Dekkers Davidson, called a "rock star" of mobile payments when he became head of the Merchant Customer Exchange two years ago, has left the building. But the show must go on for the merchant mobile wallet.
It's been a whirlwind week for MCX, an initiative backed by mega-retailers like Walmart and Target. Apple revealed on Monday that one of MCX's biggest supporters, Best Buy, would abandon its exclusivity to also accept Apple Pay. And on Tuesday, MCX disclosed that it is in need of a new CEO.
Another recent setback was PayPal's purchase of Paydiant, one of MCX's early technology partners. Throughout this turmoil, MCX has emphasized its commitment to creating its CurrentC wallet, though its vision has clearly changed since the initiative launched in 2012.
As former Bank of America and First Data executive Brian Mooney takes over as interim CEO of MCX, he and the rest of MCX's leadership must decide which of the organization's many goals remain achievable in a world where Apple Pay has swarmed the market.
"We are in this for the long haul and are taking the time to create the right solution, ensuring that CurrentC is a consumer- and merchant-friendly mobile payments network," MCX said today in an emailed statement.
There are many recent examples for MCX to follow in this situation, but they all require a substantial shift in its expectations for CurrentC.
One working model comes from a U.K. joint venture originally called Project Oscar. This ambitious telco-backed mobile wallet developer scuttled its plans to create a fully functional mobile wallet and instead shifted its efforts to developing virtual advertising and marketing services.
The project, now called Weve, officially abandoned its mobile wallet ambitions shortly after the launch of Apple Pay (which has yet to reach the U.K.). The project's backers Everything Everywhere, Telefonica O2 and Vodafone U.K. determined they would best be served in working on their own wallet projects than struggling to agree on a collaborative alternative to Apple.
But this comparison is not a perfect fit for MCX's situation, said Zil Bareisis, a London-based senior analyst for research firm Celent.
"Obviously, the common theme for both MCX and Weve is that they were a consortium of non-bank players," Bareisis said. "The underlying objectives, dynamics and therefore implications are rather different between Weve and MCX."
Another recent mobile walled project, Softcard, provides a more grim option for MCX. Softcard, a venture of three major U.S. telcos, recently shut down and sold off its technology to its rival, Google, which will install its Google Wallet app on smartphones sold by the carriers behind the failed Softcard wallet. Indeed, MCX has something to offer Apple: an emphasis on rewards and loyalty, which are conspicuously absent from the current version of Apple Pay.
It's clear that MCX can't derail Apple Pay at this point, but it could bring a lot to the table as a partner, said Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC.
Crone, who gave Davidson the "rock star" label, had similar praise for MCX interim CEO Mooney.
"Every position of authority that Brian Mooney has led, he has accomplished bringing banks and retailers together in very complicated scenarios," Crone said. If Mooney can duplicate those efforts on behalf of MCX and gain much-needed support in key places, he could right a ship that appears to be in a precarious position at the moment, Crone added.
MCX always intended its CurrentC wallet to be adaptable. Though the project committed early on to using QR codes at the point of sale, it was open to using Near Field Communication and similar technologies as the market evolves.
Along the lines of Weve, MCX could also take a cue from American Express, which emulated the MCX model in launching Plenti, a loyalty program for cross-merchant and cross-industry rewards. However, under Plenti's model American Express will issue the rewards, manage the program marketing and securely store consumer data all of which require retailers to give up the control they sought to retain when designing MCX.
Until recently, MCX's slow pace of development has served it well by helping it avoid the quick flareouts of its rivals. But its remaining competitors, particularly Apple, are aggressive by nature. Such companies would be less inclined to collaborate with a group that waits too long to bring its offering to market.
It's up to Davidson's successor to push MCX's stakeholders out of their comfort zone, Crone said.
"The speed of the leadership dictates the speed of the gang, with the gang here being the MCX board and the member retailers," Crone said.