MasterCard Makes Its First Mobile Payments Investment in mFoundry

MasterCard has made a strategic investment in seven-year-old mobile banking start-up mFoundry.

The investment marks MasterCard’s first in the mobile payments space, and follows similar moves by both Visa and American Express.

Neither company is releasing terms of the round, but mFoundry said MasterCard was the lead investor. Intel Capital, Fidelity Information Services and Motorola Mobility also participated. Previous investors include PayPal, Bank of America and Ignition Partners.

Consumers will most likely recognize mFoundry for developing the Starbucks mobile application, which displays a bar code that can be scanned at the register to make payments from a prepaid account.

MasterCard’s SVP of Mobile James Anderson said he was more interested in mFoundry’s relationships with 600 banks and credit unions.

For the past five years, the company has been focused on the mobile banking space, by developing applications for banks that enables users to check their balances and conduct other financial services from their phone. He said millions of customers at banks, such as Citi and Bank of America, use the applications three to four times a week on average.

Going forward, MasterCard wants to work with mFoundry to enable those applications to make payments at the register using MasterCard’s near field communication (NFC) technology called PayPass.

Near field technology allows a consumer to tap their phone at the register to pay for items. By integrating with these banking applications, the purchase could be deducted straight from a person’s bank account, and without the need to carry around a wallet.

MasterCard is also working with Google Wallet and ISIS, the wireless carrier-led initiative, but it views this partnership as a third approach. “Some consumers will see value in Google; others will want to use their telco provider, and then some will trust their bank,” Anderson said. “At some level those options will be competing, but we believe the choice is up to the customer.”

MFoundry’s CEO and founder Drew Sievers said the relationship is not exclusive, so his company will be free to work with Visa or others, but MasterCard will naturally have a head start since they will be the first ones integrated into the application. Deployments will occur as soon as the middle of next year.

MasterCard is not the only payments provider making investments in the mobile payments space.

Earlier this year, Visa made a large investment in Square, and American Express has opened up an office in San Francisco and created an intimidatingly large $100 million investment fund to make sure it doesn’t miss out on any opportunities.

Sievers said for companies in the mobile banking and payments space that are gaining traction, there’s not only venture capitalists eager to invest, but a ton of companies looking for strategic investments.

In fact, he said, “there’s fewer opportunities to invest in than there are companies willing to invest.”

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