This week’s payments roundup comes from Payments Insider, the daily briefing delivered first thing every morning exclusively to BI Intelligence members.
‘VOYEURISM’ HELPS VENMO ADD USERS
Venmo, the eBay-owned peer-to-peer payments app has seen “explosive growth on college campuses,” eBay CEO John Donahoe’s said on eBay’s earnings call earlier this week.The Wireechoes Donahoe’s boast, calling Venmo “the best social network nobody’s talking about.”
Why? Venmo includes a social network-style news feed that shows transactions to and from a user’s Facebook friends. No dollar amounts are listed, but Venmo users can tag transactions with a playful tag when they make a payment. “We’re all interested in seeing what our friends are paying for,” journalist Emma Roller was quoted as saying in The Wire. “It’s this weird voyeurism.” But seeing friends’ activity helps create buzz around Venmo and reinforces the network effect — as more people join, it begins to seem that much more indispensable.
Alongside companies like PopMoney, Square Cash, and Google Wallet, Venmo is an emerging frontrunner in the U.S. mobile peer-to-peer payments space.
AMAZON CIRCUMVENTS APPLE, GOOGLE FOR IN-APP PURCHASES
Less than a month after purchasing digital comic book publisher Comixology, Amazon has rolled out new versions of the app that circumvent Apple and Google’s high commissions for in-app purchases.
The move dodges the 30% fees levied by Apple for in-app purchases on iOS by directing iPhone users to a separate website for purchases. The app replaces Google Play payments with in-app PayPal or credit card payments — an apparent violation of Google Play policies, App Scout reports. Amazon, which has a wholly-owned subsidiary dedicated to payments, could be testing the app stores’ tolerance for bending the rules.
REMITTANCE WARS — MONEYGRAM, WESTERN UNION VS. WAL-MART, FACEBOOK
MoneyGram and Western Union, giants of the international remittances business, face challenges from new competitors, who say the international and domestic money transfer sector has bloated fees. Many of these, like Venmo, are popular with younger consumers. Facebook is seeking European regulatory approval for an electronic money licence that would allow it to participate in peer-to-peer international remittances, according to the Financial Times.
Wal-Mart announced the launch of its own domestic money-transfer service, despite an existing contract with MoneyGram. Pam Patsley, CEO of Dallas-based MoneyGram, tells the Dallas Morning News that the Wal-Mart contract drives up to 9% of the company’s revenue. Elizabeth McQuerry, at payments consultancy Glenbrook, says retail banks should also offer competing online peer-to-peer money transfer services, and many already are.
TARGET DUMPS VISA, PARTNERS WITH MASTERCARD FOR CHIP-AND-PIN REDCARD
Target announced that it would partner with MasterCard on store-issued debit and credit cards and accelerate its rollout of more secure chip-and-pin store cards to early 2015. Also announced was the appointment of a new chief information officer, Bob DeRodes, a payments industry veteran. Coming on the heels of Target’s massive December data breach, the moves are targeted at shoring up the company’s payment security efforts.
MASTERCARD TOUTS CO-BRANDED CARD WINS
MasterCard, the second largest payments network in the U.S., is intent on outmaneuvering rivals among large U.S.-based retailers. On MasterCard’s earnings call, CEO Ajay Banga described the card network’s new co-branded card partnerships with retail giants Target (formerly partnered with rival Visa) and Wal-Mart (which dumped Discover to sign on with MasterCard), as well as a similar partnership with Amazon in Japan. MasterCard also said it is expanding the co-branded Wal-Mart card beyond the U.S. to Latin American markets, including Mexico and Chile. The company announced financial results that beat analyst estimates, thanks to healthy debit and credit card payment card volume globally.
SQUARE ADDS ORDER AHEAD AND PICK-UP FEATURE
Merchants that use Square can now give their customers the option to order online and pick items up in bricks-and-mortar stores, according to TechCrunch. The feature looks to be targeted at restaurants, which means that Square will be going head-to-head with food ordering apps like Seamless, though Square is not offering a delivery option. Square will charge an 8% processing fee for orders made through the feature, which is inline with fees for similar services.
PAYPAL UNVEILS NEW RESTAURANT PAYMENT FEATURES
PayPal has released new check-splitting functionality for restaurants, partnering with Israel-based MyCheck to integrate with restaurant point-of-sale systems in 3,000 restaurants globally. PayPal has tried other restaurant solutions with varied success, including a similar offering in the UK, where it has been partnered with MyCheck for at least nine months. Another attempt at restaurant integration, which involved scanning a barcode, failed memorably during an interview in Silicon Valley between PayPal CEO David Marcus and a Forbes reporter earlier this year — the restaurant had failed to upgrade to the software that could generate the bar code. “The challenge is not only scaling the technology but having people understand it on the merchant side,” Marcus told Forbes at the time.
MASTERCARD LOBBIES ON BITCOIN
MasterCard has listed Bitcoin as one of its priorities as it lobbies U.S. Congress on laws and regulations, The Hill reports. Documents filed in late April by lobbying firm Peck Madigan Jones list “Bitcoin and mobile payments” among the card giant’s policy interests. It’s the first official sign of Bitcoin-focused lobbying in the U.S.
YELP GIVES BITCOIN FIVE-STAR RATING
In a blog post Monday, Yelp announced that it would now include “Accepts Bitcoin” as a descriptor on merchant information pages, alongside categories such as “Accepts Credit Cards” and “Parking.” Yelp plugged Bitcoin’s potential as a payments platform in the post, noting that it “allows consumers and businesses to make fast, secure and low-cost digital payments from any Internet-enabled device … without having to store sensitive data like a credit card number.” A surge of merchant interest in Bitcoin would bolster the business cases of Bitcoin-related startups, but a growing patchwork of regulations might stifle innovation and investment.
OHIO BANS BITCOIN FOR BOOZE
Late last week, regulators in Ohio ruled that “Bitcoin cannot be accepted as payment for alcohol in the State of Ohio,” the Plain Dealer reports. An agent with the the Ohio Department of Public Safety cited the digital currency’s value fluctuations as the impetus for the move, raising the possibility that other local regulators will follow suit. Last month, the IRS ruled that Bitcoin would be considered property for tax purposes, meaning Bitcoin transactions could be subject to capital gains tax, and raising more questions for local governments — a potential Bitcoin sales tax among them.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.