Google Pay seems to be in a whole lot of trouble. According to a recent Business Insider report, the company is in trouble internally and externally. The report details an exodus of executives from Google’s payment division, employees frustrated with the slow movement of the division, and lower-than-expected app adoption. Business Insider (BI) spoke to ex-employees and learned that dozens of executives and employees have left the Google Payments team in recent months and this includes at least seven leaders on the team with roles like director or vice president.
The most prominent departure of them all was of payments chief Caesar Sengupta’s and his departure “kicked off the exodus” in April. Employees are now worried about the reorganisation within the company and the slow progress. Reports have it that many rank-and-file team members have departed and “one former employee estimated that half the people working on the business-development team for Google Pay — a group of about 40 people — have left the company in recent months".
Sengupta took over the payments division that oversees both the Google Pay app and the wider Google payments infrastructure both in 2018 and according to the report, much of his attention was focused on bringing the US Google Pay app more in line with the version the company made for India. This was the reference to Google Pay’s big revamp that happened in March this year. This revamp replaced the existing app and website with an entirely new service.
According to Ars Technica, the update featured a lot of reduced functionality and a “clumsy transition plan for existing users”. The BI report quotes a former payments employee who said that - "Caesar (Sengupta) leaving was the capstone on a lot of frustration felt by employees. The product wasn't growing at the rate we wanted it to". Sengupta left Google one month after killing the old Google Pay app and making the new app mandatory for all US users.
The new Google Pay app launched in November 2020 in the US and for about four months, there were two Google Pay apps running. One was the older Google Pay app that had been around since 2011 (it first existed as Google Wallet, then as Android Pay, and finally Google Pay), and the other was the new app which was essentially a “group-up rewrite” Google started for the Indian market. By April 2021, the older Google Pay service was killed off after the company working on winding it down since January this year. While both the old and new apps were called Google Pay, there was no similarity in terms of features, contacts, or accounts.
Ars Technica’s review of the new Google Pay app states that it was a “pretty poor service” as compared to what Google previously had. The new app used SMS instead of a Google account for your identity so it could not be supported on multiple devices or multiple accounts, and there was no website support anymore. The smartphone was the only way to access and use Google Pay and everything was tied to your phone numbers, thanks to the SMS.
NFC payments on Android work mostly the same way but P2P users had to deal with a “clumsy transition”. Users on the new app could not send money to users on the old app so that meant through the process of your contacts slowly switching between the old and the new version, Google Pay pretty much became an “unsuable mess”. Saying “I’ve sent you money on Google Pay” was no longer enough, users had to figure out if that meant the old app or the new app. Google should have ideally worked on making the transition easy but it did nothing and that lead to months of ‘downtime’, Google Pay became unreliable for anyone “but the savviest users, thanks to version incompatibilities”.
Now, Google upending Google Pay is not an unmotivated move. According to a survey conducted by Pulse (a Discover company), Google Pay had a measly 3% market share as compared to Apple, which joined the NFC payments market years after Google, had a 92%. So, something did need to change for Google Pay, however, the stats were for NFC payments and the new Google Pay app did nothing about NFC payments.
For Google Pay, next is the launch of “Plex” banking service that is going to be a “full-blown” Google bank account with a partnership with Citibank. According to one of the employees BI spoke to, "Plex was entirely (Vice President) Felix (Lin) and Caesar (Sengupta's) brainchild”. Now, neither of those two work at Google. Progress on Plex is already much slower than expected and with both the two “leading architects” out of the picture, this service might also be delayed.
As Ars Technica rightly asks - “Does anyone out there actually want a Google bank account?”
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