Is Google Pay a bank-killer app?

Google has relaunched the Google Pay app. The new app, allows consumers and businesses to send and receive money. In the case of individuals, they can send money to anyone on their phone contact list, and businesses can accept payments with just their name or a QR code. Most importantly, the new version of Google Pay allows us to do all this without having to purchase any additional hardware and doesn’t depend on payments being made through via a card terminal. As Daniel Döderlein writes at Forbes: “The difference from the old Google Pay is massive, not only in features and focus, but in the effects it will have on the market.”

He illustrates the difference the new Google Pay will make when compared with, say, a system like Apple Pay. He says, “If Company A serves consumers with a payment tool, such as an app on a device that can hold a card they serve the consumer side.” This is because the merchants need to have hardware to accept a payment. This model limits Company A to using existing networks such as Visa and Mastercard. The old Google Pay used this NFC wallet model, which is called ‘one-sided’.

Google has now shifted its focus away from NFC wallets and made a decision to go ‘two-sided’. This flies in the face of the received wisdom coming from the major card issuers. “The card industry, with Visa and MasterCard at the helm, has spent billions on telling the world that NFC is the best thing since sliced bread and that contactless payments will rule the world,” Döderlein writes, adding that while tapping your card on a card terminal might seem amazing, it’s hardly “mind blowing.” Consumer expectations are rising, and the physical store-bound hardware-based payment scenario is becoming outdated. Döderlein argues, “you can’t ignore the fact that people browse, explore, interact with and shop on their phone, often miles away from the merchant.”

People want payment methods to be even easier and more streamlined. They may want to buy and pay for something on their phone, and then collect it at the store. Removing the card payment hardware from the equation makes that possible.

This is what Google is aware of, although it is by no means the first. “AliPay, Venmo, Zelle, Swish, Mobilepay and a handful of others around the world have already reached more than 1.5 billion users based on this model,” Döderlein reminds us. He added, “The new Google Pay is a bank killer and it also brings a huge stab to the card networks on its path.”

The new Google Pay is a two-sided, proprietary mobile payment network that will address its clients directly, both consumers and merchants, rather than through a partnership with a bank, for example. This could make a big dent in the existing card payment network businesses, because payments will be pulled from a person’s account without the card networks being involved.

It will certainly affect the banks, traditional and challenger. Having a bank account was the main way to obtain a debit or credit card, now Google Pay makes it unnecessary to carry that card around with you.

The model has already been proved to work in China with AliPay and in the Nordic countries it has made payment networks bigger than that of cards.

Google clearly knows it will have a fight on its hands with the card networks, but its willingness to go forward with it, indicates that it is looking to the long term. And as Döderlein says, “it means business.”

There will be a number of losers in the banking world, but the winners are merchants and consumers. Real mobile payments are on their way and that’s a winner for all of us.

Young consumers want more crypto banks

It very much looks like crypto banks are going to kill off the traditional high street bank, the ones that only deal in fiat currencies anyway. Mark Binns, writing for Cointelegraph, predicts that in less than three years, “a younger generation of banking customers won’t do business with a traditional fiat bank unless it offers access to crypto.”

Kraken, the San Francisco-based exchange, has already managed to acquire a bank charter, which means it is now able to offer its existing customers a range of banking products in addition to its cryptocurrency exchange. It is working with Silvergate Bank in the USA, to offer SWIFT and FedWire funding options, and as Binns says, we are likely to see more partnerships like this in the future, because they are offering what a new swathe of customers are asking for.

Binns points out that Silvergate appears to be ahead of the curve with this. It has 880 digital asset companies on its client list, and they have deposited in excess of $1.5 billion. Although this is small change in the banking world, it is a strong start in meeting a market that is dynamic and developing.

Binna says: “Consumers will soon define a “full service” bank as one that offers financial services in both crypto and fiat. The time to start acquiring the necessary tools of the crypto banking trade is right now. Banks need to start adapting or get left behind. Make no mistake about it.”

Making the change

If the existing banks are going to compete with crypto banks they will need some new tools to do this?

First off, they need blockchain forensics tools. There has for some time been the suspicion that a blockchain can conceal secrets. In fact, it is much easier to investigate activity on a blockchain than it is fiat currencies. It is certainly possible to uncover the origins of transactions. To do this, a bank will need “blockchain explorers and risk scoring tools.” These already exist, and enable “investigators to follow digital paper trails across addresses, wallets, transactions, blockchains and other digital entities, using techniques like clustering and heuristics.” As Binns remarks, fiat currency is still the currency type of choice for money laundering. Contrary to popular belief, it is more difficult to launder money via a blockchain.

Offering DeFi products is another area for traditional banks to consider. As Binns says, “decentralized finance sector of cryptocurrency holds virtually endless promise.” However, these are unlikely to attract the average ban customer for some time yet, although crypto enthusiasts are pretty excited about the potential of the DeFi market.

Banks need to speed up their response to cryptocurrencies or find they have to close. It isn’t a case of wait and see any more, and they should be taking action immediately, before the likes of Kraken and the other promising projects offering multicurrency accounts that combine crypto and fiat currencies overtake them. Furthermore, with Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, announcing that she expected a decision on issuing a digital Euro to come in early 2021, it is clear that digital currencies are here to stay. Those who thought crypto was a fad that would disappear are going to be very disappointed.

Why Bank Stocks Tanked in 2020

If there were ever an indication that the digital age is taking over in finance, it is the state of bank stocks. This year has been an extraordinary one in many respects, and the effects of the pandemic have thrown the banking sector into a quandary as fintech companies have outperformed the traditional players in he banking sector.

BNN Bloomberg’s senior anchor, Jon Erlichman, came to this conclusion after studying stock performance reports for banks, fintechs and the two largest cryptocurrencies, ETH and BTC.

A graph created by CryptoPotato, shows a YTD gain of 217% for ETH, while Wells Fargo bank shows a -58% loss. This is a massive change over a decade: “The stocks of some of the world’s largest banks were on a roll since the previous financial crisis over a decade ago. Bank of America shares had increased approximately ten-fold since 2009 to their highs in February 2020 of about $35,” writes Jordan Lyanchev. He also notes that in the same period, “Citigroup stocks went from $15 to $80, JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM) from $20 to $140, and Wells Fargo (WFC) surged from $11 to above $50.”

What changed for banks in 2020?

The simplest answer is the Covid-19 pandemic. Even in March banks were seeing a significant slump with some losing 50% of their valuation in a matter of days. Some have regained a little of their former value, but they will still end this year in the red. And it is not just banks; Western Union and American Express have also suffered. Lyanchev notes that Warren Buffett, a major investor, sold all his bank stocks this year.

Visa and Mastercard both took a bit of a hit, but have managed to pull back into the green by small percentages. However, they must be looking at companies like PayPal and Square with a feeling of envy.

PayPal’s stocks (PYPL) started 2020 at $110 and have increased by 94% since then. It did see a collapse to $85 in March, but as we can see, it has completely turned that around. Square’s yearly gains have even seen triple-digit percentages, and it has seen a 178% growth since January 2020. Both of them are now connected with cryptocurrency: Square bought Bitcoin valued at $50 million this year, and PayPal is allowing its US-based customers to buy, sell, and store several digital assets.

The crypto markets

It is undeniable that the cryptocurrency markets also took a hit around March. Today BTC is at $13,000, but it dipped to $3,700 back then. Ethereum, now at $400 dropped to $100. Both have overcome the slump, with Bitcoin in particular being increasingly seen as a safe haven asset in the same way as gold.

Analysts are unsure exactly why Bitcoin has seen a YTD surge of 80%, and whether it can be attributed to more interest from institutional investors, the May halving or large companies investing in it. Ethereum has been riding the wave of the growing trend supporting decentralised finance, as its blockchain operates as the underlying technology behind most DeFi projects. Even though this utility has highlighted some of Etherieum’s weak points, such as high transaction fees and slow transaction rates, “none of that matters as ETH has been on a roll during most of the year, especially since the summer.” Now the second-largest cryptocurrency has become the best-performing asset, with an increase of over 200%.

What we can take away from this is that Covid-19 has driven dramatic changes that have made people become more focused on the digital world. They are looking more to online ventures and digitally transferred funds. What we may be witnessing now is the real beginning of a mass movement to an online world that will leave traditional banking behind.

The digital banking surge predates the pandemic

It may be supposed by some that the global pandemic was the kick-starter of the rise in the number of digital bank accounts. However, that isn’t quite true as Ron Shevlin usefully points out in Forbes. 

In 2019, half of all community banks and credit unions opened less than 5% of their new checking account applications in digital channels. But then these banks only account for 15% of the total current account applications last year.

More significantly, it is what the Americans call ‘megabanks’ (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo) alongside the digital banks that “accounted for roughly 55% of all checking account applications in 2019, 63% in Q1 2020, and 69% in Q2 2020.”

However, one thing is clear; digital account openings are overtaking in-branch applications. For example, “Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the checking account applications taken during the height of the Coronavirus crisis in Q2 2020 for what consumers considered their primary account were submitted either online or on a mobile device,” Cornerstone Advisors report. That’s a 59% increase over the same period in 2019.

The turning point came earlier though; in the second half of 2019 to be precise. This is the moment when digital applications for primary accounts exceeded branch applications.

It would also appear from Cornerstone’s research that the 35% of Americans with more than one current/checking account, are more likely to turn to digital solutions when applying for a second or third account. Shevlin writes, “In Q2 2020, roughly three-quarters of the applications consumers submitted for their secondary checking was done through digital channels, up from 65% in the first quarter of the year.”

And there is more good news for digital platforms: “a larger percentage of consumers who opened an account in the past three years rated their experience on the mobile channel as “excellent” compared with those who used online or in-branch services.

Banks have for some time clung to the idea that consumers want the ‘human touch’, but Cornerstone’s research indicates that while this is somewhat true, “The rest of the experience isn’t as good as it is in a digital channel.” Furthermore, consumer ratings of the in-branch experience haven’t increased in recent years, and in some cases have fallen.

The megabanks have captured much of the millennial market, largely due to a better digital and mobile experience. This leaves the smaller banks at a disadvantage, although there are opportunities for them to become second account providers. They just need to provide a digital account opening process.