Year in Review: Tech Companies Want to Get Inside Your Wallet, For Your Data
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Data. The priceless data that tech companies want. And they always want more data. It is a bottomless pit. They know who you are, they know where you are, they know what you like, they know what you don’t like, and they probably also know what you did last summer. Yet, the missing piece of this jigsaw is the financial data. Your financial data. Trust tech companies to not ignore that for too long. The year 2019 is when it became clear that the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, Paytm, Facebook are now big on financial services.
Earlier this year, Apple announced that it was getting into the credit cards business. The idea was simple—use your iPhone to make payments. The Apple Card came with a whole bunch of benefits in tow—Daily Cash on every purchase you make, a smarter payment schedule and no annual fees. The card could be applied for from your iPhone and gets saved in the Apple Wallet. This drives transactions through Apple Pay, a big win in the competition against the likes of PayPal, Venmo and Google Pay in the US market, to name a few. Apple was relying on the expertise of Goldman Sachs and Mastercard to make its foray successful. The Apple Card is not in India yet, but as of November, Apple Card users had already received $10 billion in credit from Goldman Sachs.
The rest have made moves too, all in a flurry over the past couple of months. Google has confirmed that they will offer checking accounts from next year. Ride sharing service Uber has something called Uber Money and harbors aspirations of becoming a bank account for the driver partners—"For eligible drivers in the US, and expanding to more countries soon after, we are updating the no-monthly-fee Uber Debit Account, powered by Green Dot, to integrate seamlessly into the Uber Driver app. We also want to make every dollar spent go further, which is why the refreshed Uber Debit Card will launch (issued by Green Dot Bank, Member FDIC) with cash back on gas starting at 3% and up to 6% for drivers in the highest tier of Uber Pro,” says Uber.
Facebook also announced the Pay wallet which it says will provide people with a convenient, secure and consistent payment experience across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. All Facebook owned apps. Facebook wants to gain your trust by pointing towards its handling of the donation payments over the years. “Facebook has offered trusted payment experiences since 2007, and we’ve processed more than $2 billion in donations alone since we launched our first fundraising tools in 2015,” says Deborah Liu, VP, Marketplace & Commerce, Facebook. And let us not forget Facebook’s cryptocurrency aspirations, which has it at loggerheads with regulators in the US and globally as we speak.
Things are no different in India. The tech biggies are all looking at payments and digital transactions to come even closer to the consumers, and potential consumers. Paytm, by far India’s largest mobile wallet app, partnered with Citibank to launch a credit card. Uber’s rival in India, Ola got together with SBI to also launch a credit card. The Paytm First Card will offer 1 percent cashback over unlimited transactions, you will be signed on for the Paytm First membership and more. The numbers are staggering. Paytm has close to 300 million users in India right now, and even if just one percent of these users decide to get the Paytm First Card, that is a number which would hover around 3 million right away. That would be more than the 2.7 million cards which Citibank has issued in India, as of the RBI’s September 2019 credit card issuance numbers. The numbers are massive, and this works well for the bank involved too. For instance, in this case, Citibank lags behind HDFC Bank (13+ million credit cards issued and active) and ICICI Bank (7.9+ million credit cards).
The Ola and SBI Cards partnership leads us to the Ola Money SBI Card. Ola and SBI intend to issue as many as 10million of these cards over the next three years. It may not be hard for Ola to achieve that target—after all, they have more than 150 million active users for the Ola platform. This credit card offers 1 percent surcharge waiver on fuel transactions, 20 percent cashback at selected restaurants, 20 percent cashback on domestic hotel bookings and so on.
For Ola and for Paytm, the mission is the same. By getting a credit card and the related benefits into a user’s wallet would go a long way in ensuring a user is retained. In fact, there is greater likelihood they will continue using the platform and could even see a larger share of transactions coming their way with the co-branded credit card and the constant stream of cashbacks and offers that will inevitably follow. But they aren’t the first to do it. These now join the likes of the ICICI Bank Amazon credit card, for instance. Fuel companies, airlines and even shopping outlets have been in this space for quite a while now.
It hasn’t been a rosy picture for digital wallets this year, as the unified payments interface (UPI) has consistently seen an upward curve. The simpler KYC requirements for UPI enabled payments also gave an instant advantage to apps such as PhonePe and Google Pay. UPI is an instant real-time payment system developed by National Payments Corporation of India facilitating inter-bank transactions—and UPI payments crossed the one billion mark in October.
One of the reasons why Paytm, Amazon Pay and pretty much most mobile payments apps added the UPI option, were the RBI’s guidelines on the know your customer (KYC) verifications. Basically, all payments apps that purely rely on the integrated wallet facility or facilitate payments through credit or debit cards, will have to redo the physical verification of all their users in order to keep those user accounts enabled. It hasn’t been a pretty picture in that regard.
What didn’t really take off was the WhatsApp Pay service, which is still in the testing phase in India. The official launch, which was expected earlier in the summer, has been delayed numerous times. But imagine the scale that Facebook gets access to, with WhatsApp Pay. WhatsApp has 1.6 billion monthly active users globally, and has more than 400 million users in India. Right now, it is testing with about a million users, with the UPI integration. Everyone wants simplicity and convenience, and there is no reason why most people wouldn’t simply choose to make payments from the app they use the most on their phones.
This is not the only move by Facebook. The Instagram Checkout option lets users buy products listed in adverts and other posts on their feed, without having to leave the app. This feature could make its way to India next year, and that will simply add a new dimension to the way you shop.
Smartphone makers are also eyeing their share of the pie. Xiaomi and Realme have already launched Mi Pay and Paysa apps for their smartphone users. OnePlus has already confirmed they will launch the OnePlus Pay next year.
Last but not least, there is the whole data goldmine that can’t be left ignored. Most tech platforms right now know what you eat, where you order from, what you shop and from what, where you travel to and when, what you watch on TV, who your closest friends are and so on. Ola, for instance, would know how many rides you take every month and the locations you visit. Tech companies are now looking to get perhaps the most prized possession of them all—your spending data. Your financial data. They need to have a plan B in place, in case their core businesses aren’t growing. This makes it incredibly easy for them to map your spending power, curate the right sort of offers and options for you and even see how much loan repayment capacity an individual may have. And it is that data which, we may knowingly or unknowingly generate, will help tech companies make the right offerings, banks to sell their other financial products and for advertisers to target you with whatever it is that you are most likely to buy. Each had some amount of data earlier, but they can now sit at the same table and work out the best course of action for each other. Because, you.