New service puts Amex card on your iPhone or Android device

Serve offering allows person-to-person payments to and from mobile devices

American Express Monday unveiled a digital payment and commerce service that lets iPhone and Android devices be used for person-to-person online payments.

Visa announced a similar personal payment capability in the U.S. on March 16.

Analysts say the moves by both Visa and American Express are clearly aimed at taking on PayPal in the personal payments business.

The new Amex service, dubbed Serve, allows consumers and small businesses to make purchases and person-to-person payments on iOS- and Android-based devices. Serve accounts are also accessible on other computers through Facebook and at Serve.com

The Serve service is available to users starting today.

Serve also allows users to create and manage sub-accounts for friends and family members to, for example, pay a child's allowance or a dog walker fee.

The new service is based on technology that Amex obtained via a $300 million acquisition last year of PayPal competitor Revolution Money.

Visa on March 16 said that it will rely on internal network enhancements and agreements with CashEdge and Fiserv to bring its personal payment system to the U.S. by the end of June. CashEdge and Fiserv will access VisaNet, which is Visa's global payments processing network.

Separately, Visa officials at International CTIA Wireless last week said they are in the midst of four pilot programs in New York and San Francisco to test out smartphones using Near Field Communications (NFC) to make purchases at NFC-ready terminals. Those trials are being conducted with Bank of America, US Bank, Chase and Wells Fargo. No roll-out date for the service is being announced, said Elvira Swanson, a Visa spokeswoman.

Visa personal payments are already offered by banks outside the U.S. in 70 different programs.

Dan Schulman, group president for enterprise growth and Amex, said the company will expand Serve in coming months. "We intend to quickly evolve the Service platform by adding new features and functionality," he said.

Amex will also waive one consumer fee for the next six months during the ramp-up, he said. Putting money into a Serve account will normally cost 2.9 per cent plus 30 cents per load-in, which is discounted to zero for the first six months for cash , debit and Automatic Clearing House payments. Otherwise, ATM cash withdrawals will be $2, except for the first free one each month.

The Serve program calls for a consumer to set up an online account through the smartphone app or at serve.com. Once the account id established, the user can add funds to it from bank accounts, debit cards, credit and charge cards or other Serve accounts.

Customers can use the Serve account to send money to friends, to receive money from friends, to pay bills or to make purchases online. In addition to phone payments, customers are issued a Serve reloadable prepaid card linked to their Serve account that can be used at any merchant or ATM accepting Amex cards.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

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