“It’s like your phone and your wallet had a beautiful baby,” is the tagline for Venmo, a New York-based startup vying to be the next big thing in cashless payments.
Venmo opened an invite-only beta in February 2010 and spent that year refining the product, an iPhone and Android app and SMS system that lets people use their phones to make and receive credit and debit card payments. The company has already processed nearly half a million dollars in mobile transactions in January of this year, and its growing volume has brought other perks.
The company just made a big announcement: Because of its growing transaction volume, Venmo was able to considerably cut the time it takes to get money from users’ bank accounts: It now takes between one and three business days instead of four to six business, which should make customers happy as faster transaction times was their most common request.
“We were able to achieve faster withdrawal times mainly because our transaction volume is growing and we’re becoming more established as a payments service for friends,” cofounder Andrew Kortina said in an email.
Kortina said that Venmo’s crucial innovation was making payments social. “Providing a social payments service is not only about making it easy and non-awkward to settle the bill when you’re out to dinner and drinks with your friends; it’s also about developing better ways to handle challenges like fraud and chargebacks,” Mr. Kortina said. “Part of the reason it takes so long to transfer money using traditional banking systems is because it can be difficult to asses the risk of each transaction. If a sender doesn’t have sufficient funds to complete a transaction, and the recipient’s account is mistakenly credited, there’s real money on the line. Then there’s the risk of identity theft and stolen credit cards. We spend a lot of our time figuring out how to prevent fraudulent transactions, and in doing so, we’re making use of the rich social data surrounding all of our transactions. This is proving to be a better way to assess risk, and, consequently, banks are willing to work with us to speed up withdrawals. These banks are excited about making legacy systems more efficient and improving the customer experience they deliver on mobile devices.”
“The other reason traditional bank transfers are slow is that some banks like to earn money on the “float,” and as a result, they hold your money for a few extra days to earn interest on your transfer. For example, when I use my bank’s website (I won’t name the bank here) to send money to a friend at a different bank, it takes about 5-7 days to reach my friend’s account. That’s far too slow and not the model we’re after. Our goal is to provide the experience our users want, without manufacturing any delays to earn interest.”
The company just rolled out a help center section on its website and hopes to keep making the experience better for users. “Cutting withdrawal times in half is good, but not good enough–we’re hoping to make this even faster in the coming months,” Mr. Kortina said. “We built Venmo because paying friends back electronically felt clunky, slow, and bland, especially in the age of the real-time, social web. A payment to a friend–for dinner or a ski trip or anything else–should be as quick and easy to complete on your phone as sending a text message.”
ajeffries [at] observer.com | @adrjeffries