Welcome to What's Trending In Payments - a weekly look at the most popular, irreverent and important stories the payments industry had to offer over the past five days as judged by social media. Which companies grabbed the most headlines - for better or for worse - this week, and which topics have the industry abuzz with intrigue, laughter or disbelief? Featuring breakdowns from the PYMNTS.com staff and commentary by Karen Webster, here’s our take on what all of you payments peeps thought.
TOPIC ONE: Google Wallet Loses Its Head
Why It’s Hot
News broke late in the day on Wednesday that Osama Bedier, vice president of Google Wallet, would leave the company “to pursue other opportunities,” according to a vague confirmation from Google. Bedier joined Google in 2011 after working with PayPal, which sparked a lawsuit between the two payments players and involved another PayPal-turned-Google exec in Stephanie Tilenius. Two years after its launch, the once NFC-based-turned-cloud-based Google Wallet has failed to gain much (read: any) traction in the market, and it appears as though Bedier may be paying the price.
I almost ignored this news story last night since it was about the 3rd time since December that a rumor/story surfaced that Google had closed its Wallet on Osama. But since the source this time was Google, it does seem that Osama is paying the price (but not with his Google Wallet!) for the lack of anything in the market around it. I could never figure out why a guy coming from PayPal - which is almost as religiously non-NFC payments as I am - would come to Google and immediately develop an NFC-based payments solution. The only thing weirder than that was the rumor that Osama was going to become the MCX CEO. That, I thought incredibly ironic since the issue of Google Wallet having access to merchant data was a huge red flag for merchants - and a big MCX value propositions is merchant control of data. Anyway, all that said, Osama was always incredibly nice and gracious to me even though we respectfully sparred over digital wallet technology and requirements for ignition on many occasions. We had a fun repartee at Money 2020 last year where I moderated the most awesome panel of the show - the power panel on digital wallets - with the major players across the industry, including his former employer PayPal. Everyone gave Osama a hard time, which he took in stride and used to made the panel discussion interesting. I truly do wish him well in whatever wallet wars (or not) he chooses to fight next.
We first need to cite the VentureBeat story that initially broke the news, but for additional required reading, take a look at these pieces from Karen dating back to November 2012 and March 2013. If you read PYMNTS.com regularly, it’s clear you should’ve seen this writing on Google Wallet’s wall from a mile away. Since Karen is too modest (or busy shopping ... but not with Google Wallet) to come right out and say “I told you so,” I’ll say it for her: she told you so.
This tweeter dug up a great quote from Bedier himself, who uttered these words during Open Mobile Summit in November of last year, as The Verge points out. While we can admire Bedier’s honestly, we also have to imagine he wasn’t planning on having the exact same problem six months later.
TOPIC TWO: Aaron Greenspan Vs. Silicon Valley
Why It’s Hot
If you want a comprehensive list of Silicon Valley’s most successful and innovative payments players, all you have to do is look at the lawsuit filed by one Aaron Greenspan on May 6. Greenspan, who is the founder of Think Computer and FaceCash and the self-proclaimed co-founder of Facebook, racked up an impressive list of enemies through the lawsuit, as the list of defendants includes, in no order: Facebook, Airbnb, Dwolla, Square, Coinbase, Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowtiz, A-Grade, Sequoia Capital and Max Levchin, among others. Greenspan’s beef centers on the Money Transmission Act and the Bank Secrecy Act, and how the defendants engaged in “unfair, fraudulent and deceptive business activities.”
Warning, do not try this at home. Talk about burning your bridges! Ay yi yi. Would someone please send Aaron a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People?” It’s been a while since I read it, but I guarantee that you won’t find, “sue them” in any of its recommendations. And while you’re at it, please refresh Aaron’s memory on the seven degrees of separation concept. If I were he, I might be thinking about cashing in on the crazy wild housing bubble in Silicon Valley and moving out since it will be hard for him to go anywhere and not bump into a defendant or a member of their seven degree of separation network. Now, it’s unlikely that Aaron will hit the legal lottery jackpot here, but it costs money and time to respond to this sort of stuff - and I don’t think this list is all that amused over spending either on this. I don’t know what the Think Computer staff consists of, but Aaron might want to consider adding, “food taster” to the staff roster.
The Next Web broke the Greenspan story, and provides a pretty solid breakdown of what the lawsuit means as well. Furthermore, the site reached out to Greenspan for comment but he apparently declined, “stating that the complaint speaks for itself.” The Next Web goes into Greenspan’s past a bit too, mentioning that he’s sued Google, Sony Pictures, Random House and the entire State of California in previous lawsuits.
Always the bridesmaid, eh, “octal”? On the one hand, not having to deal with this lawsuit is probably nice. On the other hand, we can see how you’d feel excluded. Thankfully, given Greenspan’s penchant for lawsuits, odds are you won’t have to wait long to see if you make the next cut!
TOPIC THREE: Contactless Cash? RFID In Money
Why It’s Hot
Our final trend of the week takes us to the hotbed of payments and tech innovation that is North Dakota, where researchers at North Dakota State University in Fargo have created a way to embed traceable RFID chips on paper. It’s a development that could someday create a very effective (and potentially frighteningly invasive) way to combat counterfeiting, as enabling such chips in currency could lead to entire new types of banknotes. We’re a long ways away from such a system becoming reality, but the possibility - and the admittedly impressive tech behind the tiny RFID chip - had people abuzz this week.
Does anyone else find it hilarious that the most innovative use case cited for RFID/contactless isn’t plastic or mobile but cash? That aside, I never understood why no one ever took me seriously when I suggested that someone consider payment enabling the RFID chips that you embed in pets so you can find them if they ever get lost. It would finally enable the mash up of dog walking and shopping, which I, for one, would find really convenient and would absolutely guarantee that dogs and their owners get more exercise walking to and from the store. Maybe I should take that idea to South Dakota University to see if they’d like to engage in a little friendly payments innovation competition.
This piece by IEEE Spectrum does a good job describing the flexibility and durability required from the RFID chips embedded in the paper, and describes additional potential use-cases, such as legal documents, tickets and smart labels. The piece also notes that researchers in Japan and Saudi Arabia have undertaken similar projects.
Genius! This is how those who’ve invested heavily in NFC (sorry, Mr. Bedier) can help turn skeptics into believers. If physical cash comes with embedded contactless technology, then it looks like we’ll finally have a scalable solution to the contactless payments quandary. Sure, this tech has nothing to do with actually processing or driving the transaction, but that point is ancillary at best.