Today, Google Pay for both Android and iOS is relaunching with a giant array of new features. It turns the app from something that most people think of as a tap-to-pay card repository or peer-to-peer payment system into a much more ambitious service. The new app begins rolling out across the United States today.
The new version of the app will have three new tabs: “Pay,” which includes peer-to-peer payments as well as your transaction history using tap-to-pay; “Explore,” which will be a place where Google will offer deals and discounts; and finally, “Insights,” which will allow you to connect your bank accounts to get a searchable overview of your finances.
You will even be given the option to allow Google Pay to crawl your Gmail inbox and your Google Photos account to look for receipts. Google will use OCR technology to auto-scan them and integrate them into your finance tracking.
In 2021, Google will partner with some banks to directly offer fully online checking and savings accounts inside Google Pay — a service Google is calling “Plex.”
Not all of these services are strictly new for Google, but this will mark the first time they’re unified into a single app. In doing so, Google Pay is now arguably a direct competitor to a wide array of other apps and services, including Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal, Venmo, Square Cash, Intuit’s Mint, Simplifi, Truebill, Shop, and also online banks like Ally. That is a lot of companies that will have to contend with Google making a high-profile push into their market.
All of the advanced features are opt in, so if you prefer to simply use it as it currently exists today (as a tap-to-pay app on Android or peer-to-peer payments on the iPhone), you should be able to do that. Even so, this is a huge expansion of capabilities and data collection in a Google app that is likely to raise privacy concerns.
Google tells me that it has a policy to not sell or share data to third parties and that it will not “share your transaction history with the rest of Google for targeting ads.” It will also have a first-use experience that will present a series of privacy prompts and settings options. Unlike Apple Pay, Google’s servers will have access to your data so it can be analyzed and made searchable for you in the app — though the company assures that it’ll be strongly encrypted.
A stranger — and perhaps telling — privacy option is that those who want to get personalized deals will have the option to agree to a three-month “trial” of allowing Google to analyze their transaction history to customize their offers. After the three months, they’ll be prompted if they want to keep using that part of the service.
Let’s dig into what we know about each aspect of the service.
The center and primary tab for Google Pay will combine a couple of the existing Google Pay services: tap-to-pay and peer-to-peer. It’s organized to provide more information than before. The first set of icons will be for your contacts, and tapping on any one of them will open up a chat-like view of your payments to each other.
You’ll also be able to set up group payments, putting multiple people in a chat and letting them send and request money from each other — e.g., if you’re splitting a restaurant bill or have a group of roommates sharing bills. It will also track who has and hasn’t paid their share and let you tap a button to pester them.
In other words, it’s not unlike Venmo.
Underneath people are all of the businesses you’ve paid using Google Pay — either with tap-to-pay or the browser-based version. As with people, opening it will give a chat-like view of your transactions. If you have a loyalty or rewards card for a given store, Google Pay should be able to associate it with that store. Retailers will also be able to float offers up this chat in addition to the main tab for deals.
Of course, Google Pay will still do what most Android phone owners use it for: simply making payments via NFC tap-to-pay. But Google is also ramping up other ways to pay with this app. Underneath People and Businesses are a couple of new buttons: “Get gas” and “Order food.”
The food option ties into Google’s existing food ordering system that is compatible with enough systems for the company to claim it works with over 100,000 restaurants.
You’ll also be able to pay for gas or parking directly in the app instead of punching through the options on the gas pump or parking lot pay station. Google says it should work in 30,000 locations.
The first truly new tab in Google Pay is the Explore tab, which is a place where Google will aggregate deals for you.
By default, it will just surface generic offers here, but you will have the option to allow Google’s algorithms to analyze your transactions in order to customize what offers appear. In what appears to be a nod toward privacy concerns, it will offer you an option to opt in to a three-month “trial” of the service. Since it’s a free service to begin with, that “trial” consists mainly of a reminder prompt that will pop up asking if you want to keep using it.
Google tells me that it will not share any data with these retailers — though, of course, if you end up using one of these offers, that retailer will know you did because you’re spending money there.
All of the deals Google showed me consisted of cashback offers. That’s an important point because the cash that comes back will go into a Google Pay account. You’ll need to transfer it out if you want to deposit it into your bank account.
One very clever feature for these offers is that you simply need to tap “activate,” and when you do, you can associate the offer with any credit card you have stored in Google Pay. That way, to redeem the offer, you just need to use that credit card, and the rest will be handled automatically, no need to remember a coupon code.
Finally, the Explore tab has a QR and barcode scanner on the top. The idea here is simple: when you’re at a store, you can use it to scan a product and automatically launch a Google Shopping search for it to buy it elsewhere.
Google Pay users will also be able to scan each other’s personal barcodes to send money to one another without needing to exchange their contact details.
The rightmost tab in Google Pay is the place where the app will provide a lightweight version of apps like Mint and Simplifi that presents much of your financial information in one place. Google’s take on it is called “Insights,” and as you might expect, it heavily integrates both search and Google’s ability to process data with its algorithms.
After you connect your banking and credit accounts, Insights will begin to show you reports of your spending and saving as well as upcoming bills. It does this by scanning through your transactions rather than needing you to manually enter or categorize things. It works with standard checking, savings, debit, and credit cards.
In fact, there are two more data sources you can choose to share with Google Pay: your Gmail account and your Google Photos account. If you turn on either, Google Pay will automatically scan both for receipts. With Photos, it can use OCR to automatically read the receipt and associate it with the correct transaction.
Google Pay will allow you to search for terms using natural language. In a demo, Google showed me searches for “Mexican restaurants” and “shirts” that each brought up results that wouldn’t necessarily have worked by searching through a more traditional banking or credit card app. You can also chain searches together to narrow down to what you’re looking for.
And because it’s 2020, the Google Pay app will also feature something akin to Stories in Instagram. Tap on the blue icons at the top of the Insights screen, and you’ll get brief summaries of financial information Google Pay thinks might be useful for you, like upcoming bills, how much money you’ve sent directly to friends, large transactions, and so on.
In all, Insights doesn’t seem to be as full-featured as some of the apps it’s designed to compete with, but it seems Google is betting the convenience of having everything in one place will be more than enough.
Finally, in 2021, Google will launch a new banking service called Plex. It will let you handle basic checking and savings in the app, engaging directly with an online bank. This isn’t Google directly offering banking services, to be clear. Instead, Google will essentially let some banks use Google Pay as their banking app.
Google has lined up 11 banks and credit unions to partner with, allowing you to pick the one you prefer. It also says that the checking and savings accounts will have no monthly fees, overdraft charges, or minimum balances.
Customers will also get a “Goals” feature with basic money management targets and the ability to set up repeating tasks like transferring money to a savings account.
Because this is Google, information about Google Pay and Plex leaked ahead of the official announcement today. 9to5Google has already scoured through the app and found details on Plex. Bank partners include Citi, Stanford Federal Credit Union, SEFCU, BMO, and BBVA.
The changes to Google Pay are very ambitious. If you opt in to all of its features (and thereby trust Google to keep all of your data private and secure), you’ll have access to a rich set of well-integrated features across several different ways of looking at your spending and saving.
It also affords Google plenty of opportunities to make money, of course. Though it won’t be sharing any data with the ads division, there is no shortage of ways to get commissions or take tiny percentages off transactions. And because Google appears to have many partnerships with retailers, there’s likely money in them thar hills — the Explore tab explicitly labels its offers as “Sponsored.”
As a user, you should only care about how Google monetizes its products insofar as it affects your experience and your privacy. Google has quick answers for the obvious questions about what will happen with your financial data. Google’s policy is to not share data with other divisions within Google and to not share it with third parties. Your data is encrypted, of course, and interestingly, you can’t access this app on the web. It’s only available on Android or iPhone — and only one device at a time to boot. The app will also have a single place for managing all privacy settings for all of the services it offers.
Whether you opt in to any of Google Pay’s new features will depend a lot on if you trust Google to have good answers for the non-obvious questions. As usual with services that gather tons of data, those are the questions that matter more.