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Tuesday, 17 July 2012 14:20

Commbank dishes up Pi and a tablet

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Commonwealth Bank has upped the ante in terms of payments technology with the launch of an innovative open payment platform called Pi. In the process the bank signalled that it will also become more of a global tech-sector player and set up a financial app store.

At a briefing in Sydney today the bank announced its home grown Pi software platform, which it will also make available to third party app developers, and two new devices to facilitate payments.

The flagship hardware is the tablet style Albert – an Android device which will be released in the second quarter of 2013. The bank is dubbing the system as an “omni-commerce” device meaning that it can be used to facilitate both in-store and online purchases.

Leo meanwhile is a case that attaches to iPhones or iPod Touches. Aimed at the mobile payments sector, the device is currently being piloted and will be generally available next month.

According to Michael Harte, group executive services and CIO for the bank, Commbank spends $2 billion each year on technology and operations “to keep and maintain the relationship with consumes and the corporation.” Recently much of the bank’s effort has been consumer focused with updates of its online banking system Netbank, the smartphone mobile payments app Kaching, and news that it plans to release a Facebook app that will allow consumers to conduct most of their banking without ever leaving the social network.

With today’s announcement the bank is attempting to broker a much better in-store payment experience for the customer, but it also cements its relationship with retailers looking for an alternative to traditional eftpos networks.

The announcement also catapaults the bank into a new and global technology landscape.

According to Andy Lark, chief online and marketing officer; “For the last 100 years banking has been a very closed industry. Today we have a new approach that will open the ecosystem of innovation.”


CBA has announced that approved software developers (it will do the approving) will be able to write apps to run on the Pi platform, and those apps which pass CBA’s tests will be offered in its app centre. A software developer’s kit will be released at the end of the year, and would-be developers are being invited to register their interest.

The bank, which partnered with Ideo and Wincor-Nixdorf on the development of Pi, Albert and Leo, will also partner with international suppliers to make the platform and technology available internationally.

Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, executive general manager of corporate banking solutions, argued that the need for a fresh platform was clear as 46 per cent of all customer payments now take place at the point of sale, but she said that not all point of sale devices were currently equipped to handle EMV standard cards.

EMV is the Europay Mastercard Visa standard which is being adopted internationally as the standard for chip cards, which are more secure than magnetic stripe only cards. Both Leo and Albert can take payments from EMV chip cards.

Certainly card fraud is a growing problem. Last week the Australian Payments Clearing Association reported that the incidence of card-not-present fraud was soaring, largely due to the increase in online shopping.

“Business customers meet the liability for that fraud,” according to Ms Bayer Rosmarin who said a more secure - but still flexible – payments platform was required.

Both the Albert and the Leo feature what the bank is claiming as the world’s first touch screen encrypted EMV pin pad, which allows users to input their pin securely to the device.


The Albert features a 7 inch touch screen, uses the Google Android operating system, has 1 GB of ram and 16 GB flash, can read EMV chip and pin cards, NFC, contactless and magnetic stripe cards. It also features a camera.

The Leo too can handle EMV and magnetic stripe cards, but surprisingly does not have a built in NFC capability. Leo is clearly targetted at Commbank’s payments competitors – PayPal for example - which are spruiking plug-in dongles for smartphones that effectively turn them into eftpos machines.

Ms Bayer Rosmarin said that such devices were not equipped to handle EMV compliant payment cards, and that such systems; “May gain traction in the US, but not in Australia” where consumers wanted more security. While Commbank has already developed some applications to run on Pi – such as an app which allows people dining out to split the bill and make their individual payments from the device - it is clearly hoping that a diverse range of third party apps will emerge.

This would also help it market the platform – and hence claim royalty revenues – internationally.

It is already spruiking the analysis capabilities of the platform, suggesting that retailers would be able to harness the system to see where their customers came from, and identify peak shopping periods which could then help them plan their staffing rosters.

While Commbank was keen to twitch open the Pi kimono – it only went so far – and gave absolutely no indication today of the prices that merchants might pay for either Albert, Leo or individual apps. It also declined to say whether it planned to take a clip of the ticket on individual transactions made using the system.

Ms Bayer Rosamarin also declined to give an estimate of how many devices the bank or its partner Wincor-Nixdorf expected to sell, but said she expected “to get swamped by demand.”

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