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Google is pushing further into personal finance.


Angela Lang/CNET

Google wants its software to become the center of people’s financial lives. The search giant on Wednesday said it’s overhauling its Google Pay service, which lets people pay for stuff using their phones, and extending the focus to online banking, shopping and loyalty programs.

It’s partnering with a handful of banks and financial institutions to create “a new mobile-first bank account,” called Plex, managed through the Google Pay app. Starting next year, institutions including Citi, BBVA and the Stanford Federal Credit Union will offer the Plex accounts, which come with no monthly fees or overdraft charges. 

Google hopes to lure people to its software with the promise of a better user experience. It said its artificial intelligence will make it easier to search through purchases. For example, it will show you a charge from a taqueria if you search for something more vague like “Mexican restaurant.” The app will also send spending reports and other insights to help with budgeting. While Google provides the technology, the money is handled by the bank, the company said.

The announcement underscores a major push into financial services by the biggest tech companies in the world, from Apple to Samsung. But the effort could be dogged by trust problems Silicon Valley has faced in recent years, as the public, lawmakers and media take a harder look at the tech industry’s privacy and data collection practices.

Asked about those concerns, Caesar Sengupta, Google’s vice president of payments, said the company won’t share transaction history with third parties. He said the data also won’t be shared with other parts of Google, so it won’t feed into the company’s massive digital advertising operation, which accounts for the vast majority of the company’s more than $160 billion in annual revenue.

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Google says its Plex offering is “a new mobile-first bank account.”


Google

“Payments and money are an area that is deeply personal,” he said in an interview. “And you do want to have very, very tight control over it.” 

Google also wants the app to compete with other payment services like Venmo. People will be able to use it to pay friends, split a check or order from a business. They can use it to pay for parking meters in 400 cities or buy gas from Shell, ExxonMobil and other gas stations at certain locations. The app will also be a hub for loyalty programs and deals, with offers from businesses including Burger King, Sweetgreen and REI.

Google is the latest tech company to revamp its payment offering, though it’s not going as far as other companies have gone.

In 2018, wireless carrier T-Mobile began the rollout of a banking service it calls T-Mobile Money. The company partnered with BankMobile, a division of Customers Bank, to offer its customers a banking option that had no overdrafts, ATM fees and up to 4% interest on checking account balances of up to $3,000, as long as they deposit at least $200 a month. 

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Google Pay will send users spending reports.


Google

Last year, Apple announced its own branded credit card, called Apple Card, that offered no annual or late fees, daily cash back and a titanium physical card. The card, launched in partnership with Goldman Sachs, is designed to be used with its Apple Pay mobile payment service on iPhones, iPads and Macs. The company incentivized purchases made digitally, with 2% daily cash on purchases made with the Wallet app on an iPhone or Apple Watch, compared to 1% on purchases made with the physical card. 

Earlier this year, Samsung announced it would be offering a debit card as part of its Samsung Pay payment service on Galaxy devices. Partnering with SoFi, Samsung’s card similarly had no account, overdraft or account management fees. Amazon has been offering a credit card to Prime members for years, with 5% back at its own store while other companies like Venmo have recently added rewards to incentivize paying with debit cards or apps. 

Google’s announcement on Wednesday could draw heat in Washington, where the company is already under intense scrutiny. Making a deeper investment in banking may rankle regulators and lawmakers who are already concerned over the tech giant’s power. Last month, the US Department of Justice filed a landmark antitrust case against Google over the company’s search and search advertising businesses. 

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