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A sign for the launch of the Apple pay system, from Apple.Inc is seen displayed at the entrance to a McDonald's Corp. restaurant in London, U.K., on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. A number of the Canada’s biggest banks announced Tuesday that the service would be available to their customers.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

  • Make purchases of $100 or less with your iPhone or Apple Watch
  • Available now to RBC and CIBC customers. More banks coming
  • Service considered safe due to unique tokens
  • Works with iPhone 6 at stores that have contactless payment terminals

Canada's big banks have at last struck a deal with Apple Inc. that will give their customers access to the Cupertino-based company's payment app for the iPhone, marking a potential shift in how consumers pay and striking a new relationship between financial institutions and the technology behemoth.

Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will introduce Apple Pay to their customers on Tuesday, allowing them to store their credit cards and debit cards on their smartphones and make purchases valued at $100 or less. ATB Financial and Canadian Tire Financial Services are also offering the service, though initially only for credit cards.

Bank of Montreal, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Nova Scotia will follow in the coming months.

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Apple Pay allows people to upload credit and debit cards to their iPhones. This gives customers the option of using their smartphones, rather than physical cards, to pay for items at merchant payment terminals equipped to handle remote payment technology.

The service is considered safe because unique tokens, or digital account numbers, are used instead of card numbers. If phones are lost or stolen, the payment app can be disabled.

The deal between the banks and Apple, long after the payment service rolled out in the United States and the U.K., appears to end a long period of negotiations that at times suggested that the banks were balking at terms.

Moneris Solutions Corp., a payment processing company, said that the support for Apple Pay from the largest financial institutions will increase consumer adoption of the payment service significantly.

"Twenty-five per cent of transactions Moneris processes today are via contactless cards or devices," said Rob Cameron, chief product and marketing officer at Moneris, in a statement. "With Apple Pay's increased options and our leading market share in Canada, we are ready to educate, enable and support merchants across the country to accept Apple Pay today."

MasterCard Canada said that 92 per cent of Canada's top retailers are equipped to handle payments made without the physical presence of a credit card. The card company said that younger consumers, or so-called millennials, are especially motivated to use their smartphones as wallets.

An agreement with the big banks means that the payment app now will be widely available to Canadian consumers, given that about 38 per cent of Canadians use an iPhone. However, the payment app only works on newer versions of the smartphone, along with the Apple Watch and newer iPads.

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Apple Pay first became available in Canada in October. But the initial roll-out was limited to non-bank issued American Express cards – a small slice of the Canadian market – because Apple and the big banks were not able to agree on terms.

According to the Financial Times, U.S. banks initially agreed to terms that gave Apple 15 cents for every $100 in transactions, which was considered overly favourable to Apple. Other financial institutions have since balked at surrendering a similar cut of fees, creating some hurdles to a widespread roll-out of Apple Pay globally.

In addition, banks have been worried that Apple could build deeper relationships with their customers, at a time when the banks are beset by potential competition from a hordes of nimble financial technology firms, or fintech.

Nonetheless, even notable early holdouts have been announcing agreements with Apple recently.

Barclays introduced Apple Pay to its customers in early April, making it the last among major UK lenders to offer the service.

In late April, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. (ANZ), Australia's fourth largest bank, announced in late April that it would offer the service ahead of its larger competitors.

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"It would be pretty hypocritical of me to...do all this hoo-ha about digital banking and then not be at the forefront of change," Shayne Elliott, chief executive officer of ANZ, told Reuters.

Canadians with Android and BlackBerry devices have been able to use their smartphones to make purchases for some time, using rival payment technology.

However, the banks have not been marketing their digital wallets because the technology has been limited to consumers using the right phones at the right merchant terminals, those that are able to handle contactless payment. As well, traditional credit card and debit card transactions in Canada – along with tap-and-go payments for small purchases – tend to be smooth, giving consumers little incentive to try out the new approach.

As a result, mobile payments are still a novelty in Canada. According to a recent survey by GfK Canada, these payments accounted for just 3 per cent of all payments in 2015 – and they included PayPal and the Starbucks app.

But many observers believe that mobile payments will gain traction as the technology behind it extends to all smartphone brands.

HOW APPLE PAY WORKS:

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Dubbed Apple Pay, the system will allow iPhone users to purchase goods at hundreds of thousands of retail locations. Users add credit or debit card information (Apple Pay will work with Visa, MasterCard and American Express) to their phone, which can then be used to pay for goods simply by holding the phone near a terminal at any tap-and-pay enabled cash register. Because the system requires a new chip for security purposes, it will only be available on the new iPhones unveiled on Tuesday. The payment system will initially be available in the U.S.

Murat Yukselir

Add your card

Input your bank card data to your iPhone. The information is stored in the device’s Secure Element chip.

Murat Yukselir

Touch to pay

The system uses near-field communication technology, the wireless signal already used in tap-to-pay cards.

Murat Yukselir

Confirm identity

Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor provides the final link in the verification. Fingerprints are stored on the device itself and are not backed up to the cloud.

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