Tim Green finds out exactly how users spend £71 via Pingit each month, and how Barclays plans to make the app work for retailers and brands.
The first thing Darren Foulds, director of Barclays Mobile and Pingit, did when I went to talk to him about Barclays Pingit was buy me a delicious fruit juice.
You can guess how he paid for it, can't you?
He simply scanned a barcode on the vendor's iPad from his Pingit app and the sale was completed.
Now, this all took place not on the high street but at Barclays' expectedly hip office on the 22nd floor. And the shopkeeper was 'in' on the project to extend the hugely popular mobile banking app into the retail space.
So, yes, it wasn't 'real'. It was an experiment.
But, still, this glimpse into one possible retail Pingit scenario was pretty much why I arranged the interview.
To remind you, Pingit launched in February 2012 and lets users send and receive cash to anyone with a UK current account, without having to share bank details. You just send cash to a phone number.
To date there have been 1.65m downloads and people are genuinely using the app to pay babysitters, settle dinner bills etc.
It was always possible that Pingit could extend into retail, and few were surpassed when Barclays revealed Buyit, a scheme to turn phone numbers into QR codes.
I asked Foulds all of this and more...
What's the story of the conception of Pingit?
To be honest, two years ago we were behind the curve in mobile. There was just a dotmobi site. We didn't even even a native app. So we started with the objective 'how can we make payments as simple as texting?'
In 90 days we'd made the first payment internally. It was a different way of working for Barclays. We were acting like a start-up, but we didn't do it by hiring in a bunch of digital specialists. Everyone on the team had been working for Barclays for years.
You launched Pingit in February 2012. How has the service evolved since then?
We change it constantly. For example, at launch we made Pingit for 18s and over only. But we were able to track from social media that we had a lot of disgruntled 16 to 17 year olds, so we changed it in two weeks. Since launch we've had 11 releases and extended the proposition from person-to-person to person-to-business to business-to-business.
In the last few weeks, we've enabled picture payments. We know that payments generally relate to experiences, so we let people attach a picture that relates to that experience. If you think about the reverse journey, businesses can now send pics back for payments received or requested.
It's good to get feedback, which is why we built in the option to make suggestions.
How many have you had?
36,000 in two months.
Well, you can split the bill from Pingit. You set an amount, select the contacts and it divides the payment accordingly. That was a user suggestion.
How are people using Pingit? What amounts are they moving?
The average is £71, which hasn't changed much from day one. The amounts aren't going up but number of transactions are. Payment volumes double on a friday and at the end of the month.
The biggest uses are tickets, events, gifting, splitting bills – meals, shopping, petrol – and paying rent. We see the messages, which are anonymised of course, and that helps us improve the service.
Basically, people use Pingit continually after they have used it for the first time. So the challenge is getting them to use it once.
Has Pingit helped you gain customers?
Well, 14 per cent of users are new to Barclays and 20 per cent of corporates we're now talking to have not had a relationship with the group before.
Have you had any security breaches?
None. Our priorities are security and customer experience. It has to be: if we have a security problem, the proposition is dead. We even have a guy looking at security who used to be a hacker and has to tell the FBI where is at all times.
What complaints do you get about the service?
Probably most are from users with rooted Android phones. Some people who root their phones know what they're doing, but others don't and they introduce vulnerabilities we're not prepared to accept.
What do you make of the other services, from Visa for example, that resemble Pingit?
There's always going to be a few big players. It's a race to scale, really. The Visa proposition is nowhere near as compelling as Pingit. It takes two or three days to receive a payment, whereas ours is instant, for example.
What about the UK Payments Council's plan to launch a national database of Pingit-style numbers?
We're fully supportive. It will open up the payments landscape, so whoever has the best service will stay ahead of the game, and I think we have the best service.
How do you feel about Zapp – Vocalink's project to create a network of retailers that can connect to payment apps?
Zapp's objective is to provide APIs for banks to plug into. They're trying to build a network of merchants and billers, but if they can't get scale, the proposition fails. Can they build the network, that's the question.
I don't think at this stage we have any intention (of joining). We have our own 12 month roadmap of features we're building out.
OK, that brings us to what you've codenamed 'Buyit'. Can you summarise it?
We thought about where Pingit could extend and we did see the opportunity to turn it into a purchasing experience. With Buyit, the payment parameters are buried in a QR code, which the user scans to complete payment.
We're initially working with print ads, but the feedback has been that this would be good for repeat orders. So you put the code on packaging to make re-ordering really easy.
We're aiming to launch in September. We're pitching it at bigger brands. We haven't really pitched it at merchants yet.
What's the business model?
Pingit will remain free for customer to customer payments. For large corporates, there's a transaction charge. For small businesses, fees could be built into existing tariffs. But we see lots of new ways that Pingit can save companies money.
Take a utility company, it has a reconciliation team that matches payments to accounts. But if they can't, they have to write a letter to the bank. With Pingit they can put QR codes on the bill and if the customer pays this way, they guarantee reconciliation. This could save a lot of cost.
There's been talk lately of the idea of turning 'regular' banking apps into shopping apps. Where do you stand on that?
It's a valid question. And lots of banks are looking at it. But we don't to confuse people by saying you can go into your banking app and shop at Asda. I don't think it's what people want. It's why we have a separate app strategy – so Pingit can operate in places where our banking apps can't.