As Isis shifts its marketing into high gear, the mobile wallet venture is positioning card issuers as vital to driving adoption of its app.

The telecom-led mobile payment venture's latest promotion refunds half the fare of a New York taxi ride to consumers who pay with an eligible American Express card. This latest move follows promotions that gave hundreds of dollars in statement credits to Amex and Wells Fargo customers who pay with Isis.

"The issuer promotions are broader by definition, at least from a merchant perspective, and can include a broader class of merchants," says Jaymee Johnson, head of marketing for Isis.

Isis, which is owned by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, is offering 50% back in statement credits, for a total of up to $100, to consumers who fund taxi payments with Amex's U.S. Consumer, Open Small Business and Serve accounts. The promotion runs through June 1 and covers the city's 13,000 yellow taxis. It excludes livery cabs and the green taxis that mostly cover the city's outer boroughs.

Amex has been a particularly strong supporter of the Isis wallet, which allows consumers to sign up for an Amex Serve account from within the Isis app. The Serve prepaid account essentially replaces an Isis-branded virtual card used in the mobile wallet's pilots.

The issuer offers, though aggressive, are not meant to overshadow the discounts provided by Isis' merchant partners, Johnson says.  "Loyalty programs with merchants can be more impactful because they can cover a specific use case. Both elements are an essential part of our strategy."

Still, the pairing of Amex cards and New York taxi fare is a shrewd move that could win Isis a coveted customer segment.

"A taxi promotion with American Express seems to be designed to appeal to a customer base that Isis would want," says Ben Jackson, a senior analyst at Mercator Advisory Group. "They are likely to get businesspeople and business travelers who are glued to their phones and use American Express cards for business expenses."

The sizeable discount for paying with Isis could also motivate consumers break through any remaining resistance taxi drivers may have in taking credit card payments.

"Of course, taxi drivers prefer cash because they do not want to pay the card processing fees and they want to be able to have the money they have earned immediately available at the end of their shift," Jackson says. "The 50% rebate is likely to give users a strong incentive to push for card, or phone, acceptance."

The challenges with taxi payments are fading in New York, which has been receptive to card and mobile payments for taxi fare,  Johnson says. "The penetration of contactless payments for taxis is higher in New York than in other markets."

Isis has also considered its merchant partnerships and marketing a top priority. Isis has deals with major brands such as Coca Cola, McDonald's and Jamba Juice  that predate the mobile wallet's November 2013 nationwide launch.

Isis also needs to entice consumers to use its mobile wallet, particularly since its enrollment process typically requires consumers to seek out a carrier store to obtain an enhanced SIM card. The issuer offers also serve this goal by rewarding ongoing use of the mobile wallet.

For example, the ongoing Wells Fargo offer rewards consumers of with up to $100 in statement credits per calendar month. To get the most out of this promotion, a consumer would have to use the wallet repeatedly until the promotion ends on April 30. 

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