Can you tell us a little bit about Mobeam and what its role is in the payments industry?
Quite simply, there are two ways that shoppers can pay for goods when they check out. First they can redeem gift cards or coupons. These have barcodes and are entered into the scanner. The shopper hands the gift card or the paper coupon to the cashier who then scans it and the amount is deducted from the payment due. Next, the shopper pays the rest with cash or a credit or debit card. If a card is used, the shopper swipes it at the payment terminal. The payment terminal is different than the scanner and is connected to the POS system in a different way. Mobile payment apps such as ApplePay are becoming popular today as replacements for credit or debit cards. The shopper can store multiple cards in the mobile payment app, and then when they go to pay, they select a card to use from within the app and hold the phone near the payment terminal, and the payment terminal reads the card information from the phone through an NFC (basically a low powered radio signal) or other electronic link. However, if that same shopper has a bar-coded gift card or coupon, they still must hand it to the cashier to be manually scanned since the laser scanner is not able to read a barcode displayed on the phone screen for technical reasons such as screen reflectivity, backlighting, etc. So the checkout process is still part manual and part mobile app. This is where Mobeam comes in. Mobeam allows an LED on the phone to “beam” a barcode with an invisible infra-red light which is read by the scanner AS IF the scanner were reading a barcode. This beam is emitted from a sensor LED that is a normal part of the smartphone. Mobeam technology “blinks” this LED to emit the beam. Therefore with a Mobeam-enabled app, the consumer can store gift cards and coupons which are barcoded, and at checkout they can use the same app to beam the gift card or coupons into the scanner and then simply move the phone to complete the checkout with a stored credit or debit card. Mobeam is the ONLY WAY a bar-coded payment can be entered into the scanner. By incorporating Mobeam into the payment app, the app becomes a true “payment wallet” since it can now handle both bar-coded cards and coupons as well as credit and debit cards. This is more convenient for the shopper, faster for the cashier, and gives the app company an advantage over other payment apps which only handle credit and debit cards.
How did you get into the payments industry?
Well, I had a lot of brand and retail experience from the first half of my career, so I knew the consumer retail area pretty well. I have a lot of experience working with “growth stage” tech startups which is the stage that Mobeam is in; moving from product stage to commercialization and growth stage. In one of my earlier roles I was CEO of a company called Tapjoy which is the largest discovery and monetization platform for mobile apps, so I also had some experience with the mobile app space and with different ways of paying for goods within an app. If you pull all of this together I had the right mix of industry and management experience to be a good fit with what Mobeam does. Although I know the consumer retail and mobile areas fairly well, I’m not a payments expert but we have others in the company who are. So as a management team we have all the bases covered, as they say.
With security being top of mind when talking about the payments industry how does Mobeams technology help safeguard against fraud?
A plastic card with a barcode, or a paper coupon, can be copied very simply. By copying the barcode, the copied version will scan with the same information as the original, so the gift card or coupon, or anything with a barcode, can be duplicated illegally with a simple copier or cellphone camera. Mobeam causes the phone to emit an invisible beam of infra-red light. This cannot be intercepted and copied without sophisticated electronic equipment, and the thief would have to be standing near the shopper to intercept the beam with this equipment. Obviously this is quite unlikely to happen. Therefore the use of Mobeam pretty much eliminates barcode copying and fraud, so issuers of bar-coded payment methods like this aspect of Mobeam a lot. So in addition to simply making barcodes readable by the scanner, we do it in a way that has much better security and fraud protection.
How do you see Mobeam evolving within the next five year?
We see Mobeam as a central component of the mobile payments ecosystem, by being integrated with major payment apps thus giving them a full payment capability that includes barcoded payments as well as cards with magnetic strips. We also have our own app, BeepNGo, which does not handle credit or debit cards but it handles the full range of barcoded cards and coupons. Most shoppers accumulate a lot of gift cards, for instance, but don’t carry around a bundle of plastic. So they often forget or are unable to use them and the card may expire or just sit in a drawer. By storing all of your cards into our app, the shopper can thus always have all of their gift cards with them. Mobeam can also be used without a phone, through the use of an LED chip that can be affixed to some other device or form factor. Therefore, Mobeam can be used for greater security and reliability anywhere that barcodes are used in mass such as in healthcare, event ticketing, gaming, baggage processing, and other areas.
When it comes to mobile payments do you believe the emphasis needs to be on developing solutions that work with retailers current payment infrastructure or making the push for retailers to update their systems and why?
Clearly the most successful mobile payment solutions will be the ones that work with existing retail POS equipment. Retailers are very slow to change, do not have a lot of profits to change out multi millions of scanner equipment, and no one payment app is going to own the whole market. There is no incentive for the retailer to change, but the bigger question is what are they going to change to? The current red-laser scanner technology is very effective and efficient in checking out large numbers of items. There simply is no better way to do it. There are some changes being made in the payment terminal used to read credit and debit cards, but that does not work for barcoded payment methods which must be entered through the scanner. So any mobile payment app must work with the equipment that is currently at the checkout lane. And even though the technology is changing for the card payment terminal, for major retailers the scanning technology is already the best available solution. So the true mobile wallet will need to work with the current laser scanning technology as well as with the technology that the payment terminals are being upgraded to, which is primarily NFC.