Google today announced a major relaunch of Google Pay—which formerly was a relatively simple tap-to-pay app but will now be a complete financial service competing with the likes of Venmo, Mint, Apple Pay, and even some banks. The new Pay is available as an Early Access app in the Google Play store as of this afternoon, alongside the original and much less ambitious Google Pay—which is now tagged as “old version.”
In addition to the simple tap-to-pay features offered in the previous app, users of the new Google Pay can directly link bank accounts and credit cards to the app. This allows for AI-driven insights into spending and saving, replacing much of the functionality of your own bank’s online banking app with Google Pay, and more.
We can already hear readers screaming about the privacy implications of allowing Google directly into your banking, credit card, and payment histories—and we don’t really blame you. Google clearly heard those cries coming as well and seems to be doing what it can to allay those concerns.
During the mandatory privacy preference section of the Google Pay setup process, the app assures you that personal info gathered in Pay will never be sold to a third party. It also pledges that your Pay transactions are not shared with any other Google services—so, for example, purchasing a pair of shoes with Google Pay shouldn’t result in a sudden onslaught of Nike and Adidas ads while watching YouTube videos later.
If allowed, Google Pay can use your transaction history to more effectively select what cash-back and similar offers to present you with in the Explore and Discover areas of the app. The setting is optional, and it’s opt-in—you have to actually grant Google permission before it will use your data to serve offers inside the app. In addition to the simple “yes you may” and “oh heck no” options, there’s a more cautious “try it for three months”—if selected, Google will offer you targeted offers for now but prompt you to review your decision after you’ve had a few months to stew about it.
Finally, you have the option to “help friends find and pay you”—which, for our older readers, is largely similar to the old days of publicly listed or private telephone numbers. If you turn this setting on, entering your phone number will pop up your name and face, populated from your Google profile—and users who already have you as Google contacts (e.g., in their phone’s address book) can find you directly in Pay that way as well. If you disable it, you can still accept payments—but your friends will need to be extra careful not to bobble your number when entering it since they won’t get a confirmation that you’re you.
The new Google Pay offers three major feature groupings, organized into view icons at the bottom of the app:
- Explore—This view shows cash-back and other offers available by using the app. The top two that showed up for me were from Google Pay itself, offering $5 cash back for the first three payments made with the service and $10 cash back for the first three people who sign up for the service and list you as a referral. Below these offers is a “sponsored” divider and offers direct from various stores. For me, this initially is almost entirely clothing providers, ranging from the Gap to Men’s Wearhouse. Perhaps Google Pay is trying to tell me something about my largely conference-shwag-based wardrobe…
- Pay—This view shows People, Businesses, and Discover.
- People allows you to send money from person to person and review those transactions afterward.
- Businesses shows a list of traditional purchases you’ve made—either with Pay itself, linked credit cards or accounts, or with receipts you’ve taken photos of. If given access to trawl through your photos, it parses photos of receipts automatically and presents them as line items organized by vendor and amount, with links to the original photo. (I allowed Pay to scan my Google Photos account, and it immediately discovered every meal I’ve purchased while traveling for Ars.)
- Discover is essentially another way to cram a subset of the Explore view into the part of the app customers will see most frequently. My Discover is currently offering links to takeout or delivery from nearby restaurants as well as finding gas pumps that accept Pay. The Gas link may not be fully functional yet—it warns that I must turn device location on for the service to work but doesn’t offer a way to turn it on. Meanwhile, the restaurant service—which also requires location—immediately picked up my location and listed nearby restaurants.
- Insights—Insights shows the most recent activity on your Pay account, linked credit cards or accounts, and any scanned receipts. It also allows you to link a bank account, using the third-party service Plaid—feeding Plaid the username and password you use for your bank’s own online banking app enables Pay to access it directly. It can handle multiple accounts tied to the same username and password, allowing you to link any or all of them to Pay.
In addition to the fairly sprawling array of features released today, Google has co-branded banking accounts coming up in 2021. The new service, called Plex, essentially allows banks to partner with Google and use Google Pay as their own direct banking app.
Once Plex is available, Google Pay users can use it to open new accounts with partnered banks directly from the app. Google already has 11 banks and credit unions listed as partners, including Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union. Google says that new Plex accounts will be free to open and will come with Google-designed debit cards.
Google touts AI insights, the ability to set spending and saving goals, and more as prime benefits of the upcoming Plex accounts—but it’s not entirely clear yet how much of that functionality will actually require Plex. Much of it seems to already be in place with standard bank accounts linked with Plaid—although it’s worth noting that Plex would at least eliminate yet another potentially exploitable third party tied to your assets.
Listing image by Pictures of Money / Flickr