MCX, a retailer-driven mobile commerce initiative, is being steadily built upon retailers' desire to control their own customer data and possibly lessen the sting of, or bypass totally, card payment interchange fees. But it must still deliver two key things: a brand and a product.

MCX, which stands for Merchant Customer Exchange, hired former Barclaycard U.S. managing director Dekkers Davidson as its CEO in July. It regularly adds new retailers, and has formed partnerships with tech vendors such as FIS and Gemalto. And although MCX has settled on an underlying technology for its mobile wallet, it has yet to demonstrate it to consumers.

"We scanned the earth looking for an MCX pilot, and there is no evidence of one being in place," says Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC.

MCX did, however, hint that a rollout may be imminent, considering it has chosen bar codes and a cloud-based system, technologies that are widely supported by phones and terminals.

"We do feel good about where we are at this point," says MCX spokesman Jeremy Mullman. "This is not a category where there is a first-to-market advantage. It's more important to get there the right way with scale and acceptance."

It's also important to pick a catchy name. The MCX system "will have a consumer name at some point that probably won't be MCX," Mullman says.

MCX's choice of hiring Davidson is akin to hiring "a mobile payments rock star," Crone says. "He has evaluated every mobile offering on the planet and has deployment experience with cloud-based mobile pay at Barclays."

Davidson could make a difference for MCX, so much so that his addition as the project leader "is like Steve Jobs coming back to Apple," Crone says.

And, just like Apple has been known to do, MCX may be taking its time to watch a market develop before jumping in to disrupt it. Without any public records to review, Crone estimates MCX has raised about $40 million to $50 million, but has "the least to show for it" among the major mobile wallet ventures, he says.

However, a few other mobile wallet initiatives are taking a similarly cautious approach. The wireless carriers' Isis venture started its pilots in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas last year behind schedule, and only recently declared plans to move ahead with a nationwide rollout this year. And PayPal, in its efforts to reach more merchants through a pact with Discover, is postponing some functionality of its digital wallet at those merchants in exchange for a simpler deployment.

MCX may seem as though it's taking a long time to develop because no one has scale in retail, Mullman says. "You can go into Chicago and find six different places that accept mobile payments and there might be 10 different platforms to do it," he says.

"MCX is looking to solve that issue," according to Mullman. "When we roll out and are fully developed, the vision is a mobile commerce system working at 90,000 locations and with companies that process $3 trillion a year and represent some of the top revenue generators in retail," he adds.

Though detractors may say MCX will have a hard time getting past the fact it relies on competing retailers to agree on vitally important issues, Mullman is quick to point out the venture would not exist if the retailers weren't on the same page to begin with.

"The retailers agree that legacy payment systems are costly and prone to fraud loss and are hoping that the transition to mobile pay can improve that in some way," Mullman says. "The solutions on the market now don't do that, and MCX members want a hand in improving the system."

Retailers also agree the data from their transactions should stay between them and their customers, Mullman says. Other mobile commerce models share data with competitors, and "merchants hate that," he adds.

A longer version of this story will appear in ISO&Agent.

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