Why Visa's Digital Wallet Announcement Matters

We're quickly moving towards a world where most people will no longer need to carry around their credit cards. Soon, most transactions will be fully electronic, faster, and more secure. Visa announced a major step forward towards these ends today, unveiling its plans to roll out its digital wallet in the U.S. and Canada this fall. Is Visa leading the way here or playing catch up?

Visa's plans here include a few different components. First, Visa hopes to provide safer, more convenient commerce. Essentially, its digital wallet will store credit card information (whether Visa and non-Visa). This digital wallet can be used to pay for purchases online or person-to-person using a smartphone. Here are some of the key features from the press release:

  • Click-to-buy: This would allow more secure shopping where a credit card number and billing address need not be provided -- just a username and password, leveraging dynamic authentication technology
  • Cross-channel payments solution: The wallet consolidates various forms of payment and forms of commerce to simplify commerce
  • Preference management: Functionality allowing consumers to customize features and privacy settings based on type of purchase or merchant
  • Merchant offers: The ability for merchants to provide discounts or promotions to customers

All this sounds good, but is it really on the cutting edge? For years, online shoppers have been able to utilize something like a digital wallet for online transactions through services like PayPal. Just like Visa's plans, you don't need to provide your credit card number or billing address to vendors who support that service.

Moreover, last August, Verizon and AT&T announced that they would soon provide the capability for customers to pay with their phones through Discover and Barclays. So the ability to pay for an in-person retail transaction with one's mobile device is not that revolutionary either. It does seem like Visa is just catching up here.

But this news is still important, because it's Visa. Visa is an absolutely enormous player in the credit and debit card markets. So its decision to move forward with a digital wallet and smartphone-capable payment functionality is a game-changer for the industry. Even though it isn't a first mover, it's a prime mover. When it moves, everyone else must follow.

Because so many consumers use Visa cards, they will be able to change the way they pay for their purchases. So starting this fall, we'll begin to see how consumers shop really change in a significant way. Very soon, the future of commerce will be upon us.