Ann Arbor’s Stratos Launches “Industry First” Connected Payment Card

At long last, Ann Arbor-based Stratos, formerly known as Protean Payment, today launched its Bluetooth Connected Card, which it describes as an industry first in the realm of financial technology and mobile wallets.

“It’s exciting to finally be able to show people,” says Stratos CEO Thiago Olson. “Inside the Stratos card, we’ve packed an entire computer.”

The journey began in 2012, when the company first began publicizing plans for what it called the Echo Card. Though the company has undergone a few pivots like the name change, its mission has remained largely the same: A mobile payment card capable of mimicking all of the cards in your wallet—credit, debit, loyalty, membership; essentially anything with a magnetic stripe—and an accompanying app that allows you to store them all on your smartphone.

During the early days of researching the mobile payment sector, Olson realized that many potential users were confused about how and where to use a purely mobile wallet. People still seemed to want a physical card, but one that connected to account information stored in the cloud, so he set about creating one.

The Stratos card comes with a plug-in card reader. Once all your cards are loaded and synced on the mobile app, you tap the connected card on the nearest surface to activate it, select the card you want to use from your mobile wallet at the point of sale, and swipe the Stratos card as you normally would a credit or debit card anywhere those cards are accepted. You can also designate three “priority” cards and access them with or without your smartphone by pressing one of three tiny sensors on the Stratos card itself. (Watch the video below for a demonstration of how this process works.)

“There are unique benefits to having a card connected to a device,” Olson says. “Stratos excels at payments, access, and identity. Just like the iPod reinvented the music collection, we’re doing that with cards. We help empower our members to make smarter decisions.”

If you activate the smart suggestions feature, the Stratos card can compare GPS data to the cards you have stored and make suggestions; for instance, if you walk into Macy’s and have a Macy’s card loaded on the app, it will remind you through push notifications. If you haven’t used the Stratos card in a while, you tap it to wake it up, and then it defaults to the last card used. It also knows if its battery is dying, sending a message to Stratos to send a new one before the card conks out.

In addition, Olson says the Stratos card has layers of security built in: bank-level encryption; no account information displayed on the front of the card, meaning that information can’t be stolen by store clerks or restaurant servers handling the card; and an automated system that uses geo-fencing to lock the card if it becomes separated from its owner. (It’s up to users to choose the distance at which the lock system engages; it automatically unlocks once the card is back in proximity to its owner.)

The Stratos app is free to download in both iOS and Android versions, and the company will begin shipping cards in April. Members pay $95 per year (or $145 for two years) to access the Stratos platform, which comes with a new card annually. It has a scratch-proof coating and what Olson calls an “elegant” design that comes in five colors.

“We’re seeing extreme levels of interest—we’ve had beta testers out,” Olson says. … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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6 responses to “Ann Arbor’s Stratos Launches “Industry First” Connected Payment Card”

  1. George Adams says:

    The lack of chip (EMV) is a serious issue. EMV is currently rolling out and will be mandatory after October 2015.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2014/02/06/october-2015-the-end-of-the-swipe-and-sign-credit-card/

  2. Hi George, the company is actually already at work on that along with tokenization.

    • George Adams says:

      No they aren’t, impossible. The EMV chip’s are closely guarded secrets, to make one that would be dynamically configurable would defeat the entire system. Take a look at the Wired Article… they weren’t BS’ed and it’s clear the “tokenization” system being spoke of works in conjunction with an iPhone. At that point, with ApplePay, why do I even need the card?

      http://www.wired.com/2015/03/another-attempt-make-killer-connected-credit-card/ (starting on the 6th paragraph)

      • EMV definitely came up in our conversation, so it’s something the company is thinking about.

        As for why you need the card, that’s something I’m sure Thiago could argue far better than me, but the idea is that some people aren’t all the way comfortable with a purely mobile solution and still want a physical card to use. Among other reasons.

        • George Adams says:

          I have no doubt they are thinking about it, but the clear non wiggle room question should be this:

          “Will you support EMV?”

          There are two answers to that, yes (with a date) and everything else. Until that clear question is asked and answered (which a few journalists already have) you’re talking to the marketing department effectively.

          I understand some people aren’t comfortable with a purely mobile phone based solution but any “card format” solution to be 100% compatible after Oct 1 2015 will need to support EMV. End of conversation. And at this point that is strictly limited to plastic stripped cards with the EMV chip. Not re-programmable.

          Now… they might backdoor it using NFC and protocols similar to ApplePay but at that point it’s almost a “why bother”.