Apple Could Kill Off Visa

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I've always thought that credit card giants MasterCard (MA) and Visa (V) had two of the best advertising campaigns of all time, though they went in somewhat different directions in terms of theme.

MasterCard adopted some humor, having NFL star Peyton Manning, among others, engage in everyday mortal chores and activities, reminding us that, except for several million extra dollars in his bank account, he's just like you and me.

Visa on the other hand has always reminded consumers, with the smooth voiceover of actor Morgan Freeman, that "It's everywhere you want to be." To be perfectly honest, I have not been able to find anyplace yet where Visa is not accepted -- and trust me, I've searched.

Not to be outdone, even Capital One ( COF) has entered the comedic scene with actor Alec Baldwin -- another brilliant campaign.

But I'm starting to get the sense that these card companies, many of which have introduced convenience to the payment process, could be in trouble. Although they were successful at convincing consumers that it is best to leave their cash and checkbooks at home, it is not out of the realm of possibility that they could soon become the dinosaurs of the payment process, if they don't adapt.

The one thing consumers can't ever be without is their cell phones. That's why vendors like Starbucks ( SBUX), which recently formed a partnership with Square, are becoming more open to the idea of mobile payments, a new craze that has the potential to eventually become the world's currency.

If this happens, it would mean that in addition to seeing Visa and MasterCard logos on the doors of your favorite store, you will see logos of Apple ( AAPL) and Google ( GOOG). Consider this, the new popular payment option might change from Visa to "VZ," as in Verizon ( VZ). Trust me, it's not as crazy as it sounds.

The concept of mobile payments is not new and has been around for years. Its acceptance has just been slow. But it seems as though its time has now come, and the ubiquity of mobile devices can no longer be ignored.

In addition to Starbucks, companies such as McDonald's ( MCD), which has just partnered with eBay's ( EBAY) PayPal unit, now have no choice but to embrace the idea if they wish to stay competitive and minimize loss revenue due to excessively long lines.

Over the years, I've entered several Starbucks early in the morning only to realize that I was 10 minutes late -- same for McDonald's around lunch time. What I mean is, as I walked in, I took one look at the long lines and immediately left. How many consumers do this every day around the world?

Imagine the extent of revenue that can be saved if either McDonald's or Starbucks were able to reduce these lines by shaving off 30 seconds to 1 minute per transaction the same way that the self-service kiosks have done at grocery stores?

To that end, they are now trying to uncover the right mix to offer convenience to consumers without the backend headaches often associated with finding the right hardware and software. This is why I expect companies such as Apple, Google, Verizon as well as Facebook ( FB) to step up and define the market. What I mean by that is, consider how PayPal created a new payment system based on the fact that "everyone" had an email address.

Today, 15% of the world's population is on Facebook. In the company's most recent earnings report, 50% of it users accessed their pages via their cell phones. What has been the biggest criticism of Facebook? Its inability to monetize mobile. I can't imagine a better way for the company to overcome those challenges.

This continues to be one of the reason why I think Facebook should make a play for a company such as Research in Motion ( RIMM).

The question regarding mobile payments is, which company will step up and take the lead? As it stands, nobody really has a firm grasp of how mobile payments will work. What's more, the first company to step up not only will have a leg up on the competition, but it will be able to define the standard and perhaps the platform. My bet is that Apple will figure it out.

I think its adoption of Facebook into its iOS along with the development of its in-house mapping system after nixing Google Maps signals the beginning of that process and if true, it will be a raving success. And let's not forget Apple's recent acquisition of AuthenTec for $356 million, a company that specializes in fingerprint sensor chips used in personal computers and mobile devices.

This has all the makings of what I consider "mobile currency." Besides, ask yourself this, who do you think is more trustworthy today, high interest predatory credit cards from banks or paying with your new iPhone 5? Apple may soon be everywhere you want to be.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Richard Saintvilus is a private investor with an information technology and engineering background and has been investing and trading for over 15 years. He employs conservative strategies in assessing equities and appraising value while minimizing downside risk. His decisions are based in part on management, growth prospects, return on equity and price-to-earnings as well as macroeconomic factors. He is an investor who seeks opportunities whether on the long or short side and believes in changing positions as information changes.

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