Starting later this year, Gmail users might be able to receive and pay a variety of bills directly from their e-mail accounts, according to a report in Re/code. The article's authors write that they have seen a lengthy document from Google that outlines a new Gmail-based payment service currently code-named "Pony Express."
Set to launch in the fourth quarter of this year, Pony Express would make it possible for users to pay their bills online without having to visit the Web sites of their utility companies, ISPs and other service providers. The Re/code article goes on to note that such a service could provide Google with "a gateway into industries such as personal finance or lending."
Google already offers a mobile payment system called Google Wallet, an app launched in 2011 that enables purchases via near-field communication. Last month, it announced it had acquired technology from Softcard -- a mobile payments platform created by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon -- and would begin offering Google Wallet pre-installed on Android phones from those carriers later this year.
Easier Bill Management, Payment Sharing
According to Re/code, the Google document indicates that the search giant could be partnering with a number of third-party companies to offer the Gmail payment service. Enabling the e-mail payments would require a number of steps, including verification of banking and/or credit-card information, telephone number, Social Security number and other details.
The service would make it possible for Gmail users to specify that bills appear in a specially designated Pony Express folder for easier payment management, according to Re/code. Users could also share bills with, for example, a roommate for easier joint payments.
As Re/code noted, other companies have also tried to offer an all-in-one system for centralized online bill payment, including Check, recently acquired by Intuit, and Manila, which ceased operations last year.
Payments Are Going Multi-Channel
Mobile bill payment is becoming increasingly popular. In the U.S. last year, 27 million online households paid at least one bill from a mobile phone or device, according to a survey by the financial services technology company Fiserv. That represented an increase of nearly 70 percent over 2013 figures.
"Mobile bill pay is becoming a go-to channel alongside traditional bill payment methods, creating a ripe opportunity for billers to rethink and expand their multi-channel strategies to help stimulate customer satisfaction," said Eric Leiserson, Fiserv's senior research analyst for Biller Solutions. "Billers that cast a wider billing and payment net with offerings that meet the diverse needs of their customers extend their reach and build stronger, more loyal relationships with customers across channels."
We reached out to Google for comment on the report, but a spokesperson declined to provide any information, saying, "We don't comment on rumor or speculation." In announcing its acquisition of Softcard technology last month, however, Google Vice President of Payments Ariel Bardin noted, "We've been working hard to make the Google Wallet app even more useful to you -- and there's lots more to come."
Image credit: Google/Gmail, Artist's concept.