Flash forward, part 2: Integrating Interac
By Jim Chliboyko
A continuation of the spring issue’s feature on cashless payment, part 2 looks into how the industry
By Jim Chliboyko
The Interac Flash logo may be becoming more familiar to you, and the ads are perhaps starting to become a little more apparent.
The Interac Flash logo may be becoming more familiar to you, and the ads are perhaps starting to become a little more apparent. There’s a prominent one on the back cover of Cineplex’s July issue (that free glossy magazine they pass out at participating movie theatres). If you talk to clerks at retail stores, they say, anecdotally, that they are seeing an increasing amount of the Interac Flash-enabled cards. The year of the Interac Flash rollout continues, and the next frontier is perhaps the use of Interac Flash in vending machines.
The top three of Canada’s Big Five banks have all been offering their customers Flash-enabled cards – RBC, TD and Scotiabank, along with the three credit unions, Affinity (Saskatchewan), Conexus (Saskatchewan) and Sunova (Manitoba). With that siad, not all banks are on board, and CIBC is still mum about offering Interac Flash-enabled cards. Meanwhile, Manitoba’s largely rural Sunova Credit Union was the first credit union in Canada to embrace Interac Flash.
“Feedback has been good so far from our members, especially as more merchants have started offering Interac Flash at their businesses,” says Vanessa Foster, the director of marketing for Sunova. “We also ran a unique promotion when we launched the cards that members reacted positively to. We sent staff into a variety of businesses and they provided Flash demonstrations while covering customers’ purchases.” As an example, the company set up at a Tim Hortons in Selkirk, Man., and showcased the purchases for a number of people.
“When it comes to service we are always looking to provide our members with new products and services that will make their lives easier when it comes to banking,” says Foster. “Interac Flash was a particularly good fit since it would allow quick and easy payments at a variety of merchants.”
Along with companies such as McDonalds, Tim Hortons, Winners and The Beer Store, the trendy clothing chain Forever 21 announced in August that it would now be accepting Interac Flash cards.
But Interac Flash is not just for retail stores. On the vending side of things, attendees of this year’s triumphant Calgary Stampede got the first chance to use Interac Flash-enabled Coke machines when the multinational company unveiled its first 16 machines on Stampede grounds.
“At the Calgary Stampede, seven per cent of purchases were cashless through Interac Flash…” says Paddy O’Doherty, director of vending operations for Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada. “Given this positive initial response, and knowing that Canada is the second largest market in the world for debit use, we expect to see tremendous growth as consumers take advantage of this capability.
“Our goal is to provide our consumers with a fast, easy and convenient experience with our vending machines,” she continues. “Canada is the second-largest market in the world for debit use, so we already know Canadians have embraced the ease and convenience of using their bank cards for purchases. Interac Flash allows us to offer consumers a secure, easy and flexible way to pay for their vending machine beverages with funds directly from their bank accounts – no more looking for change.”
Of course, it’s still too early to determine how successful the first month of Coca-Cola’s experience with Interac Flash has been, as it just rolled out, but the company is open about its plans for
“We are very excited about this and have 4,000 Interac Flash-enabled machines in market now with plans to add an additional 2,500 by the end of the year,” comments O’Doherty. “We know that our retail customers are also excited about the benefits and convenience this brings to their businesses.”
And those 4,000 that Coca-Cola is planning to have by the end of this year will be 11,000 by the end of 2014.
As for wide-scale distribution of other enabled machines not associated with Coke, MEI’s Ed Kozma is looking towards later this year, or very early in the new year.
“There’s one barrier [with the timing]. They do not allow anything to come online over [the] Christmas season. If you don’t have anything ready for Nov. 15 you cannot get it started until Jan. 1,” said Kozma, calling it an Interac freeze.
He adds that his company is moving into the next phase, and preparing to offer cashless payment to the general market with Apriva, who is basically the middleman.
Interac Flash may be a quick and flexible option for consumers, but for operations the process is quite complicated. “It all comes down to the certification process of the device,” says Kozma. “With end-to-end certification, if you change any of those components, you have to redo that entire certification.”
Earlier this spring, it was speculated within the pages of this magazine that non-Coke Flash-enabled machines would be here sometime this summer. That hasn’t happened yet, but certainly the anticipation is out there.
Kozma describes Interac Flash as a new kind of creature in the industry.
“The one interesting thing, when you look at what the products for vending are going to be, it’s kind of the first of its kind. There’s no PIN pad, which is typical of every Interac product before that. When you start developing without a PIN pad, there are certain areas of greyness you have to get clarity on.”
The road ahead for cashless payment is still unknown with the rollout of cashless vending machines still in the trial stage, and no official machines for customers to use. For now, it’s a waiting game.
Jim Chliboyko is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Canadian Vending.