From a consumer's perspective, the Merchant Customer Exchange mobile payment initiative ended 2013 in much the same way as it ended 2012 — with many big-name merchants signed on, but no product available to make payments in stores.

Behind the scenes, MCX has made greater strides.  

Backed by the likes of Walmart and Target, MCX hired Dekkers Davidson, who has been called an industry "rock star," as its CEO in July. Over the past year, MCX has also cemented tech deals with vendors like FIS and Gemalto, and has steadily expanded its merchant roster.

"We have seen great momentum in the marketplace during 2013," says Scott Rankin, chief marketing officer for MCX. "In fact, we have more than tripled the number of MCX merchants since MCX was announced in August 2012."

But on the consumer side, perhaps it is wise to lay low for now, particularly since one of MCX's biggest names, Target, recently disclosed a major data breach.

The breach exposed about 40 million credit and debit cards, as well as encrypted PINs, belonging to people who shopped at the mega-retailer during the height of the holiday shopping season. In the wake of the Target breach and other incidents, consumers are becoming "massively paranoid of other people having access to their money," says merchant acquirer consultant and industry researcher Paul Martaus, of Mountain Home, Ark.-based Martaus & Associates.

In light of this, MCX would be wise to get bank partners on board, Martaus says.

"MCX is an ongoing story," Martaus says. "But every research project I have conducted indicates that consumers may dislike their banks, but they couldn't fathom putting their money anywhere else."

If MCX can find a way to ease those fears when rolling out its product, the initiative could set itself up for a big 2014, Martaus says. "MCX is signing up a lot of retailers and are likely to unveil something that neither the card brands nor the debit networks were counting on."

MCX would not comment directly about the Target breach, though Rankin shared the company's philosophy about how it will provide security, most likely cloud-based, for data that would remain under the retailers' control.

"MCX is the only provider that can commit to merchants that their customer data is their property, period," Rankin says. "Data will only be shared with others if merchants explicitly opt-in to do so."

With the advent of mobile payment solutions, the concept of customer data is different, Rankin says. "It’s much more than card numbers and names," he adds. "The smartphone provides the means to communicate directly with customers."

As MCX prepares for its launch, one of the initiative's best assets is its CEO, says Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC.

In Davidson's earlier role at Barclaycard U.S., "he has evaluated every mobile offering on the planet and has deployment experience with cloud-based mobile at Barclays," Crone says.

MCX's growing roster of retail supporters are also a big asset for the initiative. Recent additions include ExxonMobil, Giant Eagle, Kum & Go and Rite Aid.

"MCX members now include more than 20 percent of the top 100 merchants by sales, according to Stores magazine," Rankin adds.

In early 2013, MCX said it is building a cloud-based payment system that would use QR codes to present payment details at the point of sale.  This software-based approach is meant to allow the MCX wallet to integrate with any retailer's current mobile commerce app.

Heading into 2014, MCX executives say the venture remains on the right track.

"We've made great strides in our mission to improve the shopping experience by offering consumers a widely-accepted, customer-focused and secure mobile commerce platform," Rankin says.

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