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Venmo’ Money: Another Front Opens in the Data Wars

When I see stories about continuing data spats between banks, fintechs and other players in the payments ecosystem, I tend to muse about how the more things change the more they stay the same. And so it is with this story about a bank, PNC, shutting off the flow of customer financial data to a fintech, in this case, the Millennial’s best friend, Venmo. And JP Morgan Chase recently made an announcement dealing with similar issues.

Venmo has to use PNC’s customer’s data in order to allow (for example) Squi to use it to pay P.J. for his share of the brews.  Venmo needs that financial data in order for its system to work.  But Venmo isn’t the only one with a mobile payments solution; the banks have their own competing platform called Zelle.  If you bank with one of the major banks, chances are good that Zelle is already baked into your mobile banking app.  And unlike Venmo, Zelle doesn’t need anyone’s permission but that of its customers to use those data.

You can probably guess the rest.  PNC recently invoked security concerns to largely shut off the data faucet and “poof”, Venmo promptly went dark for PNC customers.  To its aggrieved erstwhile Venmo-loving customers, PNC offered a solution: Zelle.  PNC subtly hinted that its security enhancements were too much for Venmo to handle, the subtext being that PNC customers might be safer using Zelle.

Access to customer data has been up until now a formidable barrier to entry for fintechs and others whose efforts to make the customer payment experience “frictionless” have depended in large measure on others being willing to do the heavy lifting for them.  The author of Venmo article suggests that pressure from customers may force banks to yield any strategic advantage that control of customer data may give them.  So far, however, consumer adoption of mobile payments is still miniscule in the grand scheme of things, so that pressure may not be felt for a very long time, if ever.

In the European Union, the regulators have implemented PSD2 which forces a more open playing field for banking customers. But realistically, it can’t be surprising that the major financial institutions don’t want to open up their customer bases to competitors and get nothing in return – except a potential stampede of customers moving their money. And some of these fintech apps haven’t jumped through the numerous hoops required to be a bank holding company or federally insured – meaning unwitting consumers may have less fraud protection when they move their precious money to a cool-looking fintech app.

A recent study by the Pew Trusts make it clear that consumers are still not fully embracing mobile for any number of reasons.  The prime reason is that current mobile payment options still rely on the same payments ecosystem as credit and debit cards yet mobile payments don’t offer as much consumer protection. As long as that is the case, banks and fintechs and merchants will continue to fight over data and the regulators are likely to weigh in at some point.

It is not unlike the early mobile phone issue when one couldn’t change mobile phone providers without getting a new phone number – that handcuff kept customers with a provider for years but has since gone by the wayside. It is likely we will see some sort of similar solution with banking details.

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About this Author

Philip Gura, Womble Dickinson Law Firm, Atlanta, Cybersecurity Law Attorney
Of Counsel

Phil Gura has more than 30 years of experience helping companies manage privacy, data security, governance and regulatory compliance challenges. For the past 15 years, he has served as the Chief Legal Officer of major corporations, including Merchant Customer Exchange LLC (MCX), RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. and LaRoche Industries, Inc. His in-house experience includes managing and directing corporate governance, regulatory/compliance, privacy/ data security and intellectual property efforts.

Phil most recently served as Chief Legal Officer of Sionic...

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