There is an ancient piece of wisdom that dictates one should either go big or go home, and according to recent reports, Stuart Sopp has no intention of going home. Instead, he is looking for the firm he founded — Current — to become the first digitally native global bank.
Big dreams, especially for a firm that is currently acting as a money transfer service for Slack, a workplace (and increasingly small group) messaging service.
Current will make it possible for coworkers to transfer funds easily without ever leaving Slack’s in-app home base. Its tagline: “Transact while you interact.”
“We are going to come to you,” Sopp said of the startup’s approach to powering payments within popular communication apps. “And bring customer service as well.”
Which is not to say Sopp has the world’s easiest road ahead, as there are any number of services, like Venmo, PayPal, Square Cash, Facebook Messenger and Chase Pay, just to throw out the first few really big names that come to mind — not to mention all the up-and-comers in P2P payments — that want to make it easy to transact while you interact.
So, what is Current’s secret sauce? According to Sopp, his firm is betting that consumers will eventually prefer one-stop shopping when it comes to the service that allows them to move money within their various messaging and social apps, and Current aims to be that service. It started with Slack because of the firm’s open API and 2 million or so early adopting daily users.
“These are people you are spending time with, hanging out with,” said Eric Friedman, Expa’s executive in residence and Current’s temporary chief operating officer. “You shouldn’t have to go into yet another app.”
To make the system work, Current users connect their bank account and Slack account with the Current app then move money from that banking account into a Current account for future transfers. As of yet, Current does not work with debit cards, though that functionality is apparently planned.
When it comes time to pay, users send a private message to a user’s Slack handle in the following format: “/Current pay @name $10.” And poof, the $10 is off and running to whomever you sent it to, provided you got their Slack name right.
On the other end of the line, the recipient is encouraged to sign on to Slack to grab their funds. From then on, that new user will get an email or text any time someone sends funds.
The firm still needs to grab up a money transmitter license in the U.S. so that bank-to-store customer transfers can happen. At present, Current is working through Dwolla to store customer funds at partner financial institutions. Current will also need to branch out from Slack into other messaging services, such as Facebook Messenger and Twitter.
But, for its founder, the passion is in the next phase of the project when Current can function as a “bank” or, at least, more like a financial services institution.
“It’s a bank in a different sense,” he said of his long-term vision for Current. “To me, the branch network is broken. The new branch network … is to go where people are.”