Google Pay has apparently been as much of a disaster internally as the app transition has been externally. That’s the big conclusion of a recent Business Insider article about an exodus of executives from Google’s payments division, lower-than-expected app adoption, and employees frustrated by the department’s slow movement.
Business Insider spoke to ex-employees and learned that “dozens of employees and executives have left the Google Payments team” in recent months, including “at least seven leaders on the team in the role of director or vice president.” The most prominent departure of payments chief Caesar Sengupta kicked off the exodus in April, and now workers worry about another reorganization and even slower progress. Many regular team members have also reportedly left, telling the story: “A former employee estimated that half of the people who worked on the business development team for Google Pay, a group of about 40 people, have left the company in recent months. “
In 2018, Sengupta took over the payments division, which oversees the Google Pay app and the wider Google payments infrastructure, and the report says that “much of Sengupta’s focus has been on making the US Google Pay app more in line with the version that Google built for India.”
That’s a reference to Google Pay’s major revamp in March, in which the existing app and website were destroyed and essentially replaced with an entirely new service. We weren’t big fans of the update, which featured a lot of reduced functionality and an inconvenient transition plan for existing users. It seems we were not alone in our disappointment; the report quotes a former payment officer as saying: “Caesar [Sengupta] Departure was the culmination of much frustration among the employees. The product was not growing at the pace we wanted.” Sengupta left Google a month after he discontinued the old Google Pay and made his new app mandatory for all users in the US.
The disaster with the new Google Pay
The new Google Pay app was launched in the US in November 2020, and for about four months Google had two “Google Pay” apps: the old Google Pay (which had been around since 2011, first as Google Wallet, then Android Pay, then Google Pay) and this new Google Pay, a thorough rewrite the company started for the Indian market. April 2021 put an end to the permanent death of the old Google Pay service, which has been phasing out since January. The two services were both referred to as “Google Pay,” but otherwise they were unrelated in terms of features, contacts, or accounts.
We reviewed the new Google Pay around this time and found it to be pretty poor service compared to what Google had before. The new service used SMS instead of a Google account for your identity, meaning it didn’t support multiple devices, didn’t support multiple accounts, and no longer supported the use of websites. Your phone was the only way to access a functional Google Pay, and everything was tied to your carrier’s phone number.
NFC payments on Android worked much the same, but P2P users had to go through an awkward transition. Users of the new app couldn’t send money to users of the old app, so when your contact list switched slowly, Google Pay just became a useless mess for the coming months. “I sent you money through Google Pay” was no longer enough; users would have to figure out for themselves whether “Google Pay” meant the new app or the old app. Google should have worked to make the transition easy, but it didn’t, and the result was months of what essentially was downtime for the service. Sending money via “Google Pay” was no longer reliable for anyone except the savviest users, thanks to version incompatibilities.
Google’s upending of Google Pay is not entirely unmotivated. A survey last year by Pulse, a Discover company, said Google Pay had a meager 3 percent market share, while Apple Pay, which joined the NFC payment market year after Google – had a 92 percent share of mobile payments. Something probably had to change for Google Pay, but these are NFC payments stats, and New Google Pay didn’t really change NFC payments.
Next: Google Bank Accounts?!
The next step for the new Google Pay app is the launch sometime this year of a “Plex” banking service, which will be a full-fledged Google bank account, thanks to a partnership with Citibank. One of the employees who spoke to Business Insider said, “Plex was completely… [Vice President] Felix [Lin] and Caesar [Sengupta’s] brainchild”, and now both executives are no longer at Google. Progress in the bank account is already “slower than expected”, according to the report, and without its two leading architects, Plex could be delayed.
There’s one question I’m not sure anyone on the payments team has asked, and it might be worth investigating: is there anyone who want a Google bank account?