Is the Google shortcut worth the risks?

Google’s initiative to offer checking accounts is, from what I hear, called Project Cache… or is it Cash?  Pretty bold.

There is, as we all know, a race among financial institutions toward “digital transformation.”  That is, to offer customers an online banking service that can earn new customers and keep existing.

It’s a race that requires patience, hard work and of course, a pretty significant investment of time and money.

But, there’s a short cut out there and some banks, instead of doing the work themselves, are taking it.  And that’s a partnership with Google.

It’s no secret that Google has a checkered past. Google has been before Congress more than once and more than once has been allusive on matters such as privacy and data sharing.  It seems to me that I’m pretty regularly reading articles about Google where the company “did not respond to a request for comment,” or “did not respond to lawmaker’s requests.”  Most recently, that reluctance to be transparent about the company’s policies and practices was chronicled in an American Banker article, “Google Checking Accounts: Why Banks Want In.”  The article was riddled with phrases such as “neither side was forthcoming,” “yet to be disclosed and discussed,” “declined to share any specifics,” and “no one will answer this today. Google declined a request for an interview on Monday.” 

Now, I get that sometimes these deals are still “evolving” as one interviewed individual put it, but vague statements like these seem to be an essential component of Google’s brand personality. Which brings us to what would make the most sense in a Google partnership:  Brand cache.  In the aforementioned article, Emmett Higdon, director of digital banking at Javelin Strategy & Research, puts it this way: “Banks are most likely looking for what some experts call an innovation halo effect.”  And, I believe he’s right.

Granted, Google has a tremendous brand. And, while surveys have indicated, supposedly, that Google and Amazon users would jump at the chance of signing up for banking services offered by either of these giant tech companies, I do wonder…

Is that really the reality?

 What might some of those survey questions have looked like?

1) If Google offered checking account services, would you be interested? 

Most people would probably say, “yes, absolutely.  Google’s a great company. I love my gmail!” 

What about a question phrased this way?

1) Would you like your banking information to be handled by the same company that worked with the Chinese government on a censored search engine,  refuses to answer questions from the US Congress, and can share your personal data with any third party without getting your permission?

The answer might have been quite different.

My point is this. There are no shortcuts in life. Trying to take a shortcut to digital transformation through co-opting Google’s brand halo is, I believe, a risk not worth taking.  Banks need to do the hard work and do it themselves, instead of taking shortcuts that, frankly, if the partnership goes south for some reason, can completely destroy their brand and their business.

But, I guess that’s a risk that some banks seem willing to take.

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