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TAPPING INTO CONTACTLESS PAYMENTS AROUND THE GLOBE    

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TAPPING INTO CONTACTLESS PAYMENTS AROUND THE GLOBE

Kirsty Berry, Head of PR and Communications at Compass Plus

Contactless technology is undeniably a hot topic, with industry newsletters filled with stories about the technology most days. This year in the UK alone, stories have included banks issuing contactless credit cards, and contactless transactions and contactless tube journeys hitting record numbers, with Visa Europe’s CEO Nicolas Huss stating: “Contactless transaction growth is off the chart – in 2015 we went through the billion contactless transaction-a-year barrier – and in a leading market like the UK it’s fast making cash seem peculiar.”  In fact Visa Europe reported that Britain had become a ‘cash-second’ society, attributed in part to a 250% year-on-year increase in the volume of contactless transactions. However, whilst the industry highlights the UK as the poster child of contactless again and again, what about the rest of the globe?

USA

When we think about contactless technology in Europe, many would automatically think about it in relation to cards and simply tapping it on a terminal, however for the US it is not all about payment cards – in fact, less than 10% of cards shipped to the US in 2014 featured contactless technology according to the Smart Payment Association. Looking back through the US payments news archives, the mobile device seems to have taken centre stage with contactless, with the majority of stories referencing them instead of cards.

Although penetration is not high, financial institutions in the US have been issuing contactless cards since 2004, and some merchants have been installing contactless-enabled terminals. However, unlike the UK, there was no media hype around their introduction, consumers were not educated about them and merchants did not highlight their acceptance in-store. From a consumer viewpoint, everything carried on as normal. That was, until the launch of Apple Pay. That is when the fanfares started (followed by the launch of Samsung Pay, Android Pay, C­­­hase Pay – in fact, all the ‘Pays’). You would have had to be asleep under a rock in the middle of the Grand Canyon to not have heard about contactless technology via your NFC-enabled smartphone. Not only have the Pays promoted their existence and benefits for consumers, but merchants that accept them have gotten in on the action too. Over the last year the US has been awash with news bulletins about mobile contactless technology, updates of new acceptance points, partnerships, promotions, reviews, etc.

So what about the contactless payment card? The introduction of mobile-based contactless technology hasn’t done any harm in bringing all types of contactless technology to the fore. Whilst consumers may not have mobiles enabled with the technology, or wish to link their cards to mobile wallets, the hype around contactless should certainly have introduced them to it. This could mean that should they be issued contactless payment cards, they would be more likely to tap and go. One explanation for the ‘mobile first’ route the US seems to have taken could be the late and ongoing adoption of EMV cards in the region, where the costs  merchants need to incur to upgrade their terminals has limited the consumer use of chip cards. However, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s recent announcement that travellers will be able to pay for journeys on the New York subway as well as for bus journeys using contactless cards or mobile phones from 2018 demonstrates the US’ dedication to the technology.

Canada

Just over the border, cardholders in Canada are used to tapping their payment card on POS terminals. More than 75% of retailers accept contactless payments and MasterCard suggests that contactless transactions account for 10% of domestic transactions with an average increase of 1% per month with 37% of Canadians having paid using the technology (RFi Group). According to Moneris Solutions Corp, in just three months (Q3 2015) the dollar volume of contactless payments jumped 162% compared to the same quarter in 2014. What is apparent is unlike the US, the penetration of contactless in Canada is setting the scene for mobile payments, not vice versa.

Asia Pacific

On the other side of the globe, Asia Pacific has seen the number of unique contactless users in the region grow 49% year-on-year in 2014 according to MasterCard. Although previously predominantly cash-based economies, developing markets in the region are becoming more connected with rapidly increasing smartphone penetration, which has led to a shift to new payment technologies – not just mobile payments. Asia Pacific did not need the launch of Apple Pay (and such like) to spur their move to contactless technology – instead Visa and MasterCard have been involved in local campaigns to promote the technology and address any specific market issues. According to a 2015 survey from RFi Group, Australia sees the largest penetration of contactless payments in the region with 53% having made a contactless transaction, Singapore came second with 54% and Taiwan third in at 41%. In a region where traditionally cash has been king, these numbers show the potential for further growth using convenient and fast tap and go transactions.

Collaborations between the payment networks, issuers and merchants have been key in driving contactless adoption in the region, with issuers offering incentives such as cashback alongside other rewards to encourage individuals to use their contactless-enabled debit or credit cards. The push to contactless payments penetration in the region has also become a cross-border initiative. For example, in 2014, Singapore’s EZ-Link Private Ltd and Taiwan’s EasyCard Corporation developed a contactless card and multipurpose platform to help increase tourism and business travel across the region. Consumers across the Asia Pacific region are undoubtedly learning to embrace contactless technology, and this is only set to grow as connectivity in the region improves.

Nordics

It is well-documented that the Nordic region is ahead of the curve when it comes to the ‘cashless society’, with the electronic payments revolution in full swing – the Danish Chamber of Commerce has proposed to allow most retailers to refuse cash transactions, and in Sweden even the homeless selling magazines on the street accept electronic payments. Contactless technology has only been launched in the region in recent years, with each country at different stages of penetration. In Finland the technology is gaining acceptance; there were 2 million contactless cards in circulation in 2014, a figure that is expected to reach 7.9 million by 2019. According to RBR, contactless enabled cards have a 0% share in Denmark and Norway. Whilst in Sweden, contactless mobile transactions seem to offer the biggest business opportunity. With traditional cards already well established, the extra functionality contactless technology gives consumers has not been a selling point. Instead, mobile payments companies are partnering with financial institutions to bring NFC-smartphone transactions to the public.

There are different levels of contactless penetration across the globe, even within each region, with many external factors affecting adoption from cultural behaviours, consumer need and education to merchant acceptance. Although numerous countries are starting to rollout the technology using cards and graduating to NFC-enabled smartphones when cards reach an acceptable level of adoption, some seem to be more in favour of mobiles and are bypassing cards altogether, mainly in countries where EMV technology and transport systems based on contactless cards have not been fully adopted. Regardless of whether contactless is card-based or mobile-based, it is evident that the technology has made a big impact around the world and as its adoption by consumers and acceptance by merchants increases, this is only likely to continue.

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Bitcoin, ether hit fresh highs

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Bitcoin, ether hit fresh highs 1

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Bitcoin hit a fresh high in Asian trading on Saturday, extending a two-month rally that saw its market capitalisation cross $1 trillion a day earlier.

The world’s most popular cryptocurrency rose to an record $56,620, taking its weekly gain to 18%. It has surged more than 92% this year.

Bitcoin’s gains have been fuelled by evidence it is gaining acceptance among mainstream investors and companies, such as Tesla Inc, Mastercard Inc and BNY Mellon.

Ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization and daily volume, hit a record $2,040.62, for a weekly gain of about 12%.

Ether is the digital currency or token that facilitates transactions on the ethereum blockchain. In the crypto world, the terms ether and ethereum have become interchangeable.

Ether futures contracts launched on derivatives exchange CME earlier this month.

(Reporting by Vidya Ranganathan; Editing by William Mallard)

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World Bank pushing for standard vaccine contracts, more disclosure from makers

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World Bank pushing for standard vaccine contracts, more disclosure from makers 2

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank is working to standardize COVID-19 vaccine contracts that countries are signing with drug makers, and is pushing manufacturers to be more open about where doses are headed, as it races to get more vaccines to poor countries, the bank’s president said on Friday.

World Bank President David Malpass told Reuters he expected the bank’s board to have approved $1.6 billion in vaccine funding for 12 countries, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Tunisia and Ethiopia, by the end of March, with 30 more to follow shortly thereafter.

The bank is working with local governments to identify and fill gaps in distribution capacity, after they purchase vaccines under a $12 billion World Bank program, and also to standardize the contracts they are signing with manufacturers, he said.

The bank’s International Finance Corp, its private financing arm, has $4 billion to invest in expanding existing production plants or building new ones, including in developed countries, but needs more data on where current production is headed, he said.

“We are eager to be investing in new capacity, but it’s hard to do because you don’t know how much of the existing capacity is already committed to the various off-takers,” Malpass said in an interview with Reuters. New or expanded plants could be used to produce other types of vaccinations in the future, he said.

The bank’s funds could be used to expand plants in advanced economies, if the production was earmarked for developing nations, he said.

Malpass welcomed Friday’s pledge by the Group of Seven rich countries to intensify cooperation on the pandemic, saying it could help jump-start deliveries of vaccines to poorer countries, which are lagging far behind rich countries in getting shots in arms.

Data compiled by Our World In Data, a scientific online publication, showed Israel was leading the world in COVID-19 vaccinations, with nearly 82 of 100 people vaccinated, while India and Bangladesh reported less than one person per 100, Many African countries have not started at all.

Malpass said he was heartened by news about new vaccines coming down the road, and about Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE seeking permission to store their vaccine at higher temperatures, which would ease another obstacle to deliveries in lower-income countries.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons and Leslie Adler)

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Google to evaluate executive performance on diversity, inclusion

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Google to evaluate executive performance on diversity, inclusion 3

By Paresh Dave

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google will evaluate the performance of its vice presidents and above on team diversity and inclusion starting this year, the company said on Friday in one of several responses to concerns about its treatment of a Black scientist.

Timnit Gebru, co-leader of Google’s ethical artificial intelligence research team, said in December that Google abruptly fired her after she criticized its diversity efforts and threatened to resign.

Alphabet and Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai ordered a review of the situation. While Google declined to share specific findings, the company announced on Friday it will engage human resources specialists during sensitive employee departures.

Pichai in June said that by 2025, Google aims to have 30% more of its leaders come from underrepresented groups, with a focus on Black, Latinx and Native American leaders in the United States and female technical leaders globally. About 96% of Google’s U.S. leaders at the time were white or Asian, and 73% globally were men.

As a result of the investigation, the company also expanded a commitment announced in June to devote more resources to retaining and promoting existing employees, including by expanding a team addressing disputes among workers and their managers.

The diversity component of executive performance reviews was not previously announced, and the company did not immediately share details about what would be measured and how pay would be affected.

Alphabet for years had rejected proposals from shareholders and employees to set diversity goals and tie executive pay to them.

Irene Knapp, a former Google employee who advocated for one such proposal at a 2018 shareholder meeting, said on Friday, “I am pleased that they met our demand from 2018, which was a bare minimum that should have been easy to do immediately.”

Evaluating managers on diversity goals is becoming more commonplace. McDonald’s Corp on Thursday tied executive bonuses to diversity.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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