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How Apple’s numberless credit card will make it harder to break free of its ‘ecosystem’

Apple is rolling out a slew of services, including a titanium, numberless credit card. (Michael Short/Getty Images)
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Apple wants its phone in your pocket, its TV in your living room, its watch on your wrist.

Now it wants its credit card in your wallet.

The tech giant rolled out flashy new services — with a slew of celebrities on hand — at the “show time” event Monday at its Cupertino, Calif., campus. For a company that made its name off an “all-in-one” desktop computer, Apple is forging ahead with an “all-in-one” plan to win customers over: We’ve got it all. No need to go anywhere else.

That now includes paid subscriptions for news, as well as video games and an entertainment service.

But analysts point to another product debut as one of the most direct ways the company is trying to entrench itself in its customers’ (spending) lives: the Apple Card.

Apple now wants to be your cable provider, newsstand, credit card and arcade. But will it save you money?

First, some basics. Apple already rolled out its Apple Pay service, which lets shoppers make purchases through their phones or watches. The card uses Touch ID to reduce fraud, and its sleek titanium design doesn’t display any numbers or codes. The card is backed by Goldman Sachs and Mastercard, but Apple said Goldman Sachs won’t sell or share data with third parties.

Some analysts yawned at the card’s rewards. Apple Card has no annual fee and offers 2 percent cash back on purchases made through Apple Pay. Those rewards drop to 1 percent if you use the physical card instead of Apple Pay. Wall Street responded to Monday’s event by sending Apple stock down 1.2 percent. By Tuesday afternoon, shares had edged up 0.2 percent.

What’s clear, though, is that the card is meant for loyal customers who wouldn’t flinch over one more Apple service in their lives.

“It ties people further into the Apple ecosystem,” said Ivan Feinseth of Tigress Financial Partners. “It creates a moat against customer churn, or changing to another phone platform.”

A high-tech credit card fits with Apple’s techy customer base, Feinseth said. The card can be used anywhere where Mastercard is accepted — and it plays to Mastercard’s branding of itself as a technology company, rather than a financial one.

Whether they’re on their phones or talking to smart speakers, consumers are shifting more of their lives on to digital platforms, said Craig Vosburg, president of Mastercard North America. For his company, that means developing technology that’s both secure and relevant to their customers.

“It’s the notion of skating to where the puck is going to be,” Vosburg said. “There are large segments of customers who conduct a very high percentage of their purchasing through digital devices.”

Apple’s ‘show time’ event puts the spotlight on subscription services

For Goldman, the credit card fits into its push into consumer banking. The New York powerhouse has spent 150 years catering to big businesses and the wealthy. But post-financial crisis government regulations made consumer banking an attractive market for Goldman — and a potentially profitable one.

In recent years, it has added savings accounts for people with as little as $1 and an array of personal loans through its consumer banking service, Marcus. Goldman hopes to use these new consumer products to eventually reduce its reliance on its traditional trading business.

This will be Goldman’s first credit card and could help the bank insert itself into the lives of Apple customers, analysts have said.

The bank’s chief executive, David Solomon, and other Goldman executives reportedly attended the Apple announcement.

Though Goldman could grow its consumer lending business incrementally, partnering accelerates its push into consumer banking and gives it a global reach, said Ken Leon, director of equity research at the Center for Financial Research & Analysis.

“Credit cards is a different game where you need significant infrastructure,” Leon said. “Having Apple as a partner enables Goldman to know there is going to be a high flow of transactions.”

The credit card is part of Apple’s strategy to become less reliant on the iPhone and more entrenched in everyday services, said Logan Purk, an analyst at Edward Jones. But the card pushes Apple into a crowded market. Apple-lovers may be some of the card’s early adopters. But it will be “a harder sell” for people with “established credit histories or more lucrative cards,” Purk said. He also noted that in the U.S., only 70 percent of businesses accept Apple Pay, making the 2 percent rewards a high bar to routinely reach.

Apple also said it wouldn’t charge late fees, annual fees or a penalty interest rate. But Purk said that people who have late fees or penalty interest rates aren’t necessarily the kinds of customers credit card companies ought to target.

It’s also unclear how high a credit score people would need to get approved, and what the exact interest rates are for the card.

“It’s not a compelling product in a crowded credit card market,” Purk said.