Google checking out offering checking accounts

Peter Rudegeair and Liz Hoffman from The Wall Street Journal:

Google will soon offer checking accounts to consumers, becoming the latest Silicon Valley heavyweight to push into finance.

The project, code-named Cache, is expected to launch next year with accounts run by Citigroup Inc. and a credit union at Stanford University, a tiny lender in Google’s backyard.

It appears Google is attempting to diversify its portfolio. Lately, other tech companies, namely, Apple and Facebook, have moved into the financial services sector. While more competition in the space should benefit consumers, Google has a significant amount of negative history that gives me pause when considering them for something as important as a checking account.

Specifically, Google has a track record of poor customer service, discontinuing products, and using data for advertising.

From what I can best recall, the first public issues of Google’s poor customer service began during their launch of the Nexus One. Their history of being unreachable seems cultural, as it continues today. Losing your Google account could be devastating, particularly for those who use Gmail as the reference email for every other service account. Some of us also use Google Photos to capture years of precious memories, Google Drive to store important documents and files, and Google Calendar to schedule our lives. Losing access to all this data in one fell swoop would be catastrophic. Can you trust an algorithm with your paycheck? What if such automation locked you out of your money when bills are due?

Google’s customer service reputation pales in comparison to Apple’s fantastic customer service. Whenever I recommend an Apple product to someone, even if the price is slightly higher than what they hoped to spend, I remind them of Apple’s customer service and the nearby Apple Store.

Next, Google has a lengthy history of discontinuing products. They have created and obsoleted more messaging platforms than any other company. The Verge has a great summary of Google’s woeful track record on messaging platforms. Their domination of RSS feed readers, only to ultimately discontinue Google Reader, still causes users pause today. This “bite me twice” caution with Google is most recently illustrated through critical reception of their cloud gaming platform Stadia:

“The biggest complaint most developers have with Stadia is the fear that Google is just going to cancel it,” Gwen Frey, developer of Stadia launch puzzle game Kine, told in recently published comments. “Nobody ever says, ‘Oh, it’s not going to work,’ or ‘Streaming isn’t the future.’ Everyone accepts that streaming is pretty much inevitable. The biggest concern with Stadia is that it might not exist.”

Google has unfortunately brought this unreliable reputation onto themselves. Their actions demonstrate what are seemingly short term considerations resulting in diminished long term product faith. It is somewhat ironic how this perception effectively obsoletes Google products before even Google themselves. Why use and invest your time into a product that will be sunset in the near future? Couple this perception with Google’s new checking platform. In my experience, people like to set up their checking accounts and unless something drastic happens, they are content to continue with the same credit union or bank. Their paychecks get deposited into their account, they pay bills using their account, they link their online payment systems to their account, they reference their spending history though their account.

Google needs to provide prospective customers a strong incentive to switch or even open an additional checking account.

Google executive Caesar Sengupta told the WSJ that the initiative is designed to “help more people do more stuff in a digital way online,” and he noted that the service could be used to offer loyalty card programs.

Do what sort of more stuff? I can’t think of anything I want to do with my checking account online that I cannot already do. And who wants loyalty card programs enough to switch to Google’s new checking account platform? Why can’t those loyalty card programs be done without a new checking account platform? What incentive will Google offer to get people to initially switch to them and will that incentive overcome the inherent long term fear people have with Google products?

I remember when Google launched Gmail. At the time, Gmail’s storage limit of 1 GB was unreal. It blew every other email provider’s storage limits of around 2 MB out of the water. People rushed to switch to Gmail. I can recall Gmail invites selling for a fair amount of money on eBay. Convincing people to switch email addresses is a major ask. It has similar pain points to switching checking accounts. Frankly, because it’s so forward facing, changing email addresses can be even more arduous than switching checking accounts. Google needs to do something similar with their checking accounts. Perhaps offering such a high interest rate that similarly gets people as excited as 1 GB of email storage would do the trick. I do not believe a loyalty card program will generate as much excitement.

Finally, Google is a data driven ad company. Selling ads is its very soul. Google claims they won’t sell checking account data to advertisers, citing the fact Google Pay already exists in such a manner. That could very well remain true. But I cannot imagine a world where Google, a data driven ad company, ignores the financial data it can now compile through your checking account. While they may not sell this data to others, I assume Google will use that data to advertise to its users. How is this approach beneficial to users? Are loyalty cards enough of an incentive to receive these ads?

Notably, checking account data shows where users are already spending their money. It is concrete financial data. This incredibly valuable financial data reduces friction in generating revenue. There’s less of a guess whether people will be merely interested enough to click an ad or click an ad and buy the advertised product. Combine this financial data with Google’s voluminous treasure trove of data they already have on you and you have a stronger ad approach. Why advertise a $500 coffee machine to someone who has $200 in their checking account and never spends a dime on coffee? Here, Google might instead advertise a $10 tea pot.

We are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of privacy, our data, and how technology companies have a hand in nearly everything. Considering the above three factors, should Google want its checking platform to succeed, it must overcome these difficult hurdles. They need to bolster their customer support, build consumer trust, and create a strong incentive to joining. I look forward to checking out, on the sidelines, how they continue to build out this venture and other, possible financial services.

Using notebooks to take notes

Mark Gurman wrote a great piece on Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Williams.

Williams also has often relied in meetings on a pocket-size notebook, and colleagues say they make sure to follow up on any part of the conversation they see him write down.

This tidbit is fascinating to me. How come Williams uses a paper notebook? This is the Chief Operating Officer at Apple, a company whose iPhone is, frankly, the most ubiquitous pocket-size notebook around.

Admittedly, I, too, prefer a paper notebook to write down thoughts, even though I really want to just use my phone for notes. Phones make more sense. It’s always with me, my writing is in the cloud and not stuck in one spot, and software makes note taking more organized. There’s no readily apparent downside. Yet I still carry a notebook and pen with me where ever I go.

I find Williams’s habit much more interesting when transposed against Scott Forstall’s note taking habits (paywall):

Forstall takes detailed notes without pen, paper, or laptop. “He listens to you and he starts typing on his iPhone,” says Matt Murphy, a partner at Kleiner Perkins and the manager of a fund at the firm that invests in iOS developers. “You’re thinking he’s not listening and sending a text message, then you realize he’s taking notes.”

Perhaps that’s part of why I eschew using my phone to take notes. I feel people think, actively or subconsciously, I’m ignoring them. Their immediate perception is a bias I have to overcome. When I take notes using a notebook, people seem to immediately think I’m actively listening to them, taking notes

There’s also the pleasant, tactile, and near instantaneous feel of using a notebook. You pull it out of your pocket and start scribbling away. For some reason, taking notes on a phone feels less accessible in comparison. Truly, I don’t believe this feeling is quantifiably objective. It might be easier and more efficient to use my phone. But yet, given the choice, I nearly always opt to use a paper notebook.

Based on my personal interactions, it seems Forstall’s phone preference is the minority. Here’s hoping using phones to take notes eventually becomes more prevalent and socially acceptable. I’ll do my part to keep using Cultured Code’s fantastic Things 3 more often as part of my workflow. Maybe I’ll preface pulling out my phone with a “Let me write this down.”

Microsoft’s Teams overtakes Slack

Microsoft states 13 million people use its Teams group-chat platform daily compared to Slack’s 10 million figure. This milestone seems particularly impressive in light of 2016 Microsoft pondering whether to acquire Slack for $8 billion dollars.

In an industry full of constant acquisitions, it’s nice to see a company create its own software, even one as immensely resourced as Microsoft. Microsoft launched its own software that, two years after its 2017 launch, ended up with more users than their considered acquisition.

That fact seems impressive at first glance. Keep in mind, however, Teams is included with its Office 365 subscription. Many organizations already have an Office 365 subscription. That arrangement would cause any Office 365 subscribing organization to question paying for Slack when it already pays for Teams. Knowing this pricing scheme, Teams overtaking Slack was basically inevitable.

Certainly, no matter the pricing, people won’t use bad software if a significantly better alternative exists. But sometimes good enough is good enough, especially when it’s at no extra cost. Therefore, I don’t believe Microsoft’s announcement necessarily speaks to Teams being a better or more liked platform than Slack. Instead, this news demonstrates Teams is at least cost effective and good enough. Frankly, neither Slack nor Teams is enjoyable to use. In my experience, both platforms are merely good enough and get the job done.

Notably, if we had statistics of Google G Suite users opting for Teams instead of Slack, we would have a better data point for which communication platform organizations prefer. Here, there’s no platform subscription synergy and thus, fiscal decisions become less of a factor.

At the end of the day, this news is still good news for Microsoft. Hats off to them. I look forward to the developing competition between all communication platforms.

Sign in with Apple

Apple introduced Sign in with Apple, which is its own single sign-on method. It allows users to use a universal login ID across different applications and websites. This approach is very much indicative of today’s Apple using its massive market presence to positively influence privacy culture.

Creating an account for each individual app and website can be painful. Accounts create friction and get in the way of people immediately using the product. Accounts are, however, necessary. How else would you access your personalized social media, purchase products, or access your online finances?

People will generally take the path of least resistance. Developers want to reduce friction. Thus, single sign-on became popular. As noted in my examples above, if a company can tie social media, purchase information, financial information, and other personalized data together, that’s very desirable to advertisers. Advertisers continue to amass as much data as they can.

Thankfully, with Sign In with Apple, Apple is using its unique, market leading position to push back. Sign In with Apple allows clear choice of what information you choose to share with the app or website. It also prevents cross app or website tracking with anonymized email addresses, should you so choose.

What I find fascinating is Apple requiring its Sign In to be included for apps that support other third-party sign-in options. That requirement demonstrates Apple’s willingness to throw its weight around for privacy protections. Some may deem it as overreaching but frankly, amassing as much of my data as possible is overreaching.

I imagine advertisers are unhappy with Apple’s decision. Frankly, though, I am thrilled a market leader is pushing back against the insatiable data beast. Here’s hoping Apple’s approach empowers users to care about data privacy.

Microsoft announces Game Pass for PC

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox:

We’ve not always lived up to our aspiration of keeping gamers at the center of everything we do when it comes to the experience they’ve had on Windows.

The way Microsoft has pivoted within the past few years is incredibly impressive. While other companies seek to isolate themselves and their customers into a locked ecosystem, Microsoft’s open approach is both welcome and refreshing. Who in 2010 would have predicted Google would be the one locking things down while Microsoft opens things up?