Apple Pay launches in Canada for American Express card customers

TORONTO – Apple Pay officially launched in Canada on Tuesday, but only a small number of Canadians will be able to buy books, burgers and bagels with their mobile phones at first.

The mobile payments app allows users to upload credit card data to their Apple devices and use it for tap-to-pay systems or in-app purchases.

Apple said it is partnering with seven retailers for the launch, including Tim Hortons, Petro-Canada and Indigo Books and Music, but that anywhere that accepts tap-and-pay for American Express should be able to accept Apple Pay.

Yet most Canadians won’t be able to use Apple Pay immediately because it currently accepts only American Express cards issued by Amex Bank of Canada and the tap-and-pay system only works with the iPhone 6 and 6S models.

That means no Visa or MasterCard, which together account for more than 90 per cent of the Canadian market. American Express accounts for 8.2 per cent of the total.

Apple will require the co-operation of banks and card issuers such as Visa and MasterCard to make the system work on a widespread basis, but Canada’s large financial institutions have so far been silent on working with the Cupertino, Calif.,-based tech company.

Penelope Graham, editor at, said the banks are wary of Apple cutting in on the transaction fees they charge merchants, which Visa and MasterCard agreed to cap at 1.5 per cent earlier this year.

American Express, as an independent company, can set its own fees and doesn’t have to negotiate with a bank because it is both the lender and the issuer of most of its cards.

American Express cards issued through the company’s partnership with Scotiabank cannot be used for Apple Pay.

“There’s less red tape for Apple to work with American Express to launch it here,” she said.

According to media reports, Apple charges a 0.15 per cent fee in the United States and a lower fee in the United Kingdom, where EU rules put much lower limits on transaction fees.

Graham said it is inevitable that Apple and the big banks will come to some sort of an agreement, because both sides are interested in growing the mobile payments market in Canada.

All five major banks have their own mobile payment apps, and independent competitors such as SureTap and Ugo are also looking to grab a slice of the market.

“If you look at the direction all of the banks are going, putting this kind of investment into their financial technology, they certainly anticipate that this is the future of payments,” she said.

Aside from the absence of Visa and MasterCard, Apple Pay also faces an obstacle in that only the Apple Watch and its latest two iPhones, the iPhone 6 and 6S, include the built-in wireless technology known as near-field communication that makes contactless payments possible.

Apple Pay can also be used for in-app purchases on the iPad models that feature Apple’s fingerprint-sensing security.

Apple Pay launched in the United States in October 2014 and in the United Kingdom in July 2015. Australians can also use Apple Pay as of now, but they too are limited to American Express cards.

Jonathan Magder, senior manager at Accenture, said his company’s research has shown that Canadians won’t adopt mobile payments just for the convenience of reaching into a different pocket.

He said Apple needs to work with retailers to provide discounts and link its product with existing loyalty programs in order to drive adoption.

“You, as a consumer, don’t walk into a store thinking about how you want to pay,” he said. “One organization cannot do this alone. You need to have that collaboration there.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Apple Pay was limited to Apple’s seven partner retailers.