Remember when Google was going to turn your smartphone into your wallet? That ended up being a bit of a failure, even as the “mobile payments” fad has slowly faded in favor of other ridiculous ideas. So Google is probably not happy that T-Mobile is introducing Mobile Money, a smartphone app and debit card combination that is likely to pull off what Google couldn’t.
This is yet another one of T-Mobile’s attempts to modernize carriers, along with dumping roaming fees, contracts and subsidies, and two-year lock-in plans. The idea is that T-Mobile becomes your bank, according to the company itself:
Mobile Money lets customers do most everything they would otherwise do with traditional checking accounts, including direct depositing paychecks, depositing checks from capable smartphone cameras, making retail purchases, paying bills and withdrawing cash from more than 42,000 in-network ATMs nationwide with no ATM fees[ii]. Mobile Money can also be a powerful tool for families seeking a better way to budget or to provide money to kids away at college. Consumers get all of this plus the ease of managing money any time and from virtually anywhere.
True, this is aimed more at teenagers and the unbanked than anyone else, and the prepaid debit card industry in particular probably isn’t having a great day. But why will this work where so many others failed?
For one thing, Google never marketed its Wallet service at, well, the people who would most need something like Google Wallet in the first place. Secondly, T-Mobile already has a cash relationship with its customers. If they’re coming in to top up their minutes every month, it’s equally simple to deposit a paycheck there.
Finally, if you use prepaid debit cards, it’s really just a good deal. Essentially, you can only get the feeless version of the card if you sign up for T-Mobile, but that’s a lot better than pretty much the rest of the industry. The prepaid debit card industry is built on essentially nickel-and-diming their customers, and the check cashing industry is so bad, Walmart’s entry into it was actually seen as a step up for the industry’s image.
It’s another odd and interesting move from T-Mobile, and it’s definitely a declaration of intent. The question now is whether or not it’ll work.