The high cost of being first: Rogers and CIBC have invested up to $60 million to launch “suretap”

Rogers and CIBC execs, along with Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield, gathered at a Toronto Tim Hortons last October to make what they claim is Canada’s first payment from a mobile device.

This NFC-enabled “suretap” initiative is also known as the CIBC Mobile Payment app. This allows Rogers customers to pay for items up to $50 from their mobile device. Currently the app only works on the Rogers BlackBerry Bold 9900, but yesterday it was announced that additional devices have been certified for suretap, namely the BlackBerry Bold 9790, BlackBerry Z10, LG Optimus G, Samsung Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II. These newly certified devices are all now mainstream, especially those powered by Android, and will certainly help increase the adoption rate of Canadians performing mobile payments.

Rogers has over 9 million wireless subscribers and there’s no word on the exact number of customers who have embraced suretap/CIBC Mobile Payment app. In a press release Rogers stated that “tens of thousands of suretap SIM cards are in market and hundreds of thousands of suretap mobile payment-ready devices are being used by Canadians.” This is a vague and open statement, but there’s value in its vagueness.

A couple days ago I attended the NFC Canada 2013 conference in Toronto. There was a panel called “NFC in the Canadian Market” that gave a bit more insight into suretap and the commitment it took to bring it to life. Todd Roberts, SVP, Business Innovation and Growth, for CIBC stated “The practical reality is we are very pleased with the response. You have to put it into context of it’s a single device that’s clients are actually using… In terms of numbers, we’re talking in the thousands, not in the tens of hundreds of thousands.”

Missing are greater details of the number of transactions and the transaction value, but Rogers and CIBC, at this point with 5-months under their belt, are only interested in building out the technology and making sure it works correctly.


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Roberts openly declared that “we had to make a huge bet as to whether or not we are even going to bother to enable NFC payments, let alone be the first to market it. So, think $20 to $30 million is what the nature of the bet is. We entered into discussions with Rogers, call it 2-years ago. They had to make a similar bet to decide if they are actually going to deploy that level of technology in their environment. We’re close friends with TELUS as well, like we’re all going to have multiple friends as we go through this. The reality is when you work it back you have to have both sides of the equation prepared to co-invest, without a business case. There is no business case in the short term. All that can be certain is how much it costs.”

They’ve both invested millions – plus probably lost millions – to bring the future forward with no real plan in place. $60 million, according to Roberts, is the cost of being first and what it took to potentially lead in this category. Surely over time other carriers will offer their own mobile payment solution. The good news is that Canadians are getting confortable with mobile payments, but mass education is still needed.

Update: We’ve received an email from CIBC that stated the “investment would be an investment over a number of years and would contribute to multiple launches over time.”