Google is working on a product called “Pony Express” that will allow Gmail users to receive and pay bill right from their email inbox, according to the tech Web site Re/code.
With Pony Express, Google could suck in the type of financial data that would allow it to expand into new businesses. Credit card bills and payment history would be a gateway into industries such as personal finance or lending. And the data could be used to refine how advertisements are targeted to individuals on Google, YouTube and partnering sites, though such a move would likely stoke privacy concerns. It’s not clear whether Google would generate any revenue directly from the Pony Express service.
The collection of all the data might be a tool to make offers and fine tune advertisements, but it is not immediately clear that bills will yield information that Google could use. An electric bill or gas bill may not yield much useful information. As the article points out, people might start to get creeped out if they get advertisements that seem to be related to the details of the bills.
The most useful part of the service could be the payments feature. As you can see below, the service appears to let people choose to pay a bill right from within Pony Express, using a link with a bank account or a debit card. The image below shows the payment feature in the Inbox app.
The service would put Google in competition with other bill payment providers. Since Google is not storing funds, a bank or credit union would be required to hold and move funds. The question is whether or not Gmail offers a stronger value proposition that an online banking site that already allows people to receive and pay their bills directly from their account. Unless the Pony Express tools allows for people to use rewards cards, the value proposition will be low for most customers. The article makes mention of the tool being good for people with roommates, which would put the service in competition with products like Venmo and other p-to-p transfer services. The service will need to define a clear value proposition for people to want to switch from what they use today.
Overview by Ben Jackson, Director, Prepaid Advisory Service for Mercator Advisory Group
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