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March 25, 2015

Google's Pony Express May Bring Bill Payment to Gmail

No one enjoys paying bills, but we must, lest we lose the services we need and enjoy every day. There have been some advances geared toward making such payments easier to make, and therefore easier to stomach. New reports suggest that Google may be working on one such project in the form of a bill payment service from a Gmail interface.

The project is currently being called “Pony Express”, and would require users to do something that users likely don't want to do: provide some deeply personal information—credit card and Social Security numbers for a start—and allow a third-party company to verify the user's identity. But once it's done, Google would then deal with vendors that distribute bills for companies like telecom carriers, utilities and even insurance companies. No one's quite sure if Pony Express will prove to be the final name for the service or if Google will change it ahead of launch—Google itself declined comment, according to reports—but current word suggests it will be available before the ball drops into 2016.

Some might wonder what Google's stake in all this is; while it's commonly valuable to offer new services to users so as to keep them from heading off in other directions, there's also a clear benefit for Google here: data. If Google's handling bill payment services, it can learn what's already being paid for on a monthly basis and tailor advertising accordingly. If Google knows that someone's paying a DirecTV bill, for example, it can offer up advertising for both DirecTV to help keep that user in the fold and also to Dish Network to attempt to break away some of that business.

Such a service would also help drive things like Google's car insurance shopping service previously introduced in California. Though Google would have several competitors here—companies like BillGrid, Intuit and Invoicera already offer both e-billing and invoicing tools—Google's service likely would have the advantage of a huge user base ready to go and significant name recognition over its competitors. Considering that Google already has some payment infrastructure in place like Google Wallet and the recent purchase of Paydiant, it could be working in such a direction fairly easily.

There's certainly value in both directions for such a service, particularly if Google can make the process of bill payment a little simpler, and ask nothing in exchange but access to data. It's likely to give some customers the creeps—giving Google access to more data isn't top-of-mind for many users, and likely puts a few in mind of Skynet, the rogue computer system from the “Terminator” franchise that almost killed every human on Earth—but there will probably be many customers for whom the convenience of a bill payment apparatus from Gmail will be too welcome to pass up. For customers such as these, it will be a win-win scenario, and will likely join in.

Only time will tell what form Pony Express finally takes, if it retains its name, or what kind of penetration rate it has in the market, but it's a pretty safe bet that Google may ultimately have something worth considering: a simple, easy-to-use system to do something we must every month anyway from something we already use.




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino




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