Would you pay with a “Google Card?” TechCrunch has obtained imagery that shows Google is developing its own physical and virtual debit cards. The Google card and associated checking account will allow users to buy things with a card, mobile phone or online. It connects to a Google app with new features that let users easily monitor purchases, check their balance or lock their account. The card will be co-branded with different bank partners, including CITI and Stanford Federal Credit Union.
A source provided TechCrunch with the images seen here, as well as proof that they came from Google. Another source confirmed that Google has recently worked on a payments card that its team hopes will become the foundation of its Google Pay app — and help it rival Apple Pay and the Apple Card. Currently, Google Pay only allows online and peer-to-peer payments by connecting a traditionally issued payment card. A “Google Pay Card” would vastly expand the app’s use cases, and Google’s potential as a fintech giant.
Google the financial services company?
By building a smart debit card, Google has the opportunity to unlock new streams of revenue and data. It could potentially charge interchange fees on purchases made with the card or other checking account fees, and then split them with its banking partners. Depending on its privacy decisions, Google could use transaction data on what people buy to improve ad campaign measurement or even targeting. Brands might be willing to buy more Google ads if the tech giant can prove they drive a sales lift.
The long-term implications are even greater. While once the industry joke was that every app eventually becomes a messaging app, more recently it’s been that every tech company eventually becomes a financial services company. A smart debit card and checking accounts could pave the way for Google offering banking, stock brokerage, financial advice or robo-advising, accounting, insurance or lending.
Google’s vast access to data could allow it to more accurately manage risk than traditional financial institutions. Its deep connection to consumers via apps, ads, search and the Android operating system gives it ample ways to promote and integrate financial services. With the COVID-19 downturn taking shape, high-margin finance products could help Google develop efficient revenue opportunities and build its share price back up.
When TechCrunch asked Google for confirmation, it did not dispute our findings or assertions. The company offered us a statement it provided reporters following a November story, wherein Google told The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Rudegeair and Liz Hoffman it was experimenting in the checking account space. TechCrunch is the first to report Google’s debit card plans:
We’re exploring how we can partner with banks and credit unions in the US to offer smart checking accounts through Google Pay, helping their customers benefit from useful insights and budgeting tools, while keeping their money in an FDIC or NCUA-insured account. Our lead partners today are Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union, and we look forward to sharing more details in the coming months.
For now, Google’s strategy is to let partnered banks and credit unions provide the underlying financial infrastructure and navigate regulation while it builds smarter interfaces and user experiences. It’s forseeable that one day Google might cut out the banks and take all the spoils for itself. Google launched a Wallet debit card in 2013 as an extension of its old payment app Google Wallet, but shut the card down in 2016. Given Google’s penchant for renaming or shutting down then reviving products, building a new debit card feels on-brand.
With people around the world suddenly more concerned about their finances amidst the coronavirus economic disaster, a debit card with more transparency and controls could be appealing.
First look at the Google Card
Traditional banking products can be clunky, often requiring phone communication with customer service or sifting through cluttered websites to address security issues. Google hopes to make financial management as intuitive as its email and mapping apps. The card and app designs shown here are not final, and it’s unclear when Google’s debit card may launch. But let’s take a look at what these internal Google materials reveal about its ambitions for its payment instrument.
The Google debit card will come co-branded with the Google name and its partnered bank, though the exact name of the product is still unknown. In the designs, it’s a chip card on the Visa network, though Google could potentially support other networks like Mastercard. Users are able to add money or transfer funds out of their account from the connected Google app, which is likely to be Google Pay, and use a fingerprint and PIN for account security.
Once connected to their bank or credit union account, users could pay for purchases in retail stores with a physical Google debit card, including with contactless payments, by just holding it up to a card reader. A virtual version of the card that lives on a user’s phone can also be used for Bluetooth mobile payments. Meanwhile, a virtual card number can be used for online or in-app payments.
Users are shown a list of recent transactions, with each including the merchant name, date and price. They can dig into each transaction to see the location on a map, get directions or call the store. If users don’t recognize a transaction, it’s easy to protect themselves with the card’s vast security options.
If a customer suspects foul play because they lost their card, they can lock it and optionally order a replacement while still being able to pay with their phone or online, thanks to Google’s virtual card number system that’s different than the one on their physical card. If instead they suspect their virtual card number was stolen by a hacker, they can quickly reset it. And if they believe someone has gained unauthorized access to their account, they can lock it entirely to block all types of payments and transfers.
The settings reveal options for notifications and privacy controls to “decide what information you share,” though we don’t have imagery of what’s contained in those menus. It’s unclear how much power Google will give customers to limit the company or merchant’s data access. Google’s decisions there could impact how transaction data might fuel its other businesses.
Google is a relative late-comer to offering its own card. Apple launched its Apple Card in August, offering a slickly designed titanium Mastercard credit card backed by Goldman Sachs. It charges minimal customer fees, comes with a virtual card for use through Apple Pay and generates interest.
Apple does collect interchange fees from merchants, though, which Google could similarly gather to earn revenue. Last month, Apple changed the Card’s privacy settings to share more data with Goldman Sachs that might also help the two provide additional financial services. Apple Pay now accounts for 5% of global card transactions, and is forecast to hit 10% by 2024, according to Bernstein research. The underlines the gigantic market Google is gunning for here.
The stock brokerage and robo-advisor apps have also joined the payments race. Wealthfront launched cash accounts last February, bringing in $1 billion in assets in two months and doubling the company’s total holdings to $20 billion by September. Betterment launched its checking product in October 2019 with a Visa debit card, but it doesn’t generate interest.
Robinhood botched the December 2018 launch of its checking accounts due to ineligible insurance, but relaunched in October 2019 with debit card withdrawls from 75,000 ATMs and a solid interest rate. It’s unclear how Google’s card will work with ATMs or how its checking accounts will generate interest.
The appeal for Google and the rest is clear. It seems whenever companies help move people’s money around, some of it inevitably “falls off the truck” and lands in their pockets. Financial services are typically low-overhead ways to generate revenue. That could be especially enticing, as Google has found many of its side hustle “other bets” to be unsustainable. It’s moved to prune some of these tertiary projects, such as its Makani wind energy kites.
Google may never find businesses as lucrative as its core in search and advertising, but it has the advantages to become a serious player in fintech. Its vast sums of cash, deep bench of engineering talent, experience building complex utilities, numerous consumer touch points and near-bottomless well of data could give it an edge over stodgier old banks and scrappier startups. And while Facebook slams into regulatory scrutiny and is forced to scale back its Libra cryptocurrency, Google’s more familiar approach via debit cards could pay off.
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