresno, Calif.-based mShift Inc. aims to reduce the burden of enrollment through a mobile app.

Merchants using mShift's AnyWhereMobile system use an iPad-based point of sale system that is separate from their regular POS system. Consumers enroll through their bank's site, thus linking their checking account automatically, says Jeff Chen, vice president of business development for mShift.

At a gas station, the consumer would use the app to scan a QR code displayed on the pump. "No cards are used in this system," Chen says.

Salt Lake City-based Maverik Country Stores has operated a successful decoupled debit program through its Chrome loyalty card. Earlier this year, Maverik had 300,000 Chrome cardholders enjoying 2 cents off a gallon at the Maverik gas pumps, says Ernie Harker, marketing manager for Maverik.

The company eventually developed a decoupled debit product called the Black Debit Card that offered 6 cents off at the pump, quickly enrolling 40,000 cardholders, Harker says.

Being in the same city where AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile tested the Isis mobile wallet allowed Maverik to tie incentives to the Isis app. Maverik patrons can put their Black Card in the Isis Wallet and earn free "chiller" drinks when they tap-and-pay with Isis at the pump, Harker says.

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