American Express teams up with Verizon Wireless on Serve digital payment accounts

Charging ahead into digital payments, American Express is announcing it has teamed up with Verizon Wireless to support the credit card company’s Serve digital wallet platform.

In the coming months, Verizon Wireless customers will be able to use Serve to make payments for digital goods and other transactions on their Verizon smartphones and payments. Serve is a recognition that in the new digital economy, the traditional credit card isn’t enough to capture all of the transactions that happen. The deal should help grease the wheels of mobile commerce.

With Serve, American Express users will be able to “spend, send and swipe — online, offline, and mobile.” It can be used to share a bill for lunch with a friend or buy virtual goods in online games. In that sense, a broader mobile payments ecosystem could help everyone, from carriers to mobile game publishers.

Verizon customers will be able to create Serve accounts that function as digital wallets that they can access via smartphones and tablets. With Serve, a smartphone user could receive an offer on his or her mobile device and accept it on the spot, paying via the Serve online checkout system. In that system, the user authenticates a mobile number and then proceeds to make the purchase. The transaction appears on the Serve account bill.

Mobile transactions can take place in a few clicks. Merchants who accept Serve payments can get quicker payment processing and settlements. So far, millions of merchants who accept American Express also accept Serve.

American Express announced the Serve platform in March. It is a way for the company to compete with digital payment companies such as PayPal, Boku, eBay-Zong and Visa (the latter bought PlaySpan for $190 million in February). Last month, American Express announced a similar deal with Sprint.

Payfone, a mobile payments company partially owned by American Express, will handle pre-authorization and smart routing for Serve checkout on Verizon wireless. Dan Schulman, group president of enterprise growth at American Express, said that the collaboration with Verizon shows that Serve is reaching a large audience at a fast speed.

“Together we’re taking the necessary steps to make mobile commerce a reality,” he said.

Verizon enterprise and government chief Greg Haller said that Verizon is building a mobile payments ecosystem through its own Isis joint venture and with Serve.

Verizon Wireless has more than 89 million wireless subscribers. Here are some other details about Serve we’ve written about before:

With Serve, American Express wants to go after a new demographic of consumers, including those who are young and tech savvy, but perhaps not fans of credit cards or other traditional payments. It will also help American Express penetrate emerging markets overseas where cash rules. Until now, American Express wasn’t reaching a lot of consumers who don’t use traditional credit cards.

Serve unifies online, offline and mobile payment options into a single account that can be funded from a bank account, debit, credit or charge card, or by receiving money from another Serve account. Serve’s aim is to get rid of cash, check, or debit cards by being more convenient. Serve accounts can be accessed from apps on Apple iOS and Android devices. Users can also access accounts on Serve.com and on Facebook.

The account comes with a reloadable Serve prepaid card that you can use at any merchant or automated teller machine that accepts American Express cards.

In contrast to debit cards, Serve lets you create sub-accounts for spouses or children. That allows parents to set allowances for children or others in the family. Parents can specify what the money can be spent on, such as allowing cash withdrawals or limiting spending to merchant transactions only. Parents can also receive reports back on how their children spent the money. The same accounts could be used for small businesses, such as authorizing sub accounts for delivery drivers who incur expenses on the go.

American Express got the foundation for Serve from its acquisition of Revolution Money in early 2010. Other partners for Serve include Ticketmaster, expense reporting firm Concur and Flipswap. Serve is also working with five charities: Autism Speaks, Best Friends Animal Society, Malaria No More, Save The Children and Stand Up For Kids.

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