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 Consumer expectations are rising, and the physical store-bound hardware-based payment scenario is becoming outdated.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.

The practical uses of AI and 5G

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of talk about the advantages of artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G. Not everyone is convinced, and there is a swathe of people who fear both technologies, although often for different reasons. Perhaps they would be more convinced about their benefits if they grasped the practical uses.

Smart automation is one of them. Automation’s aim is to reduce human error, as well as maximise productivity. In the case of ‘smart automation’, AI provides the ‘smarts’ by analyzing a series of tasks and streamlining them. By combining this with 5G, mobile service providers would be able to “offer simpler activations, higher performance and the rapid deployment of new services, according to Will Townsend and Moor Insights. This would increase revenues and provide an enhanced user experience, thanks to more reliable network connections.

Townsend also believes that AI would “enable network operators to move from reactive to proactive issue resolution.” The technology would allow them to evaluate huge amounts of data when troubleshooting any network anomalies, while “5G should enable networks to better handle these predictive functions’ complexity and support significantly more connected devices.” Townsend also thinks, “one of the most significant impacts of AI in mobile networks will be the reduction of subscriber churn.” That is interesting, as building and retaining a customer base is critical for telecoms companies.

Both AI and 5G will undoubtedly speed up digital transformation in businesses. The need for this has become more apparent in 2020, with legions of employees working from home. As a result, the networks have been under significant pressure “from a scalability, reliability and security perspective.” What has ensued is connectivity infrastructure providers are embracing AIOps for its potential to supercharge DevOps and SecOps.

Lastly, AI and 5G in both the consumer and enterprise markets will vastly transform the user experience. For example, “AI has the potential to reduce the number of subscriber service choices, presenting the most relevant ones based on past behaviour,” Townsend says. This will in turn build greater loyalty among subscribers, as well as more monetization opportunities for the operator.

In conclusion, there is a great deal of synergy between AI and 5G. It will mean mobile networks are not simple the means of access to data. AI promises to also “improve new device provisioning, deliver high application and connectivity performance, accelerate digital transformation and provide exceptional user experiences.” As Townsend says: it’s a win-win for everyone.

Covid has created more fintech billionaires

Fintechs have done extremely well out of the Covid crisis. The lockdowns have forced more people to turn to online for financial products, as well as day trading as a way of creating an income at a time when jobs are disappearing.

Afterpay is one example. It is an online service that allows shoppers from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to pay for small items, such as clothing in instalments over a six-week period. It’s an online version of the catalogue shopping that was so popular in the 1970s and 80s that allowed mostly women to clothe their families by paying for the items over a period of time. Now it’s in a digital format and not connected solely to a small selection of businesses.

Afterpay is only five years old, but the pandemic has made its founders billionaires, even though at the start of the crisis its shares tanked. Now its shares have increased in value tenfold thanks to a surge in online retail sales. For example, in the second quarter of 2020 it handled transactions worth $3.8 billion, an increase of 127% over the same quarter in 2019.

Who else has benefited? Chime, a digital bank, Robinhood, the stock trading app and Swedish fintech Klarna. And then there are those platforms such as Zoom and Slack which have enjoyed a boom due to the increase in working from home.

Others have not been so fortunate. The Lending Club, which offers personal loans to high-risk customers has laid off 30% of its staff, and On Deck, a lender specialising in small business loans has been sold off in a fire sale.

Victoria Treyger, a general partner who leads fintech investing at Felicis Ventures, commented to Forbes: “Consumer fintech adoption was already strong pre-pandemic, especially among the 20s to early-40s age group,” adding, “The pandemic has become a growth rocket, fuelling the rapid acceleration of adoption across all age groups, including 40- to 60-year-olds.”

Fintech payment providers are amongst those benefiting most thanks to the rise in online spending and home delivery services. Marqueta is one of those. It is a specialised payments processor providing a service to Instacart and others. It is discussing an IPO valued at $8 billion, which is four times its valuation in March 2019.

Credit card spending is down, as large-ticket items such as holidays were effectively cancelled for 2020. Instead, debit card payments are up. This is good for fintechs, as they primarily offer debit cards. For example, Chime, based in San Francisco, used the US government stimulus package to its advantage. In advance of he $1,200 government-stimulus checks started hitting Americans’ accounts, it loaned customers that money to the tune of $1.5 billion. Its CEO said, “Following the stimulus advance, we had the largest day for new enrolments in the history of the company.” It also has a new valuation of $14.5 billion, and “venture capitalists are valuing the company at 24 times its revenue.”

While this year has proved to be a great one for fintechs and other online platforms, there is one thing to consider: will consumers keep up the habit their online shopping habits in 2021, because a lot is riding on that for the fortunate fintechs.

Are you switching to Signal?

For some years now almost the entire world has been using WhatsApp thanks to it being the leading secure messaging platform. However, that is all changing  due to a slowness on the part of its owner Facebook to introduce multi-device access.

Zak Doffman comments that this has been made worse by “the fast-moving convergence of messaging and calls—and with WhatsApp calls still tied to a phone, rather than an easier-to-use large screen device, it’s becoming a major stumbling block.”

Facebook tried to rectify this by launching the cross-platform Messenger Rooms, but these don’t offer end-to-end encryption. So, as Doffman says, it isn’t an ideal way to communicate if your information is sensitive or confidential.

Admittedly, WhatsApp does do a good job of securing voice and video calls from its iPhone and Android apps, and you can now have up to eight people on a call. It also has a desktop app in the pipeline, but it’s all a bit too late.

The super secure Signal platform is beating WhatsApp. It has already started beta testing one-to-one video and voice calls from its desktop app. Group calls are not available yet, but they won’t be far away, as Signal’s recent announcement would seem to indicate: “We think that calls need to zoom out of the past and into the future, and your feedback will help us get there.” Obviously this was aimed at Zoom, which dominated work and personal conversations during lockdown.

“This release is one of the first steps towards our goal of enabling secure voice and video calls that are available on all of your devices,” Signal says, adding, “in addition to being end-to-end encrypted and free for everyone to use.”

However, Doffman points out that Signal isn’t really that concerned about Zoom,  it is WhatsApp that is the real target. And it is picking up traction with those who don’t really trust Facebook for messaging. The only downsides of Signal at the moment are first, the number of users is relatively small at the moment, and second, there are no backups yet, so if you lose your device, you lose your messages.

The recent protests in the USA and Hong Kong have highlighted the need for a more secure messaging by anyone concerned about interception, metadata or tracking. What’s more Signal is chasing WhatsApps users and is ahead of the game. If WhatsApp wants to retain its No.1 position, it needs to implement end-to-end encrypted back-ups and linked devices. Not used Signal yet? Why not install it on your phone and try it now.