Why paying for your friends pays dividends

Recently, I was having a conversation about on-campus university life, and my experience in Alpha Kappa Psi Co-Ed Business Fraternity. Based on the energy in that conversation, I decided to jot some of my thoughts here.

We’ve all heard it in dormitory hallways during fall, winter and spring rush periods: “I’m not joining a fraternity/sorority. I don’t need to pay for my friends.” IMO, now years out of college, this rationale is shortsighted, and I would encourage all prospective college/university students to consider joining a fraternity or sorority! Here’s why:

“Paying for your friends” can be boiled down to paying to join a group of likeminded 18-22 year olds in a fraternity or sorority on campus, to find a sense of belonging or purpose. Sure you can go it alone, but you can also join a group you jive with, that shares a creed and looks out for you in the short-term and long-run.

Being part of the group affords benefits you may otherwise miss. Every penny I’ve spent to be a part of AKPsi – during college and after – has had tremendous ROI. During my student days, I picked up critical leadership and organizational development skills on the “executive board” for our chapter. I also quickly learned to work effectively with all types of people. This has helped me tons in Corporate America and beyond. Additionally, I have relied on alumni “bros” (men and women) for jobs, advice and, more recently, mentorship and referrals that have been pivotal in my role as Co-Founder at Trove.

Even if we’re half way around the world and have never met, my fraternity bros and I share a common fraternal experience. We also hold a similar professional value system that was instilled through AKPsi teachings and programming. This makes things like breaking the ice, finding a subject matter expert or mentor, cold calling, and asking for introductions much easier. Furthermore, it has the potential to reduce one’s “degrees of separation” from others, opening more doors. Business fraternity aside, social fraternity and sorority alumni credit their social and philanthropic activities for building their network, and they benefit from the same things I’ve described above.

Final thought, for those who worry about “paying for friends”. The “dues” you pay are typically budgeted to cover a HQ franchise fee, and a mix of social, philanthropic, and professional activities. Keggers, you ask? They’re often funded by members chipping in at the time of the party- and not taken from the common pot. 🙂 So the bulk of your money goes towards enrichment for yourself and your peers. Meanwhile, you’re with the group so much, you’re building everlasting friendships and a trusted network that will pay dividends for life.

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LevelUp and Loop Wallet: The Code Reader and the Dongle

LevelUp and Loop

This weekend, I installed two new apps on my phone: LevelUp and Loop Wallet. These join Square Wallet, Square Cash, PayPal, Google WalletVenmo, and PopMoney. My payment apps folder is getting as crowded as the competition! That said, I am excited to try these two offerings over the coming weeks!

  • LevelUp operates similar to Square and PayPal, in that merchants must be setup to accept your LevelUp payment. In LevelUp’s case, this means merchants use one of the company’s proprietary QR Code scanners, or mobile app, to read customers’ unique QR Codes. When a customer’s QR Code is scanned, their balance is settled with the merchant. Read more about LevelUp’s unique approach to settle payments!
  • Loop leverages unique technology to emulate the magnetic strip found on credit cards. Instead of carrying and swiping your cards, you load them into the mobile app, take them out of your wallet, and then use the Loop dongle ($39) to share credit card data with the point-of-sale terminal when paying! Loop also sells an iPhone case ($99) that doubles as the dongle plus a phone charger! The new case ships Q2, 2014. I’m going with the dongle since it’s cheaper, knowing that I’m also missing out on benefits provided by the case.

LevelUp and Loop

Earlier this week, ReadWrite posted a related article on mobile payments companies. The article used four prominent companies to explain difficulties in the mobile payments space. Here is the most poignant excerpt:

If I can use my Square or LevelUp wallet at one merchant but not another, I am less likely to use it at all. Technological ubiquity across the entire landscape just does not exist for these would-be disruptors of how you pay, and the key holders—Visa, MasterCard, American Express, et al—are not too keen on opening the door too widely for companies that could cut into their bottom line.

This issue plagues every contender in the mobile payments space, but each, thankfully, continues to make headway in the race to replace our wallets.

  • Loop aims to have smartphone makers integrate its technology into smartphones by 2015. Since it’s rumored to already work with 90% of merchants’ existing equipment, it should not run into the same obstacle as Google has with Wallet (lukewarm adoption partially due to equipment upgrade costs).
  • LevelUp has a great idea that benefits customers and potentially merchants, if it can overcome it’s troubles achieving scale!
  • Meanwhile, it’s rumored that Apple may enter the mobile payments arena with the release of iOS 8, and we know Google and others are competing just as fiercely for your loyalty.

If one of these contenders can find an angle that works for the masses, we may be very close to putting our credit cards away for good. That will be a good day!

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Posted in mobile, mobileapps, payments

Top banking needs for the #YOLO generation


Recently, I was asked about American university students’ top banking needs. Here are my thoughts on how we can get the #YOLO generation setup with the most essential financial tools. Feel free to add your Comments, below!

First, the fun stuff… Mobile apps!

Square Cash and PayPal are a couple must-have mobile offerings for students, friends, and family, especially since 65% of American households are now smartphone users. These mobile apps are both easy to use and widely distributed, meaning students can save trips to the bank and ATM, reducing risks of lost cash and cutting transportation costs. Parents take note: these may provide great ways for you to send critical funds when your kid’s in a jam!

  • Square Cash allows you to send cash to friends and family for free. It’s the easiest app to use for this purpose, and Square is one of the top innovators in the payments space. NYTimes recently covered Cash, here. Square’s other offering, Square Wallet, will compliment Cash. Where accepted, it allows you to pay merchants for food, goods and services.
  • PayPal powers most of the internet and has built itself the biggest, arguably most trusted, name in the payments industry. The mobile app allows you to send money to friends and family for free. Since most people have a PayPal account, adding the app takes little effort. Where accepted, the app also allows you to pay merchants for food, goods and services.
  • Another company to watch closely is Ribbon! <– My referrer URL. Ribbon is currently restricting signups, and I am not currently a user, but I’m excited to see how this company grows. Their angle: “No more excuses about not having the same app. Friends don’t need to sign up before they pay you with a debit or credit card. Simply share the URL for your Ribbon profile page with anyone…”
  • See my additional suggestions for sending and receiving money!

And now the more traditional stuff… Banking needs!

To power mobile offerings and ensure students can realize their #YOLO dreams, there are still a few needs to be met by banks and credit unions. Here are the critical tools that students should consider as they transition to financial independence:

  1. FREE, no-strings-attached checking account (no balance, direct deposit, or other requirements). Today’s financial tools for sending and receiving money rely on the ability to debit or credit a checking account. This also gives student an account to start building their nest egg.
  2. Debit/ATM card (typically included with checking). Access to cash remains important for splitting bills, repaying friends, and dropping a few bucks in the bucket at fundraisers. Late night studying at the library and off campus may also require dollar bills for vending machines and smaller coffee and snack vendors.
  3. Low-limit credit card. Travel makes having a credit card essential. Students rent cars and pay for hotels, and nobody knows better than a poor student how painful a $300 hold on one’s checking account can be (when paying with a debit card). Low-limit credit cards also provide a safe means for students to begin building their creditworthiness – which may or may not be interesting – to serve the old-world credit score that governs much of American finance.

Armed with the right tools, our starving students will be more financially informed and enabled. No more couch diving for loose change when it comes to paying for books, repaying friends, or making a late night Jack in the Box run!

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Record industry finds a new way to squeeze Pandora, but it won’t help musicians

The music industry has been fighting the momentum of the universe for as long as I can remember.

Pandora is a marvelous, reputable service that has long struggled to stay afloat- I hope that the music industry doesn’t tank it in this lawsuit.

Let’s hope CEO Tim Westergren remains resilient! Pandora depends on it!


Here we go again. The record labels have found yet another way to put their favorite scapegoat, the internet radio service Pandora(s p), through the legal wringer. Alas, once again, the new tactic will fatten lawyers but do little to support musicians or fix a dysfunctional copyright royalty system.

In case you missed it, Capitol Records and the gang sued Pandora in New York state court this week because the service is not paying to use sound recordings made prior to 1972. The record labels say Pandora’s failure to pay for iconic tracks like “Hey Jude” and “Satisfaction” stiffed the music industry out of $60 million in 2013 alone.

The lawsuit, which mirrors a similar one filed against Sirius-XM(s SIRI) last year, also came with the obligatory quotes from sympathetic figures like Buddy Holly’s widow, and Steve Cooper of Booker T. & the MG’s, who said:

“It’s an injustice that boggles the mind. 

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Cash is king in Thailand, credit cards co-exist in Singapore

The past 10 days have proven that cash is still the preferred payment method  in Bangkok and Singapore. Credit cards are also widely accepted in Singapore, whereas only more commercial merchants in Bangkok accept plastic. There have been no opportunities for mobile payments in either destination, even though Starbucks teased me with the mobile app scanners in-store! Sadly, it was not possible to use the app abroad.

So, for now, at home and in these parts of Southeast Asia, ca$h remains king!

Cash is King

Cash is King

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Wells Fargo SurePay billboard is attractive, effective

I recently blogged that ClearXchange, a payments venture between Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase, is in a good position to succeed in the mobile payments space, and deserves more press. With the right marketing (e.g., billboards, mobile advertisements, commercials), I believe Wells, B of A, and Chase are in a great position to become leaders in the P2P payments space. Without the proper marketing, they will crumble to the likes of Square, PayPal, and Venmo.

On one of my recent trips into San Francisco, I saw a Wells Fargo SurePay billboard providing some of the marketing I was hoping for. Kudos WFB.

Wells Fargo SurePay

Wells Fargo SurePay Billboard, marketing for the ClearXchange payment network.

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Posted in banking, mobile, mobileapps, payments

Wallet-less Weekend: woes outweigh wows!

Wallet-less weekend complete! I survived.

This weekend, I embarked on a 3.5 day wallet-less adventure to see if I could survive on mobile (iPhone) payment apps in place of cash and credit. My experiment was insightful and enjoyable! That said, the past few days in San Jose, San Francisco, and Napa, CA have proven that there is still plenty of work to be done before mobile payments are widely accepted. In the meantime, be sure to carry your ATM or credit card, or cash safely in your pocket!

Wallet-less weekend complete! I survived.

Wallet-less weekend complete! I survived.

Main issues I encountered during my wallet-less weekend:

  • Few merchants accept mobile payments. PayPal and Square both have location-aware features to help you locate accepting vendors, but your favorite restaurants will likely not take payment from your smartphone. Consistent with Steven Bertoni‘s “wallet-less day” adventure, the eating options I saw consisted of pizza and independent fast food shops, and I would’ve had to drive out of my way to eat somewhere higher quality. Furthermore, almost no other merchant types in the area are accepting PayPal or Square payments.

    PayPal App- Few merchants in my area accept PayPal.

    Few merchants in my area accept PayPal. Many of the merchants listed are “test” accounts, not actual stores!

  • Merchants lack incentive to adopt mobile payments. Mobile payments have not been around that long compared to cash and credit. Using new technology, possibly in addition to their legacy POS systems, confuses storeowners. One restauranteur I spoke to told me, “I might do it in the future, but not now because I’m too busy during rush hour. Credit card and cash work well for my process and 85% of customers love using their credit card.” Additionally, fees associated with mobile payments tend to be higher than those assessed by traditional merchant card vendors.

    Existing payment methods.

    Existing payment methods meet storeowners’ needs.

  • Credit cards have a unified processing system, whereas mobile payments operate in silos. One credit card terminal can read a multitude of different cards. In stark contrast, PayPal, Square, Google Wallet*, and other mobile payments providers may require merchants to run proprietary software, and potentially more than one suite, to allow for customers’ varying apps. This adds to the overhead and reduces adoption by merchants. *Google Wallet is also incorporated into some NFC POS terminals.

Some funny and aggravating excerpts from my weekend include:

  • Day 0 (Emeryville IKEA): My first obstacle was trying to buy dinner at the IKEA Cafe. When I asked the cashier if she accepted the PayPal App, Square Wallet, or another mobile payment option, her response was, “I don’t think we’re sophisticated enough for that yet.” If only she knew she was foreshadowing my entire weekend!
  • Day 1 (coffee shops): Twice on Day 1, I was able to buy my sanity using my phone. First, I started my day using the Starbucks app to pay for a croissant and coffee, and also leave my barista a $1 tip. Starbucks’ app is widely recognized as the most successful payments app in the market, and I use it frequently. Then, at the end of the day, I stopped into Philz Coffee to grab coffee for a late meeting. I was able to very easily pay using Square Wallet, and the next time I go I won’t even have to take my phone out of my pocket (because I toggled an option to auto-checkin via Square when I arrive). Brilliant! The only downside was Square doesn’t allow tipping, so my barista wasn’t as pampered.

    Starbucks App- The most successful mobile payments app.

    The Starbucks App is regarded as the most successful mobile payments app.

  • Day 2 (BUST): There was no escaping cash and credit. I even took the time to drive a bit further to have a tasty Greek lunch, in a restaurant identified by PayPal’s app. After I ordered and told the cashier I’d be paying with PayPal, he responded with, “We don’t have that. Only cash or credit.” A quick chat revealed even deeper confusion- the restaurant believes PayPal set them up without their permission. My gut tells me it’s reflective of the learning curve issue I mentioned earlier, not malice.
  • Day 3 (San Francisco): I used the Pay by Phone app to pay for my parking meter South of Market. I use Pay by Phone and Park Mobile frequently without issue, to fill parking meters in San Francisco and Oakland. Tonight, I paid for my parking, went to a meeting, and came out to a $74 parking ticket! Clearly, there was a breakdown in SFMTA’s process, and I’ll be disputing the charge.

    Erroneous Parking Citation

    Fed meter using Pay by Phone at 4:29pm, ticketed by DPT at 4:38pm!

Stay tuned for another wallet-less weekend this summer! I will be taking a different tact: testing the system through use, versus trying to survive my normal routine with only mobile payments. I’ll be going out of my way to leverage mobile payments, to see how my efforts are received by merchants!

In closing, here’s a play-by-play of the past weekend:

Day 1:

  • Croissant and coffee at Starbucks, plus a $1 tip for my barista, using the Starbucks App! Shake to Pay.
  • Bouchon bakery only accepted cash or card, so pulled out my AMEX and indulged.
  • ottega lunch paid by friend, in exchange for a future lunch date.
  • Philz’ Philtered Soul and Mint Mojito coffees to go, paid for using Square Wallet! No tips allowed, my cheery barista will be forever poor.
  • After parking in the SF Mission Garage, borrowed money to pay at exit. Even my AMEX couldn’t save me.
  • Took AMEX out of wallet, grabbed a more reliable, boring card (Visa).

Day 2:

  • Safeway trip in the morning before hiking Mission Peak. Paid with credit card.
  • Lunchtime trip to local restaurant listed in PayPal app, paid with debit card after merchant said PayPal set him up without his permission, and PayPal wasn’t a payment option!
  • Empress of China birthday dinner, paid friend back using PayPal App.
  • ATM trip to pull out cash for remainder of evening.

Day 3:

  • Breakfast. McDonald’s would have accepted Google Wallet but shunned my silly iPhone, McGriddle Breakfast be damned.
  • Lunch at Subway, paid by card.
  • Finished up my weekend with a business meeting at Epicenter Cafe in San Francisco. THANKFULLY, paying with PayPal worked perfectly. And to my surprise, my first coffee at Epicenter was on the house after a $5 perk!

    PayPal App

    Paying with PayPal worked, and I even got a $5 perk for using it, making for the best transaction of the weekend!

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