Five years ago, Square introduced a sleek card reader to the small-business world that made it easy for everyone from taxi drivers to craft sellers to coffee shop owners to accept credit card payments for the first time. On Monday, Square is unveiling another card processing service that it believes will allow even more entrepreneurs, artists and business owners to ditch cash and check payments for card payments.
The new service is an extension of the Square Cash payment system that Square launched in 2013. That service lets individuals transfer money to another person via email or the Square Cash app through a link to a debit card. Now, small businesses, artists and nonprofits can start receiving debit payments via the Square Cash payment system, too, as Square attempts to increase the volume of payments it processes, which makes up the vast majority of its revenue.
Here’s how it’ll work. Starting Monday, any individual, business or nonprofit can create a Square Cash username — or $cashtag, in Square parlance — that consists of a dollar sign followed by a name, such as $DelRey. With that username, a person or business can automatically set up a simple payment page at https://cash.me. Mine, for example, is cash.me/$DelRey. Businesses
When visitors land on that page, they are greeted with a big box to enter a dollar amount for a payment. Next, they enter a debit card number, expiration date, the CVV code on the back of the card, and ZIP code. If they haven’t previously signed up for Square Cash, they’ll also enter their name and phone number or email address to activate a new account and receive an email receipt of their transaction. Payment complete. (If you really want to try it out, my cash.me page above is indeed live. The good folks at Re/code do pay me, but there’s nothing like a little monetary tip from loyal readers to boost your self esteem on a Monday morning. Plus — and this may be TMI — I really could use a new suit for the Code conference since the only one I own has recently become a little snug in all the wrong places.)
The idea is that small-business service providers such as contractors, wedding photographers or musical instructors could have customers pay quickly at their Cash.me page instead of relying on cash or check payments. In a best-case scenario for Square, one could imagine plenty of other use cases with artists or designers including their cash.me link on their Pinterest boards or Instagram accounts.
Square believes nonprofits will be attracted to the service’s simplicity, too, marketing the link to followers on social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook for fundraising purposes. Wikipedia and Red, the nonprofit working to fight AIDS, have launched Cash.me pages to accept donations.
Square is charging businesses and nonprofits 1.5 percent per transaction for Square Cash payments, well below the typical 2.75 percent that Square charges businesses to process credit card and debit card transactions through its traditional payment service. Square is able to offer the lower fee because debit card payments are typically cheaper to process than credit card payments. Square hopes the fee will be low enough to convince lots of business owners who typically only accepted cash or checks because credit card fees were too high, to start accepting some card payments. (Square is trusting that businesses and nonprofits will sign up for a Cash Pro account, which includes the processing fee, rather than going around the system and conducting business through a regular consumer account, which is free. A spokesperson said the company is confident that it can identify when someone is using a regular account regularly for commercial purposes.)
The move helps explain why Square launched what was initially a free consumer product in Square Cash in the first place. Square now has a built-in base of Square Cash users with linked debit card accounts for business owners and nonprofits to market to. Square Cash also now has some differentiation from its competitors since businesses can get paid through Cash without downloading an app (though customers and donors can also search for, and pay, businesses and nonprofits through the app).
Venmo, a Square Cash competitor owned by PayPal, has become wildly popular on college campuses and among 20-something professionals; but anyone who wants to pay someone through Venmo has to download the app. Venmo is much larger than Square Cash, however. Its payment volume came in a tad above $900 million in the fourth quarter, or $3.6 billion on an annualized basis. Square said on Monday that Square Cash’s annualized volume run rate is $1 billion. Facebook, too, will soon introduce its own payments service, through the Facebook Messenger app. The company hasn’t said when or if entrepreneurs, business owners or nonprofits will be able to accept payments through the service.
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