This Week In Payments News: A Big Surprise From Square

This week's payments roundup comes from Payments Insider, the daily briefing delivered first thing every morning exclusively to BI Intelligence members.

SQUARE REPORTEDLY TAKING 34% MARGIN ON PROCESSING: Citing leaked emails and internal documents, Fortune writer Miguel Helft published a detailed snapshot of Square's business health - the deepest look we've seen to date. The article appears to confirm prior reports of cash losses at Square. But Helft's article also reveals robust revenue and margins. That suggests the losses aren't driven by operating expenses, but are the result of its investments in a flurry of new products. Here are the key figures, which a Square spokesperson declined to speak with us on the record about:

  • Square's gross margin on transactions, or the margin left over after Square pays other parties involved in credit card transactions their share of fees, is 34%. In other words, in a a $100 transaction, Square would collect $2.75 in revenue, but pay out $1.82 in fees and keep 94 cents for itself.
  • The company is processing about $30 billion in transactions annually.
  • That would put its annualized gross profit at about $300 million.
  • Excluding transactions at Starbucks, which cut a deal to make Square the register system in 7,000 locations, Square's overall 2013 loss was about $100 million.
  • The Starbucks deal cost Square an additional $25 million in losses last year.
  • Square had about $155 million left on its balance sheet at the end of 2013
Fortune also reports that Square's recently secured revolving credit line totals $225 million, and cites internal projections that put the company on track for profitability in about a year. Square provides hardware and software that helps small businesses accept credit and debit cards on smartphones and tablets.
SQUARE SHIFTS FOCUS AWAY FROM PAYMENTS: In a surprise move, Square pulled its Square Wallet app from Apple and Google's app stores. Wallet was Square's consumer-facing mobile payments service. It allowed users to make payments at Square merchants simply by checking in through the app, walking up to the register and saying their name (merchants were able to see a photo of the user and their account information on their displays). In place of Wallet, which Square says it will continue to support for existing users, comes Square Order, an app built around ordering ahead from restaurants and cafes. "This new offering is a customer experience that goes above and beyond payments and processing payments," Square spokesperson Semonti Stephens tells us.

That's a dramatic shift in Square's consumer-facing strategy. Square will take an 8% cut of transactions made through the new app, compared to its usual 2.75% rate for merchant payment processing (Square's main products remain its attachable card readers and software that turn merchant smartphones and tablets into registers). The steep fee for Square Order transactions reflects the new app's aim to become a customer referral engine: it will steer new customers to small businesses with in-app advertising, rewards programs, and discounts. "It's turning customers into regulars for businesses," says Square's Semonti. Competitor ordering app Grubhub Seamless charges 10 to 14% , but PayPal, which has offered advance ordering for over a year, does not charge merchants higher fees.

PAYPAL NOW ACCEPTED FOR GOOGLE PLAY PAYMENTS: In a surprise announcement, Google Play, the Android app store, said it would begin accepting payment for app purchases via PayPal, a competitor to the company's own Google Wallet. The new payment option will appear alongside carrier billing, which Google says remains a popular payment method in many countries. Several PayPal insiders have told us that the company collaborated with Google Wallet on the development of host-card emulation (HCE), a protocol that allows wallet apps to bypass carrier-controlled hardware to power near-field communication transactions. The Paypal-Google collaboration is an example of tech rivals teaming up to curtail the influence of carriers over mobile payments.

iBEACON AND PAYPAL BEACON IN USE BY MERCHANTS: The PayPal Beacon was featured in a 90-second video from Bloomberg. The beacon is being tested in the U.S. and Australia with a handful of merchants, including Chantal Guillon, a Palo Alto, California macaroon shop. PayPal Chief Product Officer Hill Ferguson told Bloomberg that the beacon allows for automatic payment authorization - merchants can validate customers' identity by photos that populate the point-of-sale.

And iBeacon? BI Intelligence has obtained a list of the New York locations where Walgreens is piloting Apple's iBeacon technology. The nation's largest drug retailer is testing Apple-powered beacons in ten New York locations of subsidiary pharmacy chain Duane Reade. (Click here for our list of the exact addresses.) If you visit a store and try it out, let us know what the experience is like. In Australia, St. George Bank is also testing out iBeacon in three Sydney locations.

ISIS MOBILE WALLET CLAIMS 600,000 MONTHLY ACTIVATIONS: Isis, the mobile wallet backed by a consortium of U.S. carriers, has averaged 20,000 activations daily over the past 30 days, according to a blog post by Isis CEO Michael Abbott. Isis comes preloaded on 14 smartphones from the three carriers backing it - AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. ( It was unclear how many of the recent activations were of preloaded wallets.) The carriers launched Isis in November 2013, in a bid to leverage their clout as smartphone distributors to win the mobile wallet race. The app relies on near-field communications or NFC, a technology that allows consumers to tap or wave their phones at compatible terminals to make a payment. The consortium was dealt a blow in recent months though with the spread of host-card emulation or HCE, a protocol that allows other wallet apps to bypass carrier-controlled hardware and power their own NFC transactions.

LOOP EXPANDS TO ANDROID: LoopPay, the mobile wallet that transmits payment data to magnetic stripe payment card readers, will today announce an Android version of its payment app, which launched on iOS in February. "This is just another step, and we're taking many steps toward getting more Loop-ready solutions out there," LoopPay CEO Will Graylin tells us. Currently available as a $39 key fob that pairs with the app, Loop uses a magnetic coil to transmit payment card data. Users simply hold up the fob to a merchant's card reader in order to pay. Soon, a LoopPay iPhone 5/5s charge case will be available, and the company is hoping to convince manufacturers to build Loop's transmitter into handsets. Still in its early stages, the company numbers its users in the thousands - but Graylin stresses LoopPay's advantage in that virtually all merchants are already equipped to accept LoopPay-powered transactions.

RICHARD BRANSON BETS ON BITCOIN WITH BITPAY FUNDING ROUND: In the largest funding round announced to date for a Bitcoin startup, BitPay received $30 million in financing. The round was led by Index Ventures, but included Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Group, according to the announcement. Atlanta-based BitPay is a processing service for Bitcoin, allowing merchants to accept the digital currency. Among the company's clients is Branson's commercial space travel company, Virgin Galactic.

MESSENGER APP KIK DEBUTS VIRTUAL CURRENCY: Kik Messenger, the mobile instant messaging app with 140 million registered users, has quietly debuted a virtual currency system called "Kik Points," Next Web reports . Kik Points is now in a developer test-drive mode , but it awards points to users for completing certain tasks. Currently, the points are only redeemable for a set of virtual stickers called Hipster Animals.

SETTLEMENT IN U.S. PAYMENT-PROCESSOR DRAGNET: Late last month, a U.S. judge in North Carolina approved a $1.2 million settlement that could serve as a template for other banks and payment processors targeted in Operation Chokepoint. The U.S. Department Of Justice claims that Four Oaks bank reaped $850,000 in fees by allowing an unnamed third-party payment processor in Texas to originate $2.4 billion in debit transactions, ignoring signs that the transactions were fraudulent - allegations that Four Oaks has disputed, and did not admit to as part of the settlement. The federal dragnet, first disclosed in March of 2013, has targeted over 50 banks and payment processors with subpoenas in similar cases, American Banker reports. Electronic Transaction Association CEO Jason Oxman has written that Chokepoint, which was initially targeted at limiting payday lenders' access to the financial system, is "burdensome and costly" for law-abiding businesses.

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