Visa's V.me digital wallet is picking up momentum and the initiative is "right on the point of the spear" of the card network's product development strategy, CFO Byron Pollitt said.
The San Francisco company's digital wallet is designed to work on the Web, mobile devices and at the point of sale. Thirty-one merchant websites began accept V.me and an additional 132 merchants signed up to launch it on their own sites, CEO Charlie Scharf said during the company's fiscal first quarter earnings conference call.
Speaking to analysts during the Feb. 6 earnings call—his first since becoming Visa's CEO in October—Scharf said 63 card issuers are also ready to participate on the digital wallet effort, a group that represents 55 million Visa cards and includes 12 of the top 25 U.S. banks and 51 regional banks.
"I know you've heard about it, but it's actually real. It's live. It's in the market," Scharf said of V.me, which also allows payments from non-Visa cards.
"As we think about these capabilities and thinking about things that we do, our focus is on extending the core network, and access and capabilities of that network," he added.
Visa's emphasis on V.me is reflected in its capital allocation strategy, added Pollitt.
"The growth in our capital is going to be software development that underpins our products. Our new products in mobile [and] V.me are right on the point of the spear with that," Pollitt said.
Meanwhile, Discover Financial Services has been an eager mobile wallet participant, working with both PayPal and Google Wallet, and its Discover Network was an early partner with the wireless carriers developing the Isis wallet.
Scharf said Visa's overarching goal is to provide more access and options to the issuer, acquirer, cardholder and merchant participants on its network.
"Whether it's through the relationship building, whether it's through helping people marketing, whether it's using their data, using their information, building things like V.me, building mobile, all those things that we do create more value," Scharf said.
"And as long as we continue to do that, our network is far from a commodity," he added.
Visa posted net income of $1.3 billion in its fiscal 1Q13 that ended on Dec. 31, 2012, up 26% year-over-year.
Analysts on the call questioned Visa's role in the initiative and whether developing a direct-to-consumer digital wallet signifies that Visa is straying from its traditional role as payments intermediary, a notion Scharf dismissed.
"We're here to support the customers of our issuers and acquirers…We're building V.me on behalf of our customers. If you go use V.me, you have to register for it, so that your information gets in there; but from that point forward, it is completely supportive of our banks," he said.
He noted that the digital wallet displays images of consumers' cards that look just like the plastic cards they carry today.
"V.me is not meant to be direct-to-consumer to go around our issuers. It's actually just the opposite," he said. "It's meant to support them with an electronic wallet that will enable them to continue to grow commerce."
One analyst noted that with 13 of the top 25 banks not participating on the wallet, less than half of the top banks are on board and asked how Visa could better improve its relationship with banks.
"You go through the relationships that we have with the big U.S. banks, and it's hard to say you'd trade our position with anyone's in the marketplace," Scharf responded. "And is that something we have to earn every day? Absolutely. Are things like V.me, things that actually solidify those relationships? Absolutely."