Data Dive, Columbus Edition: Square, PayPal And One Brave Bank Teller

Today is Columbus Day, a celebration of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of Americas 526 years ago. The “discovery” is in quotes for three reasons. First, Christopher Columbus never actually set foot in North America, so he discovered an America, not the America. Second, Leif Erikson beat him to the punch in North America by about 500 years. And third, it is fairly bold to claim to have discovered a place where thousands of people had already lived for thousands of years.

In fact, much of what one learned in elementary school about Columbus is a little bit off. By 1492, most people already knew the world was round, and the ships weren’t the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria – those were all nicknames.

But whether the historical Columbus is accurately represented by the mythical version, there are many excellent values affirmed in the version learned in elementary school nationwide: bravery, willingness to try new things and thinking outside the box.

And so in celebration of Columbus day, we thought we’d highlight the stories of the week that best embody that spirit of adventure and swashbuckling.

The Phoenix Suns Get a Payments Assist from PayPal

There is nothing quite like missing the big moment at the big game because one chose the wrong moment to get a hot dog. Maybe the cashier was slow, maybe you couldn’t find your card, but when the buzzer blows, the outcome is all the same. The game goer missed its biggest moment, and will now be re-watching it on TV like everyone else.

The horror.

But one that Phoenix Suns fans will not have to live through for much longer, because as of this week, the basketball team has inked a deal with PayPal to bring the omnichannel experience courtside.

Fans can use the PayPal digital app to place and pay for orders from their seats. They can also use it to buy merchandise and other items that they can pick up on their way out or have shipped home. Robert Clarkson, PayPal’s general manager of North America, told Karen Webster that PayPal Here card readers will also accept credit, debit or tap-to-pay mobile payments, which means fans can pay however they choose, including using balances from their PayPal accounts. In addition, season ticket holders — a group known as the Suns’ SixthMan — can also use PayPal Credit to finance their ticket purchases, paying the balance over time.

“Our goal is to serve as an innovation lab, to a large degree,” Jason Rowley, the team’s president and CEO, noted during an interview. “Other teams, we hope, will look at this partnership as a model going forward.”

And, according to recent research from the University of California Berkeley School of Information, the average fan who attends a Suns game spends about $82 on the experience, a total that includes the ticket, parking, a hot dog and a beer. In all, U.S. consumers spend $56 billion annually on sporting events — that’s about twice as much as those consumers spend on books.

Square Gives Merchants an Alt POS Credit Option  

Square announced as of this week the launch of Square Installments, a new service that offers sellers an alternate credit option when making big-ticket purchases via a series of evenly divided, fixed monthly payments.

Square said the new service, aimed at helping small businesses never miss a sale, underscores its efforts to expand access to financial services for businesses and individuals.

“We’re focused on removing the complexity associated with financial products, enabling more businesses to access incredible tools that can help them grow,” said Jacqueline Reses, head of Square Capital, in a press release. “Square Installments delivers simple and quick financing to customers seeking greater flexibility as they make purchasing decisions.”

As of today, most Square merchants do not offer installment payments: A survey by Square revealed the main reason is that merchants are put off by the long and complicated setup process.

Square Installments takes minutes to set up, and there are no sales volume minimums to use the service. And it could have a powerful effect on Square’s business: According to reports, 68 percent of consumers said they would be more likely to use a small or local business if there were financing options.

“Square Installments has helped me increase order amounts and create a steadier business flow, really contributing to overall business growth,” says Lohit Pattanaik, owner of Fly1 Motorsports in Southern California. “Custom car parts can come at a sizable cost, but providing the flexibility to spread payment over several months makes it very attainable.”

Customers applying for Square Installments can do it online via a brief application and get a decision in real time. If approved, the customer has the option to pay over three, six or 12 months.

The Best Bank Teller (Ever)

Whatever it was you accomplished at work this week, you were not as good an employee as one HSBC bank teller. That woman managed to be the MVP at work this week – and not just at her job, but across all jobs and the entire category of working.

Because that teller, with a glance and a phone call, unraveled a complex, multinational act of fraud that nearly left the nation of Angola $500 million poorer.

It was a scheme that notably involved – in roughly this order – Angolan political and financial authorities, missed SWIFT signals, forged paperwork, a get-rich-quick scheme and a small cast of international characters who, the newspaper noted, seem drawn from a Hollywood caper movie.

The short form of the story is as follows.

Three con artists – Hugo Onderwater, a Dutch agricultural engineer living in Portugal; Jorge Pontes Sebastião, a Portuguese citizen; and Brazilian Samuel Barbosa da Cunha – collaborated on an elaborate financial con that offered Angola the chance to invest $500 million of state funds into the private market and make billions via “bank guarantees.” Specifically, Angolan officials were promised about $35 billion as a return on their $500 million investment.

This type of scam is pretty common, though running it against a sovereign state is a unique twist.

Thanks to a combination of economic woes, political corruption and a forged letter meant to look as though it came from the head of BNP Paribas, legal authorities contend, Angolan officials accepted the offer and transferred the money into a “qualified trust company” operated by the alleged thieves.

The $500 million was eventually transferred to the HSBC account of a company called Perfectbit Ltd., registered to a London accountant’s storefront office and listed on Bar Trading’s website as an “overseas subsidiary.”

At this point, SWIFT reportedly dropped the ball by not flagging the transaction as potentially fraudulent. The central bank’s Swift message code incorrectly labeled the monies for interbank business with HSBC rather than headed to an HSBC customer.

So, Angola was fooled and SWIFT fell asleep at the switch. But lucky for the world, there was one security layer the fraudster could not fool: a single bank teller with working eyes.

Once the $500 million was in Perfectbit’s account, one of the scammers attempted to move $2 million from the HSBC account to Japan. The teller, upon noting the $500 million in the account, quickly surmised something was not right and reported the balance, which led to the account being quickly suspended for review.

That review turned up the attempted fraud, and the $500 million has been returned to Angola.

So, what did we learn this week?

Try new things, explore new territory – and keep a sharp eye out. It’s what Christopher Columbus would want you to do.

Happy Columbus Day, and have a nice week.