Today, online and mobile payments platform Dwolla is launching what may be one of its biggest features yet: instant access to cash. Via the new opt-in setting called “Dwolla Instant,” users will be able to immediately deposit and send cash without the usual wait times associated with the mobile payment platform – typically a few days.
To use Dwolla Instant, users must first enroll in the service, which requires a monthly $3 participation fee. This fee will begin from the day you switch on Dwolla Instant, but can be turned off and on at will, without penalty. Once enabled, you can then send money to a friend, pay a merchant, or deposit funds instantly. You’ll tell Dwolla what the funding source is for that initial transaction, and that will then be tied to your “Instant Balance.”
Immediately afterwards, Dwolla will allow you to make the payment via your linked bank account (Dwolla’s preferred funding source). Alternately, you can choose to “pay Dwolla back later,” if need be. That’s similar to how a credit card would work, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. The late fee for the “pay Dwolla back” option is only $5.00. And Dwolla works hard to make sure you don’t forget, with notifications and reminders, unlike credit card companies who thrive off late payments.
The reason why the fee is so low is because Dwolla makes its money elsewhere. It charges $0.25 per transaction, except for transactions under $10, which recently became free.
According to Dwolla CEO, Ben Milne, the reason why high fees exist in credit card networks has to do with legacy issues – the hardware, the infrastructure, and the resources needed to fight the rampant fraud associated with having your 16-digit card number just out there in the world, everywhere. “Creating a new network is the only way to keep the fees out,” he explains. “And Dwolla is the first payment network built in 30-odd years.”
For those who have a hard time understanding exactly where Dwolla fits in the crowded mobile payments market where services like Square, Venmo, Google Wallet and PayPal get all the press, the difference is this: Dwolla is primarily a payments network, not a tool for enabling payments through the existing credit card network. In other words, it’s not like a Square or Google Wallet, for example, which allow you to link a credit card to your account. It is the card. Except there’s no card. In fact, if Square wanted to, it could integrate Dwolla as just another payment option into its own solution, if it wanted to. Google could as well. Or anyone.
As to whether Dwolla’s ready for that, Mine says not now. “It’s too early,” he says. “We can provide more value in terms of partnerships. And everybody is on board for building a long-term play.” (Which, you know, is the best thing to say if you secretly want to be acquired, right?)
We should point out that Dwolla isn’t just some outsider startup (it’s in Iowa!) going it alone. The company is backed by The Members Group, a financial services organization providing credit card processing, payment solutions, prepaid cards, consulting and more. So they sort of know what they’re doing over there. And weren’t you kind of getting sick of PayPal anyway?
As for Dwolla Instant, it goes live today on the Dwolla website and will roll out to Dwolla’s mobile apps on iPhone and Android shortly thereafter.