First there was Vikas Gupta in January 2012. About the same time Rob von Behren made departure, followed by Jonathan Wall and Marc Freed-Finnegan, who left to do their own thing. In June, Stephanie Tilenius left for a career in venture capitalism. Finally, last week it was the news that Osama Bedier had made an exit. Google has been losing its payments executives at a surprising rate since its launch in the autumn of 2011.
Take Bedier for example, the man in charge of Google Wallet. Little had been heard from him in recent months. And Google’s statement on his departure did not fill in any gaps about the reason he left.
But, in fairness, little has come out of the the company since a relaunch last year was designed to revamp the company’s partnership model with banks. The idea was for subscribers to put any credit or debit card in the wallet, which sounds like a better idea than Google’s previous approach which was to negotiate with banks one by one.
The result of the old approach was that only holders of MasterCard-backed Citi credit cards or the company’s own pre-paid card could make payments via Google Wallet. Obviously that’s too narrow a demographic.
But still recent months have not thrown up any new statistics from the company that might signal that it has turned a corner. Subscriber numbers are a closely guarded secret.
Observers have been left to wonder whether this is a question about execution? Should Google have waited until a greater volume of NFC-based Android smartphones were in the market before unleashing its wallet on an unsuspecting world? And should they have moved to the new bank partnership model sooner?
Others will be wondering about Google Wallet too. UK m-commerce venture Weve, which is a partnership between the UK’s three largest mobile operators, must have an eye on it.
The venture is also into creating a virtuous circle between generating data from consumers about personal shopping preferences (all opted-in, of course) which enables better (and more lucrative) targeting of advertising.
The idea is that consumers are drawn into this circle by the combination of compelling offers and the ease of making mobile payments, and benefiting from coupons and loyalty points. Then the circle feeds itself, like all good business models, and spirals happily upwards.
Weve seems to be varying the Google model a bit by starting with the mobile advertising business, which is its strength, and leaving the mobile payments bit, where it is a novice, until later.
In fact, an executive from Google put an actual figure on it. Or he offered a range at least. Peter Hazlehurst, Google’s director, product management, speaking at this year’s Mobile World Congress, said mobile payments will take off when users are making two to five transactions per day. This could include buying a rail ticket, and a coffee on the way to work, for instance. This is where habits get formed among consumers, and the likes of Google start to gather valuable data. And it must be achieved through a mass take-up among consumers. Right now, it feels some way off.
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