In mid-January, Cardline reported that J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. reportedly agreed to purchase Bank One Corp. for $60 billion, making the combined company one of the nation's largest credit and debit card issuers. Neither bank has confirmed the deal.
   A combined Bank One/Chase would rival leading credit card issuer Citigroup Inc., which had $117.4 billion in managed North American receivables in 2003's third quarter and $131 billion worldwide. Bank One had $74.3 billion in credit card receivables in the third quarter while Chase had $50.9 billion, for a combined total of $125.2 billion. Citi, however, bought Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s $29 billion card portfolio in the fourth quarter. The No. 2 credit card issuer, MBNA Corp., had $112.8 billion in managed receivables in the third quarter including its non-card loans.
   In signature-based debit, an acquisition of Bank One by J.P. Morgan Chase could benefit MasterCard International if Chase converts Bank One's Visa check cards to debit MasterCards. As of the end of September, Bank One issued 5.1 million Visa check cards and 1.1 million proprietary, PIN-only debit cards. Chase, one of the leading debit MasterCard issuers, issued 2.6 million debit MasterCards and 870,000 proprietary PIN-only debit cards as of September. During last year's third quarter, Bank One's check card holders initiated 5.1 million purchases, while Chase's debit MasterCard holders initiated 2.6 million purchases. Bank One as of Sept. 30 deployed 4,350 ATMs, while Chase deployed 1,740 machines, according to the Thomson Media's Quarterly Data Report.
   First Data Corp. and Concord EFS Inc. were expected to complete their previously announced merger in the first quarter of 2004 following a late 2003 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, eight states and the District of Columbia on merger terms.
   In connection with the DOJ settlement, the two companies also agreed to new financial terms, with a new value of approximately $6.9 billion, based on First Data's closing price on Dec. 12, 2003, of $39.30.
   The revised merger agreement also extends the original January 31, 2004 end date to April 30, 2004 to allow sufficient time to obtain the necessary shareholder approvals of the revised terms. The revised agreement eliminated many, but not all, conditions to completing the merger. Upon completion of the transaction, the combined company was to provide banks, merchants and their customers with more options to conduct a full range of electronic payment transactions.
   The combined company will have approximately $10 billion in annual revenues with more than 31,000 employees worldwide.
   The proposed agreement with the DOJ called for First Data to divest its 64 percent ownership of the NYCE Corp., an electronic funds transfer network. In addition, First Data agreed to hold NYCE as a separate unit pending the divestiture.
   "We are pleased to move forward with the completion of this transaction," said First Data Chairman and CEO Charlie Fote. "This combination represents a significant step in developing an open and flexible electronic payments system that will foster competition to the benefit of consumers, merchants and banks. The combined company will provide broad benefits to shareholders."
   Under terms of the new agreement with Concord, First Data will exchange 0.365 First Data common shares for every Concord common share.
   NCR has sued Ingenico, claiming patent infringement.
   "NCR believes the patent it holds for signature capture technology brings great value to retailers, and has sought to license this intellectual property to vendors on mutually agreeable terms," the company said in an official statement. " NCR invests significant resources in the development of its patent portfolio, which must be protected if mutually acceptable terms cannot be reached with such vendors."
   NCR wouldn't comment beyond the official statement, which also included background on the dispute.
   "When it became clear that our discussions with Ingenico would not lead to mutually acceptable terms, NCR was left with no option but to file a federal district court lawsuit against Ingenico," the NCR statement added. "Additionally, in order to obtain a speedy resolution of this dispute, NCR decided to file a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission on Dec. 9, 2003. After reviewing NCR's complaint, on Jan. 7, 2004, the ITC voted to institute NCR's complaint against Ingenico."
   That complaint prevents Ingenico from importing its electronic signature capture devices from Mexico, where they are manufactured, to the U.S. Ingenico's clients include Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Toys R Us.
   Ingenico had also manufactured devices that NCR labeled for the last few years, Baylard added.
   NCR's pursuit of the ITC action was "pretty aggressive" and was unexpected by Ingenico, which still believes its products don't violate NCR's patent, said Lloyd Baylard, Vice President and General Manager of the Ingenico retail solutions division for the U.S.
   Baylard said NCR's and Ingenico's attorneys will continue talks to attempt to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
   Eighty-three percent of retailers expect replacing or upgrading point-of-sale software systems to provide real-time customer information at the time of sale, according to a recently released National Retail Federation/Bearing Point study.
   "As the competition increases, retailers need to figure out how they can differentiate even more," said Scott Hardy, a managing director with BearingPoint's Retail/Wholesale practice. "Retailers are looking to POS in 2004 to provide real-time information to have a better understanding of the customer."
   The study suggests several approaches retailers can use to differentiate themselves from the competition, including:
  • Leveraging a robust understanding of the consumer to create unique, differentiated merchandise assortments.
  • Provide a seamless, multi-channel shopping environment.
   In Dec '03, Alliance Data Systems and CardinalCommerce Corporation announced a five-year strategic agreement. Under terms of the agreement, Alliance will provide additional hosting and processing capabilities for Cardinal's existing payment authentication software applications for Cardinal's clients and will now offer authentication capabilities as part of Alliance's suite of transaction processing services.
   Additionally, Alliance will augment Cardinal's customer service capabilities by providing multi-lingual call center support for Cardinal clients in North America and Latin America.
   Alliance will sell, support and host CardinalCommerce's Payment Authentication PlatformTM to be used by issuing banks, and Cardinal CentinelTM to be used by online merchants. Both of these products are designed to reduce fraudulent online transactions and ensure payment to participating online merchants, while protecting cardholder accounts. CardinalCommerce is a leading provider of a technology-neutral authentication platform for securing online transactions for the MasterCard´┐Ż SecureCodeTM and Verified by Visa fraud protection initiatives.
   In Dec '03 Blackstone, a provider of electronic prepaid products and services, announced the patent award for their Real Time Electronic PIN Delivery System.
   The system successfully integrates payment processing and prepaid products and services. Using a POS terminal or touch-screen, menu-driven system, merchants can print or activate prepaid cards (calling cards, gift cards, Internet service, wireless recharge cards, etc.) Electronic PINs are delivered via an integrated thermal card printer, accept checks, smart cards and ATM/debit/EBT (electronic benefit transfers) cards, process Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Card & Diner's Club transactions and view real-time reports.
   Ingenico, a global provider of electronic payment terminals, announced in January that the Company has shipped its 300,000th eN-Touch 1000T touch screen and signature capture terminal to major retailers in the United States.
   The eN-Touch 1000's durable capacitive screen technology provides optimal finger touch sensitivity for customer PIN entry, complemented by proven electrostatic pen technology for electronic signature capture. Together, these resilient technologies provide optimal ease of use and a much lower cost of ownership than competitive terminals featuring membrane-based resistive touch screens.
   The eN-Touch 1000T is a robust and programmable terminal that is Visa PED approved, enabling retailers to deliver consumer-activated payment and value-added services at the checkout. Says Lloyd Baylard, Vice President of Ingenico Retail Solutions, "The eN-Touch 1000 has enabled retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Toys "R" Us, 7-Eleven, Safeway, Eckerd Drug, Sam's Club, Orchard Supply, Kmart, Sports Authority, Office Depot, Cingular Wireless, The Wiz, Ross Stores, CSK Auto, AAFES and RadioShack to dramatically reduce their cost of payment while streamlining the checkout process."
   In January 2004, GO Software Inc., a subsidiary of Return On Investment Corporation and a provider of point-of-sale (POS) payment processing software, announced its 100,000th product installation. The landmark sale represents a 50% increase in Savannah, Ga.- based GO Software installations over the past two years.
   "Overall marketplace acceptance has sparked growth in direct sales as well as our primary distribution channels - Merchant Service Providers and POS developers - resulting in record sales," said Tony Abruzzio, Executive Vice President and General Manager of GO Software, Inc." After twelve years in the industry, GO has become synonymous with payment processing software. The major industry players know us well and feel confident in partnering with us, integrating our products and reselling our solutions to their merchants."
   Sales of GO Software's flagship product, PCCharge, significantly contributed to the company's growth. PCCharge, a Windows-based payment processing solution, is popular among developers who integrate it into custom POS systems and merchants seeking cost savings. PCCharge saves money by eliminating redundancies in processing payments and human error, and ties directly into the merchant's accounting systems. In addition, the 100,000th installation also indicates successful sales of GO Software's RiTA (Rapid Transaction Authority) Server, a highly scalable transaction switch that supports high volume, multi-threaded transaction processing. GO expects RiTA sales to lead future growth as it focuses on large retailers and expands into new markets.´┐Ż
   NCR Corporation and m-Qube, Inc. are working on solutions to help retailers and food service operators drive traffic and increase sales with wireless marketing solutions including instant mobile couponing, loyalty and promotional programs.
   The rapid growth of wireless communications and the increasing popularity of text messaging are opening new opportunities for one-to-one promotions and loyalty marketing. With the m-Qube mobile messaging solution, businesses can design, target, test, execute and measure campaigns that reach mobile consumers anytime, anyplace.
   Under their agreement, NCR and m-Qube will work together to offer and deliver the m-Qube solution to NCR POS customers in the United States and Canada. The m-Qube solution is being integrated into the NCR Advanced Store POS application as well as the Compris POS system from Compris Technologies, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of NCR.
   Visa USA recently introduced an enhancement that enables merchants to inform consumers of the remaining balance on their Visa branded gift cards at the point-of-sale. Best Buy recently adopted the service at all of their store locations across the United States.
   The Visa POS balance inquiry reduces the potential for declined transactions and lost sales due to non-sufficient funds on Visa gift cards, according to Visa officials. While Visa gift cardholders can check their balances via the telephone or the Internet, cardholders who are not aware of their gift card balance when making a purchase are expected to benefit greatly from this new point-of-sale capability.
   With the Visa POS Balance Inquiry Service, consumers making purchases with Visa gift cards will receive their remaining available card balance information on the bottom of their receipt at participating retailers. In addition, a customer will be able to split payment between their Visa Gift card and another form of payment if necessary during checkout.
   Though some merchants experienced little, if any, revenue growth in the 2003 holiday shopping season, Visa USA recently reported much higher pre- and post-Christmas spending on Visa credit and debit cards. Visa's SpendTrack report showed that total U.S. spending on Visa debit and credit cards during the holiday season (Nov. 28 to Dec. 28) increased 14.2 percent over the same period of 2002. The total amount spent on Visa cards during the holiday season reached nearly $100 billion ($97.9 billion).
   As in previous years, consumer retail spending on Visa cards continued to be strong after Christmas Day. From December 25 to 28, retail spending on Visa cards amounted to $2.9 billion. December 26, traditionally a key shopping day as consumers head out to the sales, saw over $1 billion in retail spending on Visa cards, a 16.1 percent increase over December 26, 2002.
   Visa spending in the retail segment topped $43.2 billion during the four weeks preceding December 28, a 10.3 percent increase over the same period of 2002. Visa debit cards (which include check cards and prepaid cards) showed the strongest year over year increase, growing 16.7 percent to $16.1 billion.
   The first day of the traditional holiday season, Black Friday (November 28), was Visa's biggest retail day, with nearly $2 billion spent at retailers. However, December 20 sales came in a close second, accounting for over $1.9 billion in retail spending.
   Gift card sales hit an estimated $17.2 billion during the November to December holiday season, accounting for about 8 percent of retail sales, according to a National Retail Federation Survey. Nearly 70 percent of consumers said they planned to buy gift cards.
   "Gift cards are a great selection for the person who has everything," said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. "They are more convenient than the gift certificates of years' past and they're no longer considered the 'lazy man's gift'-people love to get them." In fact, nearly 50 percent of consumers (48.4%) in an earlier NRF holiday survey said they would like to receive gift cards in 2003, up from 41.3 percent in 2002.
   The study also found that:
  • The average person purchasing a gift card would purchase more than three cards (3.34), spending a total of $114.44.
  • Older consumers are spearheading gift card growth. Consumers over age 65 planned to buy 3.90 cards, on average, spending $130.62. Consumers 55-64 planned to purchase an average of 3.61 cards, spending $134.80.
   The popularity of gift cards makes it harder to compare holiday shopping sales from one year to another because retailers don't record sales from the cards until they are actually used.
   Retailers have different policies for gift cards. Some stores' gift cards expire over a certain period of time and some stores' cards depreciate month-by-month if a card has been inactive for a certain period of time. This is often the result of retailers using third-party companies to process and maintain their gift card systems. Often, third party companies charge retailers for inactivity on gift cards-a charge that retailers then pass to consumers who have not used their cards.
   Due to improved technology, some retailers are able to reissue a lost gift card if consumers have kept the original purchase receipt.
   Hypercom Corp. recently introduced its new S9 payment device, which provides options for reading both magnetic stripe and smart cards. The payment device fully meets industry security requirements including a tamper-resistant case, separate security processor, Master/Session DES, and Triple DES support.
   A key feature for the S9 is its ability to deliver a new level of retailer branding at the point-of-sale. With the S9's innovative use of post-mold decorating technology, retailers can easily customize the S9 with their own distinctive brand and brand colors.
   Thales e-Transactions recently lost its request to have a Georgia court force the rebidding of a transportation system's fare collection contract.
   Thales sought to force the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority to rebid the contract that had been awarded to San Diego, Calif.-based Cubic Transportation systems, claiming the agency didn't follow proper procedures during the process.
   Beyond acknowledging that the court denied the injunction, Thales wouldn't comment on the decision, which will enable Cubic to move ahead with a smart card-based fare collection system that will replace the magnetic stripe cards and tokens MARTA currently uses.