So far, and with a little help from Michael Jackson, the mobile operator O2 has done well with its branding exercises. Lets face it, the spend of many millions to brand the millennium stadium to the O2 was seen by many, apart from the sponsorship head of AEG, to be a potential bum deal. However since it opened its doors the venue has attracted the biggest names in music and hence gained worldwide branding for O2. Jackson would have been the icing on the cake so far, but it was not to be.
O2 has now decide to extend its brand into a new sector and one which made me double take. The operator has now announced that as well as being able to offer you an iPhone they are now moving into the finance sector with pre-paid Visa cards. This new move is in conjunction with NatWest and in essence comes in the form of two pre paid visa cards. The cash manager is aimed at adults who want to keep a close eye on what they spend. The second offering is called Load and Go and is targeted at teenagers from 13 up. The cards are set to be launched with a huge marketing spend including a partnership with Hollyoaks.
Although this may seem a strange move you have to put this into context. This is the first of a range of mobile banking services and they are not the only operator looking at this. Despite the corporate messaging about customer trust and loyalty what this really about it controlling how we spend money. Using our mobiles to pay for things, a common practice in Japan, is not widespread in the UK due to operator concern about bill size. Imagine your mobile bill coming in with the cost of a fridge on it. However imagine if you could link your phone with a pre-paid card which you could use like an Oyster card. You can already see this wireless activity in the Barclaycard ad with the guy going home in the waterslide. This summer will see wireless VISA cards launched in the UK and readers appearing in high street retailers.
The two things we keep closest to us is our wallets and our mobiles. This seemingly strange tie up is just the first of many that will see banks, handset manufacturers and mobile operators trying different ways of creating simple ways for us to spend money. Not only will these pre-paid cards give O2 a new business in a profitable sector it will also allow them to trial new payment methods and give them a head start on the trail for the holy grail of mobile payment systems - one that works.