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NatWest dumps O2 Money

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A year after leaping into bed with O2, NatWest is no longer backing the operator's pre-paid credit card offering, citing differences in strategic goals as the cause of the breakup.

The split was first reported by NFC Times, and O2 told us that "following the hugely successful launch ... each companies' priorities and strategic goals are now different". The service should continue as normal while O2 hangs around banks looking for someone else to hook up with and NatWest concentrates on its singing career.

O2 Money, as the service is branded, is based around two pre-paid debit cards which allow those with poor credit ratings (or those too young to have credit ratings and / or be trusted) to participate in our largely plastic-driven economy. There are quite a few competing services, but the O2 brand is widely trusted (if not liked) and the lack of transaction charges makes the operator's cards attractive, especially combined with the free text notifications.

Exactly how attractive isn't clear – O2 tells us it had 100,000 applications in the first couple of months following the launch, but won't say how many customers it has right now. Those customers shouldn't be affected by the change if O2 can find a new partner reasonably quickly.

Whether that new partner will be interested in embracing the whole mobe-as-wallet concept is debatable. When the partnership was announced both companies talked about integration with pre-paid mobile billing, and O2 has always been bullish on NFC-equipped handsets - to the extent that it was prepared to bribe participants in a London trial two hundred quid each to use NFC. When it was launched, O2 Money was painted as the first step down the road toward mobile phones becoming wallets.

That journey might continue, but it's equally likely that O2's new best friend will have less ambitious goal, making O2 Money a dead end, for all that it's a useful enough service. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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