Google’s grand plan to launch Google Bank Accounts is dead. As part of its big relaunch this past year, the Google Pay division promised to launch “Plex,” a digital banking service from Google. After a disastrous year for Google Pay that included a botched app revamp and an employee exodus from the division, though, a report from the Wall Street Journal now says Google’s bank account plans are dead.
Plex was officially announced almost two years ago and heavily promoted on the Google Pay website and app, complete with a waitlist users could sign up for. The service would have been a “mobile first” banking app with physical cards, less fees, and lots of spending visualizations. I want to say something like, “I can’t imagine anyone wanting a Google Bank Account” given the privacy concerns and how unstable new Google products can be, but the Wall Street Journal reports that there were 400,000 people on the waitlist.
Google was partnering with Citigroup, Stanford Federal Credit Union, and a few other banks for the service, and not all of them were apparently in on the plan to cancel Plex. The Wall Street Journal report closes with a rather sad paragraph:
As late as this week, several banks were under the impression that the project would still move forward. On Monday, BM Technologies Inc. said its Plex accounts would arrive in late 2021 or 2022. “Google and BMTX are excited about this opportunity and are committed to this partnership,” the banking platform said in an email at the time.
The reason for the cancellation seems to all be about the Google Pay upheaval we learned about earlier in the year. In August, Business Insider reported that “dozens of employees and executives have left” the Google Payments team in recent months, including “at least seven leaders on the team with roles of director or vice president.”
In March of this year, Google Pay launched a disastrous revamp Google shut down the perfectly good, mature service that had been around since the days of Google Wallet, and the company replaced it with a brand new codebase that was originally developed in India. The India-centric Google Pay (which was promoted to be the new, worldwide Google Pay) was modeled after WhatsApp and used your phone number as your identity. Requiring a SIM card for identity meant that the Google Pay website functionality had to be shut down, multiple accounts were no longer supported, and users had to re-build their contact lists to send money.
This all happened in March with the forced shut down of the old Google Pay app in the US, and what’s incredible about this is that Google’s VP of Payments, Caesar Sengupta, left the company in April, just one month later. Sengupta blew up the Google payment system and left before the transition was complete—he left without ever bringing the new Google Pay up to the standards of the old app. Today, the revamped Google Pay is still worse than the old app, and Google Pay is still fragmented internationally. Some countries remain on the new Google Pay app; some remain on the old Google Pay app.
Sengupta’s departure reportedly kicked off the exodus that included “dozens” of employees. The BI report includes a quote from an anonymous ex-employee that claims Google Pay “wasn’t growing at the rate we wanted it to” and people were growing frustrated. One employee told Business Insider that “Plex was entirely [Vice President] Felix [Lin] and Caesar [Sengupta’s] brainchild,” both executives no longer work at Google, and with Plex’s biggest boosters gone, it’s no surprise the project is dead.
Google Pay is currently in an awful limbo state, and it’s not clear what the service’s future is. Plex was supposed to be a major feature of the new Google Pay. But with it dead and the architects of this entire revamp no longer at Google, the division feels like a rudderless mess.
Any mention of Plex was removed from the Google Pay website on Friday. Google sent over the following statement.
Our work with our partners has made it extremely clear that there’s consumer demand for simple, seamless and secure digital payments for online and in-store transactions. We’re updating our approach to focus primarily on delivering digital enablement for banks and other financial services providers rather than us serving as the provider of these services.
We strongly believe that this is the best way for Google to help consumers gain better access to financial services and to help the financial services ecosystem connect more deeply with their customers in a digital environment.