Isis, Amex Share Digital Wallet Partnership Plans... Again

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After initially announcing plans to partner last spring, American Express (AXP) and Isis are reiterating their mobile wallet plans.

The deal will give future Isis users the chance to make purchases using Serve cards where they cannot make contactless payments at the point of sale. Conversely, Serve customers, who do not need near-field-communication phones to transact, can now opt into Isis and use their NFC-enabled phones at the counter.

Executives at both companies said customers will be able to make person-to-person payments and load funds through direct deposit, among other features.

"The way to think about it is that you'll have two kinds of applications coming together as seamlessly as they possibly can," says Dan Schulman, Amex's group president of enterprise growth. "So when you are in the Isis wallet and you want to do a peer-to-peer transfer you'd simply want to click on peer-to-peer [in one of the applications].

"We've done the user interface working with Isis on this and that will automatically come over the Serve platform. So if somebody swipes their Amex Serve card at a retailer where there isn't NFC available, that will automatically go over the Amex network."

The move serves as a reminder that neither company feels confident enough to conquer digital payments alone. Each has been diligently working to expand their businesses.

Last fall, Amex sparked a partnership with Walmart to offer Bluebird, the first non-Serve account built on top of Amex's digital wallet platform.

And Isis — the mobile wallet joint venture formed by AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA — has been testing its payment technology in Salt Lake City and Austin since October.

Beyond that, Isis' future timeline is fuzzy.

Last week, Isis said it plans on launching nationwide sometime before the end of the year -- news that the carrier joint venture says will give merchants and banks incentive to start adopting the technology that will make Isis' vision a success. Banks still need to sign on with Isis in order to directly onboard their customers, and merchants still have to purchase terminals that can accept tap and go payments.

Neither Schulman or Isis chief executive Michael Abbott would divulge details on the design of the Isis application or what the business details of the partnership are.

For Amex, though, it's a move to further entrench itself into the digital payments.

In the past, the New York company said it was working separately with Verizon Wireless (VZ) to link the Serve wallet to Verizon's mobile phones and tablets.

Indeed, both Amex and Isis will seemingly benefit from the marriage.

"By actually combining the capabilities of the Serve platform with the Isis wallet, you have an open ecosystem where anybody can load any card they want into our wallet," says Schulman. "They can load cash. They can do a direct deposit... What you really do have is a truly open wallet that allows for consumers to manage and move their money the way that they want."

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