Say goodbye to Android Pay and hello to Google Pay


As we reported last month, Google is uniting all of its different payment tools under the Google Pay brand. On Android, however, the Android Pay app stuck with its existing brand. That’s changing today, though, with the launch of Google Pay for Android. With this, Google is rolling out an update to Android Pay and introducing some new functionality that the company hopes will make its payment service ubiquitous — both in stores and on the internet.

In addition, Google is also launching a redesign of the Google Wallet app for sending and requesting money — and it’s now called Google Pay Send. Users in the U.S. and U.K., though, will also soon be able to use the Google Pay app for sending and requesting money. New users can download the Google Pay app today and existing Android Pay users will get updated over the course of the next few days.

At first glance, the new Google Pay app is basically a redesign of Android Pay, with a look and feel that adheres closer to Google’s own Material Design guidelines than the original. In terms of functionality, there isn’t all that much here that’s new. One notable change, though, is that the Google Pay home screen now shows you relevant stores around you where you can pay with Google Pay. That list is personalized, based on previous stores where you used the service, and based on your location, too. In addition, the home screen also shows you all of your recent purchases and you can also still add all of your loyalty cards to the app, too.

As Google’s VP of Product Management for Payments, Pali Bhat told me, the team really wanted to make it extremely easy to get started with Google Pay and use the service to pay for goods online and in the real world — and to do so with as little friction as possible. That means that users who bank with Bank of America in the U.S. or a Google partner like Mbank in Poland,  you can set up Google Pay right from your bank’s app without having to even install Google Pay. Once that’s set up, you can simply pay with Google Pay online and out in the real world.

Similarly, if an online app or website wants to support this, developers can simply call a Google API to see if a given user has Google Pay enabled and then can then accept payments through Google Pay (which still get routed through the developers’ regular payment processors like Stripe or Braintree). “We give developers a very simple API to implement Google Pay,” Bhat noted, “The API is simple because we are not processing that payment. We just securely pass the credentials to whoever is doing it.” Apps like DoorDash, Airbnb, Hotel Tonight and others already support this feature today.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Amazon’s Prime Rewards Visa cardholders now get 5% back at Whole Foods if they pay for Prime


Amazon has already rolled out price cuts for Whole Foods shoppers as a result of its acquisition of the grocery chain. It has also rolled up its Treasure Truck deals service to Whole Foods locations, and began delivering Whole Foods groceries through Prime. Now, it’s offering Prime members 5 percent back at Whole Foods when they shop using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card, too.

The company has just announced that it will, in conjunction with the grocer and Chase, extend grocery rewards to those who shop Whole Foods with this card. In addition to the 5 percent back for Prime members, non-Prime members will earn 3 percent back on Whole Foods Market purchases. Non-Prime members will also continue to earn 3 percent back on all Amazon.com purchases, and all cardholders earn 2 percent back on gas stations, restaurants and drug stores, and 1 percent back on all other purchases.

Prime members with the card were already earning 5 percent back on Amazon.com but this is the first time the reward level has been extended to purchases off Amazon.com.

The Prime Rewards Visa card was introduced just over a year ago to encourage increased spending on Amazon’s site, and to push shoppers to sign up for Amazon’s $99 per year Prime membership. The card was not Amazon’s first entry into the payments space, though others before it had focused on Amazon.com purchases, and not shopping offline.

Other card benefits include no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees when traveling or when cross-border shopping, travel protection, 24/7 concierge service and zero fraud liability, and no cap on rewards earned, and no expiration date on those rewards.

Following the acquisition, Amazon had promised to lower prices at Whole Foods, saying that Prime members would receive special savings and other in-store benefits. It almost immediately made good on those promises with store-wide price cuts, and has offered seasonal discounts on things like Thanksgiving turkeys and Valentine’s roses.

But the integration of the two companies has not been without its challenges.

The new inventory management system Amazon insisted on has led to bare shelves, and Whole Foods employees have detailed how Amazon is crushing team morale with its new procedures. People were “crying” and quitting as a result, a report from Business Insider said.

These sorts of issues are still being worked out, and could impact store sales in ways that a new cash back card can’t address. But for those cardholders who regularly shop Whole Foods regardless, the perk will likely be welcomed.

Google’s Tez payments app now lets users handle their utility bills and more


Google’s Tez payment service in India has got a major update that allows users to pay their utilities and other bills via the app.

The service was launched last September for iOS and Android and it initially allowed for payments between bank accounts using India’s UPI (Unified Payments Interface) protocol. Now the app has gotten support to pay for bills from more than 80 organizations — including national/state electric, gas and water, and TV/internet services — with more to come soon.

In the case of recurring bills, the app will send a notification when a new payment is due and fetch the bill. The app also lists previous bills paid, and it supports multiple accounts.

“We’ve designed bill payments to be the most convenient way to manage life’s expenses, so you can pay right from your bank account in just a few taps. We can’t wait for you to try it out and see how much time you save,” Google wrote in a blog post.

The feature is available under the ‘new payment’ tab as outlined in the video below.

[embedded content]

Tez clocked 12 million users in December, just three months after launch, but Google has yet to provide an updated figure.

The bill payment feature comes at an opportune time. WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app used by over 200 million people in India, began rolling out peer-to-peer payments in the country with the potential to massively disrupt the status quo. India is WhatsApp’s largest single country based on users, and the payment feature has been a year in the making prior to its release.

Tez, a far more modest arrival, has also made waves, and this new update is one that is likely to make it hugely useful. Others in the field, include Paytm and MobiKwik, already include bill payment, peer-to-peer transfers and more.

Featured Image: Google

Google’s Tez payments app now lets users handle their utility bills and more


Google’s Tez payment service in India has got a major update that allows users to pay their utilities and other bills via the app.

The service was launched last September for iOS and Android and it initially allowed for payments between bank accounts using India’s UPI (Unified Payments Interface) protocol. Now the app has gotten support to pay for bills from more than 80 organizations — including national/state electric, gas and water, and TV/internet services — with more to come soon.

In the case of recurring bills, the app will send a notification when a new payment is due and fetch the bill. The app also lists previous bills paid, and it supports multiple accounts.

“We’ve designed bill payments to be the most convenient way to manage life’s expenses, so you can pay right from your bank account in just a few taps. We can’t wait for you to try it out and see how much time you save,” Google wrote in a blog post.

The feature is available under the ‘new payment’ tab as outlined in the video below.

[embedded content]

Tez clocked 12 million users in December, just three months after launch, but Google has yet to provide an updated figure.

The bill payment feature comes at an opportune time. WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app used by over 200 million people in India, began rolling out peer-to-peer payments in the country with the potential to massively disrupt the status quo. India is WhatsApp’s largest single country based on users, and the payment feature has been a year in the making prior to its release.

Tez, a far more modest arrival, has also made waves, and this new update is one that is likely to make it hugely useful. Others in the field, include Paytm and MobiKwik, already include bill payment, peer-to-peer transfers and more.

Featured Image: Google

Zelle users are finding out the hard way there’s no fraud protection


Scammers have taken to Zelle, the Venmo alternative backed by U.S. banks, to defraud consumers who believe the service includes the same protections they’ve come to expect from PayPal. A number of customers report having lost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, over Zelle, when they used it for transactions with people they didn’t know – like tickets bought off a Craigslist posting, for example.

Here’s how the scam works. The seller will ask the buyer to pay them through Zelle instead of PayPal – the latter which has long been the standard for these sorts of anonymous transactions.

In many cases, the buyer isn’t aware of Zelle, but they do a little googling to read up on it. They discover it’s a digital payments service that’s backed by their bank, which makes them feel more comfortable. Zelle is also found in some banks’ mobile applications themselves, which adds to that sense of trust.

The buyer, now feeling that Zelle is a legit service, then transfers the money, assuming their bank will step in to help if anything goes wrong. After all, they’re sending money directly to another bank account – so surely the seller knows they could be tracked down and caught if they attempt fraud?!

Unfortunately, that’s not proving to be the case.

The seller – actually a scammer – will keep the money, then shut down their bank account, and disappear. The tickets, or whatever else they were purportedly selling, never arrive. In other cases, the scammer may not even need to go to that extreme because the victim’s bank just tells their customer there’s nothing they can do, since the customer had authorized the Zelle transaction.

As one victim told TechCrunch, the only thing their bank did was call the seller’s bank to follow up on the matter, and then the victim’s bank sent a letter stating that they would not help.

When the victim tweeted to Zelle Support to help in desperation, Zelle only responded by sharing a link that explains why Zelle should only be used with family and friends.

If you scroll down Zelle’s Twitter timeline, you’ll see a number of responses like that to similar inquiries.

Another victim of this scam recently posted about his experience on Reddit to warn others.

After negotiating on the price for some concert tickets, he suggested to the buyer that he could send his payment electronically as the seller was outside of town. (The scammer was very good at social engineering too, if you read the whole story.)

The post reads:

“I transferred him money through Zelle. I used Wells Fargo, he used Bank of America. He gave me his name, email address and phone number. He said this was the service he was most comfortable with. Since I had used it before – and he gave me all the details – I wasn’t that concerned with it. The transfer went through. He called me about 5 minutes later to confirm he received the money and said he was logging into Ticketmaster, and I’d have the tickets in the next 5 minutes….. I didn’t receive them and called him back, he answered right away and said he had initiated the transfer and it might just take a few minutes.”

Of course, then the scammer disappeared. His phone was turned off; he never responded to any emails. He was gone.

We spoke to the victim to find out how the issue was handled by his bank.

“My bank, Wells Fargo, as well as the other bank using the Zelle system, Bank of America, were not able or willing to do anything after I was scammed,” the victim (who prefered to remain anonymous), told us. “I submitted complaints with the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] and eventually received a ‘courtesy’ refund from Wells Fargo,” he said.

A third victim told us she was defrauded $2,000 through one of these scams after trying to buy event tickets on Craigslist.

Again, the seller asked the victim to use Zelle.

“He actually had a Bank of America account, as well, which was also less alarming since you had to log into Bank of America to initiate the transfer,” she told TechCrunch. “After transferring the money, he shut down his Bank of America account. I have filed two claims with Bank of America, who has denied any form of protection or refund because I initiated the payment,” she said.

She’s since filed a ticket with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, but doesn’t believe anything will come of it.

Another victim, a USAA customer, published a warning about Zelle to the bank’s community forums site after being defrauded – again, while trying to purchase concert tickets from a seller.

They write:

“I was hesitant but noticed it was available through USAA, so I figured it must be a trusted app and that USAA would stand behind anything that is available right there in their USAA app! Right after I sent my payment, the seller stopped responding to me and would not answer any phone calls or texts, and never transferred the tickets to me on Ticketmaster like was promised.”

As of the time of posting, USAA has not helped the victim get their money back.

These are not isolated incidents. The banks are doing nothing to help victims of Zelle scams and seem to have no legal obligation to do so. Instead, they’re saying because the buyer “authorized the transaction,” there’s nothing they can do to help recoup the stolen money.

What consumers don’t realize is that Zelle is actually more like Venmo than PayPal – meaning it’s only meant to be used for peer-to-peer digital payments with people you trust, like friends and family. Just like Venmo, Zelle does not offer fraud protection for buyers or sellers on its transactions.

Scammers know people aren’t aware of this, because Zelle is brand-new. They also know that people will choose to trust Zelle because it’s backed by their bank, and because it’s a feature within their bank’s own app.

What’s worse is that Zelle is not making an effort to spell out how it’s different from PayPal on its website.

While this information is disclosed in Zelle’s FAQ, it’s not one of the “featured” FAQ’s on Zelle’s homepage, where it would be more noticeable.

The Zelle homepage does not at all make it clear that this is a payments service for family and friends only – it only says you can use Zelle to send money to “almost anyone you know” – language that reads more like marketing speak than a strict warning that you should, well, actually know them.

Venmo, by comparison, specifically uses the wording “friends and family” when explaining its service.

Reached for comment, Zelle simply stated that it’s not meant for these sorts of transactions between buyers and sellers.

“Consumers should not use Zelle for transacting with people they do not know and/or aren’t sure they will get what they paid for – for example, items bought from an online bidding or sales site,” a spokesperson said. “Zelle is not responsible for goods or services that are not received or are received but do not meet expectations.”

That’s good information to know, but it’s coming too late for many of Zelle’s early adopters. And as word gets around that Zelle and the banks are not helping people who were scammed, it will ultimately damage Zelle’s reputation and impact its adoption.

YapStone is raising $100M to take on PayPal, Stripe and more in marketplace payments


While a part of the fintech world remains abuzz with crypo-talk, a startup that’s built a business around the more traditional world of payments has raised a significant round of funding as it vies to take on the likes of PayPal, Stripe, Adyen and Dwolla.

YapStone, which provides payment services to marketplace-style businesses — customers vary from the likes of HomeAway to faith-based non-profits like ParishPay — today confirmed that it raised $71 million, a first close of a Series C that will ultimately total $100 million, according to a Form D filed with the SEC (which in fact seemed to indicate that this first close actually happened in December, although it’s only choosing to publicise it now).

YapStone will use the funding to expand geographically and to work on new technologies, CEO and co-founder Tom Villante said in a statement.

The money being announced today values the company at around $471 million, according to PitchBook, meaning that the total valuation when the Series C closes could be around $500 million. We have asked the company to confirm the figures and will update when we hear back.

This Series C comes with a series of impressive investors that includes strategic as well as financial backing. It was led by Premji Invest, the venture arm of the Premji family office (the family behind Wipro, whose chairman, Azim Premji, has been called the Tsar of Indian IT). Others in the round include Mastercard and previous investors Accel and Meritech Capital Partners. It brings the total raised by YapStone to nearly $187 million.

YapStone may not get as much attention as a number of other payment providers — the biggest payment company you’ve never heard of, is how one observer described it — but it has been making a dent in the market, currently processing over $18 billion in payments annually.

To be clear, the company is still small, relatively speaking: compare its payment volume to PayPal’s for 2017 — $451 billion — and you can see it has a way to go before it will catch up. But it’s growing quickly, currently at over 35 percent annually for the last 10 years, according to Villante.

While the market for payments services is very crowded indeed, YapStone (the name is based on an ancient currency from the island of Yap, the company says) has differentiated itself by creating payment flows and options specific to the marketplaces that it targets.

This includes, for example, giving those in the property business the option of itemising the different kinds of payments that are made, from late fees to deposits to monthly rent.

There is also a higher risk element usually associated with marketplace payments — one reason why some payments companies are wary to provide these services to certain kinds of marketplaces — and YapStone also says that its systems are more robust and built taking that risk into account.

The other notable detail that YapStone highlights is that by providing more than just simple payments, and helping to corral data in ways that are more useful for bookkeeping and accounting for the businesses that use it, the company is also potentially reducing some operational costs for its customers, while at the same time providing a service that they need to have in their online businesses.

That could have been one reason why Premji Invest — with its DNA in outsourcing — was interested, too.

“Premji invests in private companies with all the right ingredients to become thriving public companies,” says Sandesh Patnam, lead U.S. partner at Premji Invest, in a statement. “YapStone’s comprehensive approach to payments makes this investment very exciting to us and we look forward to significant acceleration in the coming years.”

WhatsApp has launched person-to-person payments into beta in India


WhatsApp has begun testing a new payments feature in India that will allow people to send money to other WhatsApp users, excluding merchant accounts. The feature is currently in beta, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans, but hasn’t been publicly announced because it’s not widely available at this time.

The company has been  working on support for a payments feature for some time, which would take advantage of UPI (Unified Payments Interface) and include support by a number of Indian banks, including State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, and Axis Bank.

Beta testers have now found that this functionality is live, with a large list of supported banks displayed in the WhatsApp user interface.

Image credit: iPhoneHacks

According to screenshots posted to Twitter and elsewhere, including this post from the blog iPhoneHacks, those who have gained access to the new functionality will see a payments feature appear in their WhatsApp Settings menu.

Users must then configure the feature by first verifying their phone number via SMS and choosing a bank. The option to send a payment is then available from the main WhatsApp interface, in the same area where you can also share a photo, video, file, contact or location into your chat session.

The Facebook-owned company had received approval from the Indian government to integrate UPI into its messaging service last July in order to implement payments, according to The Economic Times.

The addition puts WhatsApp into competition with other messaging services that already support payments, including the recently launched Tez from Google and Tencent-backed Hike, for example, as well as digital wallet platform Paytm, which expanded into messaging in order to take on WhatsApp more directly.

However, WhatsApp’s support for payments is highly anticipated because of the app’s huge popularity among Indian users. India is WhatsApp’s largest market with over 200 million users active daily users. In fact, it’s so heavily used in that country that it’s even led to issues as Indians grapple with the social norms involving daily messaging ranging from phones’ storage filling up with “good morning” messages, to drama over exiting family group chats.

The potential for WhatsApp to dominate Indian P2P payments is strong, given that millions of people have come online in the region thanks to lower-cost data plans and cheap smartphones. The country even surpassed the U.S. for combined iOS and Android downloads for the first time in Q4 2017, according to App Annie, as smartphone adoption is surging.

We understand that WhatsApp will let users know when P2P payments becomes more widely available in India, after the best testing phase completes.

WhatsApp declined to comment on the launch.

Featured Image: Erik Tham/Getty Images