Apple Pay switched on in Australia, but only for Amex

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Apple Pay will be switched on in Australia on Thursday for iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads, but only American Express card holders will be able to use it.

The launch in Australia follows a rollout in Canada on Wednesday. Spain, Hong Kong and Singapore will follow suit in 2016.

Any retailer that accepts Amex contactless payments will accept payments on iPhones loaded with Amex card credentials. 

That includes David Jones, Myer, McDonald’s, K-Mart, Harvey Norman, Telstra, Coles, Woolworths, Target, Harris Farm, Starbucks, Officeworks, Hoyts, Zara, Bunnings and Shell. Many purely online retailers will also accept it, including Kogan.

Amex has about 17 per cent market share in credit cards in Australia, with an estimated 6.8 million cards in circulation out of about 42 million cards in total.

However, only those with Amex cards directly issued by Amex will be able to use Apple Pay. There are estimated to be about 1.9 million so-called companion cards, which are Amex cards issued by banks with Visa and MasterCard linked to the same account.

A spokeswoman for Amex said it could not reveal how many of its cards were in circulation, but apart from some NAB terminals, once iPhones were loaded with an Amex card, it  would work anywhere American Express was accepted.

Tech-savvy associations

Industry consultant Grant Halverson, from Mclean Roche, said Amex would be hoping to get access to a new, younger market with the relationship with Apple.

“Amex’s cardholders are generally older, more corporate customers,” he said. “The image of branding with Apple helps them to look more tech savvy and enables them to target a younger demographic. It also gives them a new angle to talk to all their merchants on what they can offer.”

Banks have been in intense negotiations with the tech giant for a year, but have resisted its demand for a substantial cut of the $2.2 billion in fees they receive from merchants known as the interchange fee as well as from Amex for issuing its cards.

It is not known whether Amex is giving Apple some of its fees.

Many in the banking sector see the deal with Amex as a ploy to put pressure on the banks to concede defeat, but most spoken to by Fairfax Media privately say the volumes that Amex carries will not sway them.

In September, Apple appointed ANZ Bank cards executive Marj Demmer to continue negotiations over Apple Pay with the banks. It is understood Apple is still trying for 15¢ out of the average 83¢ in every $100 transaction that the banks get for issuing Visa and MasterCard.

Retailers and payment providers are all keen to be involved in the excitement of a new Apple product. On Tuesday, David Jones was giving photo opportunities to the media with customers using iPhones to pay.

Australia’s biggest online payments gateway provider for merchants, eWay, with about 22,000 business customers, said it would be the first to offer a quick mobile app payment integration with Apple Pay on iPhones. It also recently went into the physical space, offering payment terminals to small businesses and sole traders. These will also accept Apple Pay.

“First one to offer full integration to Apple Pay – we have spent a long time doing this,” eWay founder and chief executive Matt Bullock said.

But although Amex use has been rising, in most cases it is still a minority of the payment methods used.