First Look: Zelle Takes on Venmo, Square and Itself

First Look: Zelle Takes on Venmo, Square and Itself

Seventeen years ago PayPal took on Wells Fargo’s Billpoint (joint venture with eBay) and Citibank’s (C2IT) fledgling P2P payment services. It wasn’t a fair fight. With a $400 million VC war chest and an all-star exec team (Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, David Sacks, Reid Hoffman and so on), the fight didn’t make it past the first round. Within a year PayPal had a stranglehold on eBay payments due to its superior UX and aggressive business model.

Now the banks are back with Zellea rebranded version of the clearXchange that has been up and running for six years. The service already has great traction. In 2016, Early Warning, the bank-owned operator (see note 1), processed 170 million transfers totaling $55 billion for the 85 million customers of their big-bank owners. That works out to exactly 2 transactions per customer annually with an average of $320 per transfer.

The value transferred is three times the size of Venmo’s $17.6 billion in volume, though the number of Venmo transactions is probably higher, perhaps considerably higher if its average transaction size is in the $15 to $20 range implying 1 billion venmos last year.

Using Zelle
Yesterday and today I used the mobile and desktop Zelle from Capital One for the first time. Other than the glitch with my mobile phone number (see note 3), which would stop many consumers from going further, setup was quick and easy. The desktop version is pretty straightforward, with a Send Money with Zelle link in the middle of the Payments menu (see screenshot below). This assumes you know what Zelle is, or you just ignore it since it comes after the key words, “Send Money.”

But the mobile UI is less intuitive. It wasn’t initially obvious how to use it because there is no Zelle or payments navigation item in the Capital One app…yet (it’s only been out since June 12). However, once you go to your checking account section, it’s one of the main navigation items at the top (see inset below).


I was initially surprised at what happened with my test payment. I sent a buck to my son (sorry, Paul I only had $1.12 in my account) and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my payment had been “qualified for expedited deposit” and he’d have the cash right away without the usual ACH delay.

But when my son forwarded the email he received, I was surprised to find that my Capital One payment has morphed into a branded Chase QuickPay with Zelle. There was no mention of Capital One anywhere in the message (see screenshot #1).

That makes sense now. My son has a Chase account and was already registered with Chase QuickPay. If he’d not already been registered, he would have received a Capital One branded email (see screenshot #2 below).

Why the new brand?
Zelle/clearXchange will continue to grow at a good clip if its big-bank owners stick with it. It’s already 3x the size of media darling Venmo (owned by PayPal). But I’m not sure the massive investment in creating a new payments brand is worthwhile (cut to the boardroom discussion of a 2018 Super Bowl ad).

I get that they are trying to create another Visa/Mastercard network that consumers recognize and trust. But unlike credit transactions at the POS in the 1950s and 60s, p2p payments are relatively understood by consumers and have much less need of a third-party organization to achieve the network effects. The big banks are already wired to each other and what’s needed, what clearXchange was already offering, is just a simpler UX inside each bank’s online and mobile application. Adding the Zelle name to the mix seems like a step backwards on that front.

Maybe I’m wrong and we’ll all be Zelling money to Mars in a few decades. But I’m not convinced the new brand will stand the test of time.

Bottom line: Love the service, which I expect to flourish, but confused by the branding.

#1: Email to a pre-registered Zelle recipient banking at Chase


#2 Email to a Zelle recipient not registered with a participating bank

Author: Jim Bruene is Founder & Senior Advisor to Finovate as well as Principal of BUX Advisors, a financial services user-experience consultancy. 


  1. Owners of Early Warning (aka Zelle) are: Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, PNC, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.
  2. If I were any bank other than BofA and Capital One, I’d be crying foul over how the banks are listed in alphabetic order. On the desktop, it doesn’t matter (yet) since they are all above the fold. But on mobile, you can only see BofA and Capital One, and there is no indicator that you should scroll for more.
  3. I received a fatal error message when I tried to use my mobile number as contact to send Zelle payments (see inset) from Capital One’s mobile app. This could be something particular to my account, but from the cryptic popup message, it sounds like my phone is registered at another bank. And that would be a big concern for most customers who would fear that identity thieves are hard at work draining their accounts.
  4. Image credit

BTCJam: P2P Lending via Bitcoin

image I have not as yet jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon. Unlike other digital financial inventions that seemed obviously useful when they first appeared (e.g., Internet banking, P2P lending, two-factor authentication, etc.), an open-source, math-based virtual currency created by an anonymous cryptographer seems a bit of a stretch.

But even the Fed (Chicago) complimented Bitcoin in a letter published today, saying:

“<Bitcoin> represents a remarkable conceptual and
technical achievement, which may well be used by existing financial institutions
(which could issue their own bitcoins) or even by governments themselves.”

While remaining skeptical, I am at least coming to understand why it’s needed. And startups are beginning to show up with businesses built on top of the currency, which helps explain just how important it could be.

Case in point: BTCJam, a global P2P lending outfit, with founders in Brazil and San Francisco, lends in Bitcoins. With participants in 85 countries, this is the first P2P lending platform that successfully crossed national borders.

The startup has already done 2,700 loans worth more than $1 million since its launch a year ago. In comparison, Prosper originated about 6,000 loans worth $28 million during its first year. Prosper’s loan size in year 1 was more than 10x that of BTCjam (Prosper average = $4,800 in 2006).   

The company is currently in the process of raising about $1+ mil via Angel List.


How it works

Like most P2P lending platforms, borrowing requests are vetted by the platform. Once approved, they are displaying to the network so that prospective lenders can fund the request. Generally, lenders spread their risks by only backing a portion of each loan.

Since BTCjam is global, it cannot rely solely on traditional credit scores. Instead, it validates the borrower in a number of ways across various social and payment networks along with traditional credit checks, address verifications and income verification. The results are displayed within the loan listing (see screenshots below). 

Borrowers that have passed more verification steps and/or with more “social proof” (e.g., eBay seller ratings, PayPal verified status, Facebook friends, etc.) are more likely to be funded and at a lower interest rate.



BTCJam has made 2,700 loans, of which 1,700 have been repaid, with 1,000 active. The company does not say how many have defaulted. Most of the borrowing is for small amounts over short time periods. The average loan amount is $400 to $600 with annual interest rate of about 45%. But most loans are very short duration with an average term of 35 days. The platform takes a 4% advance fee for loans less than 10 BTC (about $2,000) and 1% of higher amounts.

Many borrowers appear to be testing the waters and/or building their reputations through short loans quickly repaid at nominal rates. In addition, there are a number of borrowers using the platform to make Bitcoin currency bets.

Borrowers can choose to repay their debt in straight Bitcoins, but that entails a great deal of currency risk. To avoid that, borrowers can peg their loan to USD, GBP or other currencies. That way, fluctuating Bitcoin values are less of a concern if the funds are converted to local currency. Alternatively, borrowers can essentially short Bitcoins by keeping the funds in BTC and hoping the value against the USD drops.

The company has had loan participants from 85 countries.


Borrower listings at BTCjam (6 Nov 2013)
Note the borrower ratings/verification in far-right column


Borrower listing at BTCjam (6 Nov 2013)


1. We have published three reports in P2P lending (OBR 127 in 2006; 148/149 in 2007; and SR-5 in 2009). Our latest P2P lending market forecast is contained in the current Online Banking Report here (Jan 2013, subscription). We also covered equity and debt crowdfunding a few months ago (see Online Banking Report on Crowdfunding, subscription).
2. We are just finishing a report on Virtual Currencies. We’ll announce it here by the end of the month.

Monday Fintech Four

image Editor’s note: This was supposed to be the Friday Fintech Four, which is much better alliteration. But alas, it didn’t get published, so here’s the belated Monday version.

<drum roll> Here are the four most surprising fintech developments of the past week (in no particular order):


One: Stealthy mobile payment startup Clinkle hires long-time CFO of Netflix, Barry McCarthy, as its COO

image McCarthy was CFO from 1999 to 2010, taking Netflix public in 2003, then overseeing its finances as a public company for seven years. It’s pretty unusual for a big-name public company exec to take on an exec role at a startup, especially one in mobile payments. And one that hasn’t even officially launched yet to boot. McCarthy is on the board of three startups: Chegg, Eventbrite and Wealthfront, a startup in the investment space.
    >> LinkedIn profile of McCarthy
    >> A nice overview of the news at TechCrunch 
    >> An interview with McCarthy at AllThings D


Two: New mobile PFM, Level Money, beats Square Cash to #1 in iOS app store (finance)

image As soon as Square launched its P2P payments app, Square Cash, it quickly rocketed to number two in the Finance section of the iPhone app store (see Chart 1 below) and number 55 across all free apps in all categories. But it never got higher, and a week later it’s hanging in at number 11.

The reason it missed the top slot? Another newcomer, Level Money, a great-looking new PFM, was being featured by Apple in the App Store and maintained the top ranking during that period (see Chart 2). During its time as a promoted app, Level Money maintained a top-20 ranking among all 500,000+ free apps (see Chart 3).

    >> Netbanker post on Square Cash
    >> Distimo app rankings for Square Cash (see following chart)


Chart 1: Square Cash app ranking in Free Finance in Apple App Store


Chart 2: Level Money app ranking in Free Finance in Apple App Store


Chart 3: Level Money ranking among all free apps in the Apple App Store



Three: Amex customers have put $1 billion into its Bluebird prepaid card

At this year’s SourceMedia Payments Forum, American Express revealed key metrics about its highly touted Bluebird prepaid program sold in Walmart stores:

  • 1 million new accounts
  • $1 billion in total loads
  • Average load of $1,000 per account
  • 87% of accounts new to Amex
  • 53% over age 35

Thanks to the attendees who tweeted the metrics @leimer (Bradly Leimer) and @JimMarous among others.



Four: Four fintech startups snapped up last week

Compared to other tech sectors, fintech has experienced less M&A activity in the past few years. Everything moves a little slower in a highly regulated, fraud-magnet segment. Buying fintech is not like bolting on a photosharing app. That said, it was a busy past 10 days on the M&A front:

  • Betterment buys ImpulseSave to boost its auto-savings features (Finovate post)
  • UK’s FundingCircle buys Endurance Lending to enter U.S. market (Techcrunch)
  • Blackhawk acquires Intelispend (Digital Transactions)
  • Wonga buys Germany’s BillPay to expand outside United Kingdom (Techcrunch)

Photo credit: Fab Festival

Simple to Launch Bluetooth-Based P2P Payments


I’m  glad I stayed until the end of Money2020. Some time after 5pm on day four (9 Oct 2013) of the biggest financial tradeshow since BAI Retail Delivery in Nov 2000 (see note 1), Josh Reich introduced two members of team Simple, Tom Wanielista and Collin Ruffenach. The duo proceeded to send each other the first Bluetooth-enabled payment I’ve ever seen. It looked a lot like a Bump payment, recently relaunched by Capital One 360, but without the awkward phone gyrations.

The feature is called MoneyDrop, built by Wanielista and Ruffenach, and allows Simple users within a few feet of each other to transfer money with a few finger swipes in the Simple mobile app. It’s easy to use, since other Simple users automatically pop up on the MoneyDrop screen when they are in range (see screenshot below).

The startup didn’t say when the service will be available to Simple’s 65,000 customers, but TechCrunch reports it will hit iOS first (iPhone 4S or above required) with Android in the pipeline.

Bottom line: MoneyDrop is similar to the Palm Pilot “beaming” service PayPal began in 1999, but then quickly abandoned for email p2p model (see note 1). The ubiquity of smartphones makes it much more interesting today. Still, the requirement that both users have a Simple account, and newer smartphones, limits its uptake for now (note 2).

While I didn’t know it at the time of the Money2020 session, Square was about to introduce a drop-dead simple P2P payment system (see Friday’s post). That’s a free and easy way for Simple customers to move money as well. It took just 3.5 hours in my test for money to move from my Chase debit card to my Simple account. Not as cool as instant MoneyDropping, but it works with any Visa/MasterCard debit.

Despite all that, I think it’s a great move by Simple. MoneyDrop provides a tangible leg up on other mobile banking apps, a moderate viral boost, and great publicity.


Simple MoneyDrop P2P payment service (8 Oct 2013)


1. Retail Delivery topped out around 10,000 attendees (includes exhibitor staff) in 1999/2000. After just two years, Money2020 is at more than 40% of that.
2. A TechCrunch commenter noted that MoneyDrop also sounds like what stealthy Clinkle is planning to unleash on the world. Quite a coup if Simple beat them to market.
3. For more info on peer-to-peer payments (P2P), see our Online Banking Report issue devoted to the topic (Dec 2009, subscription).

Square Cash Nails P2P Payments

image It’s been six months since we handed out an OBR Best of the Web award (archives; see note 1). Since then, many new enabling technologies and promising applications were launched. But with every passing year, it gets harder to raise the bar with a new digital financial product.

image But Square did it this week. The company took P2P payments — which PayPal commercialized in 1999 (see last screenshot below) and CashEdge/Fiserv bankified in 2009/2010, and which Google simplified in May — and distilled the payment scheme to its essence. Just email money directly (via debit card) from any client, web, mobile, tablet or any other email-enabled device (or from the Square mobile app). No third-party accounts needed, no login, no challenge questions, no selecting your payment method, no navigating various fee structures. Just send payment like you would any other email by adding a cc to Square. 

And amazingly, neither the sender nor recipient need be preregistered with Square. All it takes to send or receive small amounts ($250/week) is a U.S. based MasterCard or Visa debit card number, expiration date and ZIP code (see third screenshot; note 3). And once you’ve entered that the first time, you can literally send a P2P payment in two or three seconds (assuming you were already in your email client).

It’s hard to imagine P2P payments being any simpler. And Square is doing it all for free.

The biggest hurdle, as Walt Mossberg pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, is trust. The system is so easy to use, that it almost doesn’t seem possible. The other limitation is that users can register only one debit card per email address. There is no way currently to substitute a different card.



Since this is Square (fintech’s Apple), the design is gorgeous and the user experience is outstanding (Jim Marous breaks it down here). But the pundits are scratching their heads a bit about why the company launched a service with negative margins (note 4) that isn’t solving any major consumer headache and is disconnected with its consumer wallet and Square Register-acquiring business.

I think they are doing it to get millions of debit cards registered with their service. Then when new customers show up at a Square merchant, the company will try to switch what would have been a credit card transactions over to debit. This could potentially save gazillions in interchange, especially when debit price controls are expected to lower the interchange into sub 10-cent-per-transaction territory. 

But how they accomplish this integration is still a mystery. The company is so far silent on the end-game for Square Cash. 


Financial institution opportunities

Since Square is paying interchange to debit card issuers, financial institutions should be neutral about this service (note 3). Sure it takes P2P payments out of your control, but if your debit card is linked to the service, it increases usage. For those with a fee-based P2P offering such as POPmoney, Square Cash is a competitor, but with its transaction limits and other consumer uncertainties, it’s not on equal footing and initially shouldn’t be a huge threat.

In fact, banks and credit unions might consider integrating Square Cash directly into online/mobile banking. A script could write the payment email and send it directly from online/mobile banking. The primary drawback would be the confusing email confirmations from Square and the initial debit card signup on the Square page (screenshot #3), so it would take some customer education. But once customers got through that, it could be a minor profit center (see caveat, note 4).


The simplest P2P payment process in the world

Three steps:
1. Choose email address from contacts (or type in)
2. CC
3. Type amount in subject line

Note: A message in the body is optional. It can just as easily be left blank.


Square customer announcement (2 PM, 17 Oct 2013)
Note: In this email to an existing Square Wallet customer, the company pushes users to download its new standalone Square Cash app


Signup/application process (webpage)


PayPal “beam money” interface at its 1999 launch (15 Nov 1999)



1. Since 1997, our Online Banking Report has periodically given OBR Best of the Web awards
to companies that pioneer new online- or mobile-banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. In total, 90 companies have won the award. This is the first for Square. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.
2. In a Quora post, Brian Roemmele estimates Square pays between $0.10 to $0.25 per transaction to MasterCard or Visa and Chase, its acquiring bank (and Square investor).
3. Recipients can also deposit directly into a bank account if they don’t have a debit card.
4. It should be a net positive to the bottom line, unless there are unintended consequences, such as customer support or increased fraud.
5. For more info on peer-to-peer payments (P2P), see our Online Banking Report issue devoted to the topic (Dec 2009, subscription).

First Look: Google Wallet "Pay by Gmail" (and the Pain of Authentication)

image As you probably already know, last week Google launched P2P payments via Gmail (and through the Google Wallet mobile/online interface). Once authenticated, users simply “attach” funds to an email message (see inset).

Bank transfers (e.g., ACH) are free while card-based payments will cost senders 2.9% of the amount, with a $0.30 minimum. However, all transactions are free for an unspecified time during the launch period.

With an estimated 400 to 500 million global Gmail users, the service has the potential to become an important method of sending money (it’s only available to U.S. users at this point). However, like all U.S.-based P2P services, it’s easy to send money, but not always so easy to receive it.

In my first test, I was able to claim the funds relatively easily with my four-year-old Google Wallet account. There was a short authentication process with a login, name, address, birth date and last four digits of my Social Security Number (SSN). After claiming the funds, I was then able to send money out of the system (note 2).

After sending my two cents over to Larry Page, congratulating him on the launch (see screenshots below), I then sent money to my work email account. While it was deceptively simple to send the money, I was unable to claim the money, despite already having an active Google Wallet associated with that email address.

After receiving the email notification, I went through the same authentication process as above. But after logging in and providing my personal info, I was hit with four additional out-of-wallet authentication questions, apparently pulled from public databases (I think NOT my credit bureau due to the errors..see below).

But apparently there was an error in the out-of-wallet Q&A served to me. The first two questions obviously pertained to me, and I answered them correctly, but the final two did not (note 6), so I answered “none of the above.” But Google didn’t believe me, and I was told my answers were “inconsistent” and that I could not be authenticated online.

I was invited to upload three pieces of documentation since I failed the Q&A (all required):

  • Picture ID (e.g., drivers license)
  • Proof of address (e.g., utility bill)
  • Social Security card

Unfortunately, I haven’t laid eyes on my Social Security card for several decades and haven’t a clue where it is. And in 18 years of testing online account opening, no one has ever asked for it. So I’m stuck. Had someone sent me a real payment, I would be extremely frustrated, and would have to either ask for a check to be sent, or use PayPal.

Bottom line: This is a brilliant play by Google, taking everyone by surprise. However, P2P payments (in the USA anyway) are still a pain to receive the first time which dampens their viral growth (note 7). I understand the reasons for good authentication, though it still seems like overkill given that I was only claiming a one-cent transfer via a pre-existing and active Google Wallet account (used for more than $400 worth of purchases this year). And especially after I provided the correct name, address, birth date, SSN and two additional out-of-wallet questions.

But I know the folks from Mountain View, Calif., will work the risk-procedure kinks out quickly (there is a reason it’s called “beta”). And if they stick with it (RIP Google Reader), Google should be able to build a critical mass of financially authenticated users, making “gpay” as easy as using PayPal.


How Gmail Pay works

Step 1: Craft email message and click on the “$” icon at the bottom of the compose screen

Step 2: Attach funds via Wallet balance, bank transfers, or card; then add memo if desired


Step 3: Press send


Step 4: Final chance to review


Final: Confirmation copy is placed in your inbox (note 8)




1. During the beta test, you can become a P2P user only by first receiving funds from an existing user.
2. I have two Google Wallet accounts, one set up in 2009 and the other established in January 2013 when I got a Nexus NFC phone with built-in Wallet support. The credit card associated with both accounts was stolen earlier this year, and I had to add a new card to both wallets before I could use them. This could have triggered additional authentication requirements on the second Wallet account.
3. The payment appears as a “card” within a Gmail. There is no indication in the title of the message that it might contain money (user controls the rest of the email).
4. The transaction fee was waived for my Discover Card-based payment. I assume it would be on other card types, but I didn’t test that.
5. Users have the option to add a memo to the payment (in addition to what’s included in the email message).
6. Ironically, if the recipient was mobile-deposit-enabled, it would be easier the first time to send a high-resolution image of a check that the user could take a picture of and then deposit via mobile banking. Or, for Capital One 360 users, the emailed image could simply be
uploaded directly into their account (see post). 
7. Though I suspect the last two questions could have been drawn from online info about my brother, who has a different first name and lives 2,000 miles from me.  
8. Yesterday, confirmation emails went to my inbox when I sent a payment. Tonight, I am not seeing that: It’s only showing in my Sent messages.
9. For more info, see our recent Online Banking Report: Digital & Mobile Wallets (published Feb 2013, subscription).

Launching: SmarterBank, a Virtual Bank Aimed at Student Loan Holders

image Startups are advised to find pain-points, then build businesses to profitably solve them. Despite the current wave of very bad publicity around banks, especially the big ones, everyday banking isn’t a huge pain-point for the 80% of households currently served by existing players.

Sure, I’d like to have more security options, fewer unintelligible messages, and a Cash Tank. But most of these are feature/function improvements, not “must-have” issues that need to be solved.

What are the acute pain points in banking and personal finance?

  • Debt management, especially credit card and student loans
  • Home financing
  • Small business financing
  • Insurance
  • Retirement planning/saving

Three of these five have to do with the debt side of the consumer’s balance sheet. Yet, much of the talk about online/mobile banking innovations centers around spending management, payments, checking and savings accounts, and account access technology.

So I get pretty excited about innovations on the debt front. And last week, there was an interesting launch on the student-loan-management front, SmarterBank from Finovate alum, SimpleTuition. Its tagline says it all:

Smarterbank is "the bank that helps you pay down your student loans"

It’s a truly free, full-featured checking account, with debit card, paper checks and all the usual (but no branches, of course). And it’s powered by The Bancorp Bank, which has its hands in many of the new direct banking initiates we are seeing, including (bank) Simple.

But the special sauce is a built-in rewards program tied directly into student loan payback.


How it works

It’s actually two separate accounts, rewards and checking. You don’t need to buy the checking account to participate in the rewards program. But you must be in the rewards program before you can get a SmarterBank checking account.

  • SmarterBucks: rewards piece (see first two screenshots below)
  • SmarterBank: the checking account

Users accumulate cash to accelerate student-loan payback in three ways:

  • Deals/offers (note 2)
  • Banking rewards (from linked SmarterBank checking account)
  • Direct contributions from family and friends

SmarterBucks dashboard (8 April 2012)
Note: (1) Link to SmarterBank in upper right
(2)The deals piece is marked “coming soon”

SmarterBuck dashboard with link to SmarterBank from SimpleTuition

SmarterBucks reward activity
SmarterBucks rewards activity screen from SimpleTuition


Sign-up process

1. Sign up for SmarterBucks, which as a non-financial account requires only name and email address

2. Add a student loan that SmarterBucks rewards are credited to

3. (Optional) Add a SmarterBank account so that non-PIN debit purchases earn SmarterBucks rewards

4. (Optional) Invite family to contribute money directly to the SmarterBucks account

SmarterBank application hosted by The Bancorp Bank (link)

Smarterbank application powered by The Bancorp Bank



Marrying rewards, checking/debit, P2P family contributions, and student loan repayment is brilliant. It not only provides a tangible benefit for the 37 million Americans with student loan debt (see note 1), but also is a great customer-acquisition tool for a very important segment, recent college grads. Financial institutions looking for more twenty-something customers should consider building similar capabilities or partnering with SimpleTuition.


1. Figures are from the company. It also said that 10 million students owe more than $50,000, and 2 million owe more than $100,000.
2. Friends and family will also be able to link their own SmarterBucks account to the student’s.
3. We covered family/student banking nine months ago in our Online Banking Report (here).

Guess What I’ve Been Researching Online?

imageI realize that ads based on recent activity are effective. But it’s still slightly unnerving, wondering whether you’ve lost every last bit of privacy or that you’ve been hit by an adware virus. But overall, it’s good to get relevant offers, especially when one has a $10 bonus in it (see AmEx below).

Here’s the two ads tossed my way while I was checking the status of my son’s flight today:

Amex Serve and Geico ads

I wrote a blog post on Serve yesterday (see AmEx promo on top of the page) and have been banging around insurance sites (see Geico ad on right) for the past two weeks as I wrap up a report on the subject.

AmEx Serve offer
Perhaps because I didn’t sign up yesterday, American Express is throwing me $10 to try Serve, its P2P payments service. Here’s the excellent landing page (link):

American Express Servce landing page

After entering your email address, the button turns to a thank-you. It’s good feedback for the user and keeps them from accidentally submitting the form twice.


Here’s the email sent a few moments later:

American Express Serve email


1. Button credit
2. We covered P2P payments two years ago in our Online Banking Report (subscription).

American Express Serves Up P2P "Pay Me Back" on Ticketmaster

image It’s a problem as old as money itself. The person making a purchase on behalf of a group inevitably gets stuck with a larger share as others “forget” to pay him/her back (note 1).

Two weeks ago, American Express launched a clever product tie-in on TicketMaster to help change that. After making a purchase, a prominently placed box suggests using Serve to “Get Paid Back.” Buyers are encouraged to use Serve to send money requests to friends for their share of the tickets. Given how social ticket purchasing is, it’s a great place to introduce P2P.

But there’s still the not-so-small problem of getting everyone signed up. Both sender and recipient must have Serve accounts. And while all transaction are currently free, the FAQs warn that coming Jan 1, there will be a fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction funded via credit card. Checking account (ACH)-based transactions will remain free.

To beat PayPal at this game, the service needs more than just well-placed ads. For example, integration directly into the Ticketmaster shopping cart, where buyers could enter friends’ email addresses to automatically “charge” them their share (subject to their approval of course).


Product placement after purchasing on Ticketmaster (11 Nov 2011)


Landing page


Note: We covered P2P payments two years ago in our Online Banking Report (subscription). 

WV United FCU Offering Both Square and Dwolla Payments

imageDuring an an onstage interview at The Wall Street Journal’s AsiaD conference, Jack Dorsey said he was working with banks to distribute Square readers/accounts directly to bank customers.


Since it was Honk Kong, I was thinking OCBC or HSBC. But it turns out the first financial institution (note 1) to take Jack up on his offer, is WV United FCU, a 5,000-member CU headquartered in Charleston, West Virginia. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it was the first financial institution in the world to implement mobile remote check deposit in August 2009 (previous post). WV United is also featuring Dwolla P2P/alt-payments on its homepage.   

  • Square: The CU is promoting Square on its home page (see screenshot #1 below). Square is the first of five promotions that rotate across the top (see also Dwolla below). The promotion features the 2.75% merchant rate and uses the @square Twitter feed to make it more interesting. The landing page invites members to signup for Square and redirects them to the startup’s webpage. It doesn’t appear there are any official affiliate arrangements. But Square allows payments to be transferred to any bank account, so WV United members can have the proceeds automatically deposited to the CU account.
  • Dwolla: The Dwolla connection is more integrated, with a co-branded online account opening page (screenshot #4). There is also more info loaded onto the CU’s page including a short video, the @dwolla Twitter feed, and a features/benefits section.

Bottom line: No one is going to accuse 11-employee WV United FCU of not keeping up, innovation-wise, with the big banks. In fact, it’s setting the pace in some areas, albeit in a more "bolted on" fashion (note 2). Granted there’s little, if any, direct revenue from these efforts. But they also require no infrastructure investment. So, if they keep members satisfied and employees excited, then it’s a win.


1. WV United FCU homepage (14 Nov 2011)
Note: The credit union leveraged Bank Transfer Day for another 10 days (lower right). Smart.

WV United FCU homepage includes Square promotion

2. Landing page for Square promo (14 Nov 2011, link)
Note: Square Twitter feed on right

WV United FCU landing page for Square promo

3. Landing page for Dwolla promo (link)

Landing page for Dwolla promo

4. Co-branded online account opening (link)

WV United CU and Dwolla online account signup

1. They are the first that I’ve heard of. There could be others linking to Square in a similar fashion.
2. When I say "bolted on" I mean that the experience isn’t integrated with other WV United online offerings. Integrated is best, but bolted on is a good way to test the market and keep costs down.
3. For more info on P2P payments and other topics, see our subscription service, Online Banking Report.

PayPal Announces a Slew of Developer Tools and Two Major Banking Partners: USAA and Discover Financial

After seeing The Social Network and reading yet another post about the ramifications of Facebook’s ubiquity, I sent this out via Twitter last week:


Today, the “PayPal dial-tone” got louder with the launch of a handful of new initiatives at the company’s second annual developer’s conference in San Francisco (which drew 2,500):

  • PayPal for Digital Goods: Two-click checkout for low-value digital goods eliminates the hassle of logging in
  • PayPal Embedded Payments: Pay without leaving the merchant’s app
  • PayPal Apps: Allows companies to embed applications into the PayPal website: Finovate alums Credit Karma, Expensify, and are participating
  • PayPal Business Payments: Electronic payments (non-credit card) of any size for just $0.50 per transaction 
  • PayPal Mobile enhancements:
    — Express Checkout provides similar two-click process
    — VeriFone integration
    — v3.0 iPhone app

Unless you are a developer, most of those programs mean little to you other than it’s obvious that PayPal is really pushing on the gas right now. But the banking alliances revealed today are quite interesting, assuming they make it to market:

I’m sure there will be much speculation on whether these powered-by-PayPal services will disrupt payments, or even catch on for that matter. But it’s clear that PayPal has made important new alliances in the banking world. The dial-tone appears to be catching on, even with the establishment.   

Update: More context on these announcements from Russ Jones, Glenbrook Partners, here.

Chase Adds Mobile Remote Deposit Capture and P2P Payments to its iPhone App

imageChase Bank rolled out a major new release to its iPhone app on Thursday (v. 2.3.1) with the addition of both remote deposit capture and peer-to-peer (P2P) payments (see inset). Chase is the first to support both those important features in its mobile app (note 1). This post covers remote deposit, and I’ll look at the P2P feature later.

How it works
I had been looking forward to depositing a check via the magic of the iPhone. But sadly, despite following the directions and capturing a good image of the front and back of the check, the software failed to scan the amount correctly (see screenshot 7).

The Chase app said the check scanned in at $0, despite it being a printed $200 check. I was testing with my trusty version 1 iPhone (circa 2007), which may not have a sharp enough camera. I’ll try it on a newer iPhone and update the post. 

Here’s the process for new users (click on the thumbnails to view larger versions):

1. The Chase Quick Deposit service has been added to the main navigation bar across the bottom.

2. Customers agree to terms and conditions. Note: The service is limited to $1,000 per day and no more than $3,000 per month, eliminating many businesses as potential users.

3. On the first screen, users enter the dollar amount of the check.

4. The app provides instructions on how to successfully capture the check image.

5. Take pictures of the front and back of the check.

6. Double check image quality.

7. Error message saying that the dollar amount from the scan ($0) did not match the amount entered ($200).

Summary: Despite the glitch on my first deposit attempt, I’m glad to see Chase moving the mobile state-of-the-art forward. I’m sure we’ll see remote deposit added to most major mobile banking apps in the near future.

1. Signup screen           2. Customer agreement  3. Enter amount

image    image    image

4. Hints on image capture   5. Photograph the check front and back

image    image

6. View photo results                             7. Error message

image       image

1. USAA was the first major bank with mobile remote deposit, launching it in Sep. 2009; while WV United FCU was the very first with it almost exactly one year ago.
2. For more on mobile banking and payments, see the most recent issue from Online Banking Report.