CommBank fights rivals with Android payment station

"Albert" enables payments at stores using a multi-touch screen and full app store.

Commonwealth Bank is betting that an EFTPOS terminal that looks like a tablet will give it the edge over competitors. The bank just announced Pi, a smart point-of-sale payment platform embracing modern touchscreen technology and apps.

“Quite simply, we’re deepening the relationship with all of our customers [including] merchants and consumers,” CIO Michael Harte told Computerworld Australia. “That’s something they can’t compete with.”

The bank plans to release a wireless, Android-powered console called Albert to replace traditional EFTPOS devices in Q2 next year, it said. The bank is getting certification for the device now. In the interim, CBA plans next month to release a payment device called Leo that wraps a traditional-looking input mechanism around the Apple iPhone or iPod Touch.

CommBank said it wasn’t ready to announce pricing. However, Harte said that Albert’s “unit cost is around $700.” That’s “not official, but it’s no more expensive than existing terminals, and the software is effectively free at the moment.”

The bank will not “automatically” replace existing business customers’ terminals with Albert, CBA executive general manager of corporate banking solutions, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, told reporters. “We’re going to work with our customers on a bespoke basis to see who’s going to get it and at what point.”

The bank chose Android for Albert because it allows for “open development” and is “standard API-based,” Harte told Computerworld. “We can likewise work with any other company whether it’s Apple or others, but right now we’re interested in getting a lot of additional functionality built by many developers inside and outside the organisation and [Android] is a great open standard.”

Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda predicted adoption by businesses “will be strong in the sense that CommBank can push it out as an upgrade to its existing network.” The technology can be adopted as part of a refresh, he said. Gedda also expects the bank to “really go hard on the marketing with all the things you can do with the product that you can’t do with standard merchant EFTPOS terminals.”

“It’s somewhat expected that the EFTPOS terminal would be modernised eventually,” but “surprising” to see a bank take the lead on redesigning it, the analyst said. The announcement illustrates how technology has become a major competitive weapon for banks, he said. It’s possible other banks will make similar announcements, he said. CommBank and others are increasingly using Facebook.

Unanswered questions include how well the product will be supported if it breaks down and what security procedures will take place if a device is lost or stolen, Gedda said.

Albert, designed by Wincor Nixdorf, accepts all payment options, including chip and PIN, contactless, magnetic stripe and NFC. The screen is 7-inch multi-touch, with a 1280x800 resolution. Albert uses the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS and has a dual core processor with 1GB RAM and 16GB of flash memory. It also adds a printer for receipts and an 8MP camera to enable scanning of coupons, vouchers and QR cards.

Leo supports basic functions of the Pi platform – including payments and bill splitting. It does not support Near Field Communications (NFC). A customer uses the iPhone or iPod screen to enter their payment. However, because the iPhone touchscreen is not secure, customers flip Leo over and use a more traditional button interface when they insert, swipe or tap their card.

Both devices accept cards from all banks, but only businesses that are CommBank customers can deploy the device. They meet the PCI-PTS 3.x security standard. Albert allows connections to the Internet through 3G, Wi-Fi standard, with the option of an Ethernet wired connection. Customers can use any carrier they want for 3G, said Rosmarin.

The SplitBill app demonstrated CommBank employs a touch-adjustable pie chart to help customers split their bill. The app automatically splits bills evenly, but users can adjust the pie chart in case, for example, one person gets a salad and decides not to pay for a friend’s lobster.

Other uses for the platform include tools to keep track of inventory and track customer demographics. Businesses can also incorporate loyalty program, accept credit card reward points and electronic coupons. Commonwealth Bank showed a third-party app developed by Vivant allowing businesses to send marketing offers to mobile phones, and then accept the coupons when customers tap their mobile on Albert.

CommBank is encouraging third-party developers to build Android apps for the Albert. They will appear in a store separate from the Google Play store and require certification from the bank. There are currently 10 apps designed for Albert and more are expected at launch, Rosmarin said.

“Every application will go through a vetting process,” she said. “It’s not like a consumer device … We have to know that the company building the application is a legitimate business entity with a legitimate purpose [who is] not doing anything untoward that could compromise security.”

Businesses may need to pay for certain apps, Rosmarin said. “There will be a commerce model around it, so it won’t all be for free.” She declined to say if the bank would take a cut of app sales.

CommBank will provide support for the device but doesn’t plan to offer training, Rosmarin said. “It’s designed to be intuitive.”

Telsyte’s Gedda said he “doesn’t think it will confuse people any more than what’s already out there.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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