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Barclays Twitter payments - revolution or evolution?

As of 10 March, users of Barclays’ mobile payment app Pingit can make payments using just the Twitter handle of the payee.

The Pingit app, which was launched in 2012 and has since been downloaded 3.7 million times, allows users both to send and receive payments using the eleven digits of the users’ mobile phone numbers. The latest step, permitting payments using just Twitter handles, simplifies the process one step further but stops short of allowing payments to be made using Twitter itself.

How does it work?

To send money via Pingit using a Twitter handle, payers and payees need to be signed up for both the Pingit app and Twitter. They do not, however, need to be Barclays customers. To use the Pingit app, users need to have both a UK current account and a UK mobile phone number. Once the user has registered for the Pingit account, activated the account and linked the account with a UK mobile, the user can make and receive payments using just the mobile number. Extra security checks are in place to verify non-Barclays customers.

Payments via Twitter are the latest in an array of customer-friendly additions to the Pingit app. Pingit already allows users to personalise payments with photos and messages, to buy and send gift cards through the app, or to scan QR codes (quick response barcodes) for faster payment. Payments to businesses are made simpler by allowing users to select the business they want to pay from a business directory. Twitter is the newest extra making Pingit simpler and more attractive to customers.

So, what's new?

Using Twitter handles will not affect the fundamentals of how Pingit users send money. Payers will still need to log in to Pingit, enter the payee’s information, and then complete payment. The difference introduced by the use of Twitter is that the user can simply select or input the payee’s Twitter handle, rather than mobile phone number or bank account information. To receive payment to a Twitter handle, a user needs to link his handle to his Pingit profile within the app setting. The payment process is completed within the Pingit app.

As the transaction is still completed within the app, selecting a payee from a contact list by Twitter handle does not differ significantly from selecting a payee by mobile number. From an ease of use perspective, however, users may find it simpler to select a Twitter handle than a mobile number, as this may be easier to remember and input than a phone number. This may well increase customer confidence and entice more of the UK’s 13.5 million Twitter users to use Pingit.

Does it create new legal issues?

From the perspective of the legal underpinnings of the mobile payment system, allowing Pingit users to transfer funds using a Twitter handle is a variation of an existing innovation and does not create significant new issues. Pingit already allows payment using a mobile phone number only, using the underlying Paym system. In the Paym system, users register mobile numbers with their bank, linking their mobile numbers to their accounts. This allows funds to be transferred using only the mobile number.

Within Pingit, users need not supply bank details at either end of the transaction, whether paying or receiving. The introduction of Twitter makes payments even simpler, allowing users to transfer funds to a Twitter handle instead of a mobile number or bank account. Security is maintained by keeping payment within the Pingit app.

The use of Twitter handles does, however, raise potential issues with data protection and privacy. It is still unclear at this point what, if any, information will be gleaned by Barclays or Twitter, or who will control this information.

Is it ground-breaking?

Barclays isn’t the first to link up with Twitter and its Pingit add-on does not go as far as other mobile payments apps, such as the service introduced last fall by French bank BPCE. This BPCE service allows Twitter users to initiate a payment with a simple Tweet. French Twitter users with French bank accounts can link their accounts to S-Money, a BPCE app similar to Pingit. Using the hashtag #envoyer, payers tweet money by tagging the name of the payee. After the tweet, the payer is directed to an app that allows him to finalise payment. The payment, however, will be visible on Twitter.

Barclays’ version is a twist on the existing Pingit app rather than being a ground-breaking innovation in itself.

Conclusion

Just how much value payment by Twitter handle will add to Pingit remains to be seen. Twitter counts 13.5 million users in the UK, who could be potential Pingit customers. It is a more user-friendly option than relying on mobile numbers and is clearly part of the wider trend toward linking social media and payments, such as Facebook’s mobile payments. What the long-term implications of this particular partnership are, and how and when others will introduce their own versions, remains to be seen.

To discuss any of the matters raised above please contact Lucy Frew or Sophie van Wingerden.

This article first appeared in E-Finance & Payments Law & Policy, March 2015 edition.