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SunTrust Partners with Moneta to Test the Alt-Payment Waters

imageI’ve been waiting 10 years to write this story. A major U.S. bank has finally dared enter the space PayPal has all-but-owned since the first part of this decade (see note 1, 2): secure, non-card-based payments at the point-of-sale, which do not require handing over private info to the merchant. 

imageYes, Bank One, Citibank and Wells Fargo all failed at person-to-person payments in 2000/2001, but this is much different. Those were payment services between individuals, not a point-of-sale option like PayPal, Google Checkout, and most recently,

SunTrust’s partner Moneta is an Atlanta-based startup that debuted its alt-payment system at FinovateStartup earlier this year (video here). The joint effort was announced at BAI Retail Delivery in Boston earlier today (press release).

The program is already being tested on a large group of SunTrust online banking customers who recently received an email offering a $10 cash-back incentive to make a purchase of $50 or more from one of the handful of merchants currently accepting Moneta-powered ACH payments. The biggest merchant is Delta.

Moneta’s appeal to merchants is relatively straightforward: Incremental sales from customers unwilling or unable to pay via credit card online AND reduction in interchange costs by moving card-based transactions to Moneta transactions, with much lower interchange.

For banks, the business case is not as obvious. The hope is that Moneta-issuing banks share of interchange revenue will more than offset what the bank might lose in card-based interchange. While that may turn out to be the case, the more compelling benefit for banks is the brand and relationship value of offering a new payment choice with more perceived security and privacy advantages. There are also intriguing possibilities to add other revenue-producing value to those transactions.

image Last year in my notes from the BAI conference, I named Moneta as the “most audacious business plan.” Right now, it’s too early to say whether Moneta can become a legit competitor to PayPal. But with SunTrust on its side, that audacious plan is MUCH closer to realization.   
1. For the historical perspective, see our first report on person-to-person payments (published, Nov. 1999). 
2. In somewhat-related news: A year after PayPal CEO Scott Thompson made a keynote appeal to bankers at last year’s Retail Delivery, FIS and PayPal announced a partnership today (press release) as did S1 (press release) that could bring PayPal-powered peer-to-peer payments to hundreds of financial institutions.