Technology

The disastrous yr of Google Pay continues, the promised checking account operate is lifeless

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Enlarge / Google Pay continues to revolve around the drain.

Google’s grand plan to introduce Google bank accounts is dead. As part of its major relaunch last year, the Google Pay division promised to launch Plex, a digital banking service from Google. After a disastrous year for Google Pay that included a botched app overhaul and employee exodus from the department, a Wall Street Journal report now says Google’s bank account plans are dead.

Plex was officially announced almost two years ago and heavily promoted on the Google Pay website and app, complete with a waiting list for users to sign up for. The service would have been a “mobile first” banking app with physical cards, fewer fees, and lots of expense visualizations. I want to say something like, “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to have a Google bank account,” given privacy concerns and the instability of new Google products, but the Wall Street Journal reports that 400,000 people were on the waiting list.

Google worked with Citigroup, Stanford Federal Credit Union, and a few other banks for the service, and not all of them appear to have been involved in the plan to terminate Plex. The Wall Street Journal report closes on a rather sad paragraph:

As recently as this week, several banks had the impression that the project was still moving forward. On Monday, BM Technologies Inc. said his Plex accounts would arrive in late 2021 or 2022. “Google and BMTX are happy about this opportunity and are committed to this partnership,” said the banking platform in an email at the time.

The reason for the cancellation appears to be entirely due to the Google Pay upheaval we learned about earlier this year. In August, Business Insider reported that “dozens of employees and executives” have left the Google Payments team in the past few months, including “at least seven executives on the team with roles as director or vice president.”

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In March of this year, Google Pay launched a disastrous overhaul. Google retired the perfectly good, mature service that had been around since the days of Google Wallet and replaced it with a brand new code base originally developed in India. The India-centric Google Pay (which was advertised as the new, global Google Pay) was modeled after WhatsApp and uses your phone number as your identity. With a SIM card required for identity, the functionality of the Google Pay website had to be closed, multiple accounts were no longer supported, and users had to recreate their contact lists in order to send money.

It all happened in March with the forced shutdown of the old Google Pay app in the US, and the incredible thing is that Google’s VP of Payments, Caesar Sengupta, left the company in April just a month later. Sengupta blew up the Google payments system and left before the switch was complete – he left without ever upgrading the new Google Pay to the standard of the old app. Today, the revamped Google Pay is still worse than the old app, and Google Pay is still fragmented internationally. Some countries continue to use the new Google Pay app; some stay in the old Google Pay app.

Sengupta’s departure is said to have initiated the exodus, which included “dozen” of employees. The BI report includes a quote from an anonymous ex-employee who claimed that Google Pay “didn’t grow the way we wanted it” and people were becoming increasingly frustrated. An employee told Business Insider that “Plex is all about” [Vice President] Felix [Lin] and Caesar [Sengupta’s] Idea “both executives are no longer working at Google, and with the biggest boosters gone from Plex, it’s no surprise the project is dead.

Google Pay is currently in a terrible limbo and it is not clear what the future of the service will look like. Plex should be a major feature of the new Google Pay. But since it’s dead and the architects of this entire makeover are no longer with Google, the department feels like a rudderless mess.

All mention of Plex was removed from the Google Pay website on Friday. Google submitted the following statement.

Our collaboration with our partners has made it clear that there is consumer demand for simple, seamless and secure digital payments for online and in-store transactions. We’re updating our approach to primarily focus on delivering digital opportunities to banks and other financial services providers rather than acting as the provider of those services.

We strongly believe that this is the best way for Google to give consumers better access to financial services and to connect the financial services ecosystem more closely with their customers in a digital environment.

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