Canada’s mobile giants team up to fight a bigger threat: Apple Pay

Wireless companies are betting that digital wallets are going to take off—for real this time—and they can’t hand the market to Apple

Someone using the Suretap app on their phone


Consumers will soon use their smartphones as wallets, storing their credit, debit and loyalty cards in a digital billfold rather than a leather one. Analysts seem certain of this fact, with Forrester research predicting the mobile payments market will swell to $192 billion by 2019 in the United States alone, up from $52 billion last year. The opportunity is clear; the major competitors are not. Banks, retailers, wireless and technology companies have all launching their own projects with only Apple Pay gaining any real stature in the marketplace. Now, Suretap, a Canadian-born mobile payment app, is betting that collaboration across sectors is the best strategy for attracting consumers.

First launched by Rogers Communications, which also owns Canadian Business, Suretap spun off as its own company in 2014. Until now, the app has only allowed payment by Rogers customers using a prepaid Mastercard or gift cards from a handful of retailers. But a partnership announced on June 23 with Telus and Bell makes Suretap available to customers of Canada’s three largest wireless providers on Android and BlackBerry devices. In addition, CIBC is the first major bank to join the service, meaning consumers can pay for purchases up to $100 through the app using Visa and Mastercard credit cards issued by the bank. Consumers can use the app at 30 different retailers, ranging from clothier Forever 21 to Cineplex to Groupon.

Suretap’s expansion comes as Apple Pay prepares to launch in Canada, potentially this November. Apple expects its service to reach one million retail outlets in the United States by July. But Jeppe Dorff, the president of Suretap, said his company felt no pressure to grab a share of the market before Apple expands northward. “Canada started quite early [with mobile payments],” he says, noting most banks have had standalone payment apps for several years. The opportunity for Suretap, according to Dorff, is offering an elegant way to access shoppers’ various digital cards. “The reality is that most Canadians carry more than one card, so it can be a tedious process if you need to open up four or five apps to access your payment card, your loyalty card, and so forth. So having a single point where you can store all your cards is quite useful to the consumer.”

Despite its juggernaut rollout, Apple Pay has faced some challenges since its launch, with the Rite Aid and CVS chains dropping the system soon after launch. The companies—along with Walmart—are reportedly part of a consortium working to build a rival system, called CurrentC. Dorff says Suretap working hard to make the rollout of its system as easy as possible for retailers. He noted Suretap relies on existing payment infrastructure, allowing for payment using either barcodes displayed on a device’s screen or through “tapping” with near field communication (NFC) technology. This emphasis on making life easier for both consumers and retailers should offer an advantage as it competes not only with Apple Pay, but competing products from Google and others. “We’re here to allow these retailers with the end consumer with a better experience surrounding their cards,” says Dorff. “They should focus on what they do best.”