Google on Wednesday unveiled a major relaunch of its Google Pay app for Android and iOS, with a slew of features that amount to a competitive shot at PayPal-owned Venmo, Square Cash App, and Apple Pay.
This is Google’s revamped entry into the battle royale brewing in mobile payment apps.
The new look of the app is based around three tabs: Explore, which at the moment offers cash-back rewards from partner brands including Gap, Levi’s, Adidas, and Crocs (watch out: Pay-Pal owned Honey, Lolli, and other shopping rewards extensions); Pay, which allows for sending peer-to-peer payments (Google’s shot at Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle), creation of groups for easy dividing-up of restaurant checks, and contactless tap-to-pay at businesses (think Apple Pay); and Insights, which makes transactions easily searchable if you link your credit cards to the app. Bankrate analyst Ted Rossman sees this as one of the biggest appeals: “One of the reasons Gmail is so successful is because of its excellent searchability,” he wrote in a note. “Adding Google’s search expertise to users’ finances should resonate with consumers who want to better understand their money.”
And then there are the bank accounts.
In 2021, Google Pay will add Plex accounts, a mobile-first, millennial-friendly bank account with no monthly fees, overdraft charges, or minimum balance requirements. Eleven partner banks are offering the accounts, including Citi and BBVA.
While many might see the news as Google’s attempt to become a bank, Google insists it is just the conduit for the accounts, which will be run by the partner banks.
“We have no plans to become a bank,” Google director of product management Josh Woodward said on Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “Google brings our UX, our technology expertise, and we match that up with the bank’s financial and regulatory expertise. And the bank account, you can activate it from directly within Google Pay. But your money is with the bank.”
Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is doing this at a time when mobile fintech use cases have exploded, and players big and small have tried to lure customers all around the same basic promise: fast, easy paying. That’s what people who use their smartphones to pay have come to expect, whether it’s for sending a payment to a landlord or receiving money from a friend.
“That process of paying people back right now is one of those kind of hard steps,” says Woodward. “You have to figure out who owes what, and charge them, and there’s always a friend who’s very slow to pay, you kind of have to nag them. So we’re trying to make that group paying experience, whether it’s splitting a pizza or paying rent with roommates, very flexible.”
The big banks involved in Zelle are in this race, as is every individual bank with its own mobile app; Square is in this race with its Cash App and also its mobile-first software tools for small businesses; Shopify and Stripe are in this race; PayPal is in this race with its own flagship PayPal app and with Venmo, which it acquired in 2013 when it bought Braintree for $800 million. (That price tag now looks cheap, given Venmo’s growth.)
The only trend in this space Google isn’t yet jumping on: bitcoin. Square (SQ) in 2018 added the option to buy and hold bitcoin to its Cash App, and last quarter invested in $50 million of bitcoin as an asset on its balance sheet. PayPal (PYPL) in October said it will soon allow buying and paying with bitcoin in PayPal and Venmo.
Google isn’t there yet. “It’s a feature request we’re hearing since yesterday,” says Woodward. “But these are always things that we’re watching. But nothing right now.”
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers fintech and bitcoin. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.