Finance apps are a dime a dozen these days. You can download apps to buy groceries, pay your friends for dinner, check your savings account—the list is seemingly endless.
And that’s part of the problem, according to Google. The search giant’s relaunched payment app, Google Pay, aims to bring all of those functions under one roof. Its streamlined interface and intuitive usability make it the winner of this year’s Innovation by Design Award in finance.
The first iteration of Google Pay (originally called Android Pay) launched in 2015 and functioned largely as a form of contactless payment (think Google’s version of Apple Pay). But as the years progressed and the team conducted user research, “the big insight was people were starting to have multiple finance apps on their phone doing very different things,” says Josh Woodward, director of product management at Google. “People really wanted a simpler way to think about their money.”
Woodward says three things kept coming up: People wanted an easy way to pay for purchases (essentially what the app was already doing); they wanted to know about deals at the stores where they shopped; and they wanted help “staying on top of their money—what’s going in and out.” There are certainly financial apps and services with similar offerings (think Venmo or Chase Pay for peer-to-peer payments, Honey or Rakuten for finding deals, or your bank or investment broker for analyzing your spending and investments). But Google’s proposition was to offer all of these services in one place.
The relaunched G Pay app was built around these three core functionalities, but it’s the latter two that users “disproportionately love,” Woodward says. (The team says it’s constantly gathering user feedback through focus groups, the app itself, and anonymized data on what features people gravitate toward within the app.) Users can scroll through myriad offers on the app that present themselves in a couple different ways. First, Google Pay works with companies like Rakuten to offer deals that are linked to a particular card; once users activate that offer with the app, the deals are applied whether people use the Google Pay app or the card itself. G Pay also works with individual stores like Costco, Target, or Poshmark to offer app-exclusive deals to users. “The feeling people have when they get a great discount, they find G Pay as a trusted place to get good deals that are easy to redeem,” Woodward says. This also translates to repeat customers: Woodward says retention triples once people use their first offer. These offers are all opt-in; the app asks users if they want to receive them rather than showing them by default.
The other area that was a bit of a breakthrough is the insights section, which offers users weekly “stories” about users’ finances—how they’re spending their money, what bills are coming up, what bank fees they were charged, and so on. This is where Google’s search heft and machine learning capabilities come into play: Users can search for subscriptions, individual merchants, and even specific items they bought. Optional integrations with Gmail or Google Photos mean that any emailed receipts or receipts you snap a picture of will populate Google Pay as well, a feature Woodward says he takes full advantage of: “I hate paper receipts.”
Of course you can’t talk about this wealth of data without privacy alarm bells going off. Woodward stresses that this was top of mind in the design process. Any integrations with Gmail or Google Photos or other personalization features are opt-in and any “transaction data that you link in G Pay stays in G Pay. We wanted to make sure we were very clear about that,” Woodward says. “[We looked at] how do we do it in a way so the person feels in control. So that it’s not a negative surprise, it’s a delightful surprise.”
If people’s data in G Pay is essentially a walled garden, it’s worth asking what’s in it for Google, a company known for amassing data and deploying it in countless clever ways—both seen and unseen. For starters, there’s a clear business incentive to drawing people further into the Google ecosystem. For instance, if you save a credit card to G Pay, it’s also saved in your Chrome browser. The convenience and interoperability could entice users to more heavily rely on Google’s other products. Woodward says there’s also a “broader strategic value to Google. Where we see the industry going is really two types of services getting digitized: merchant services and financial services.” That means both offers, discounts, and where you’re shopping, as well as where, when, and how you’re banking. “The vision is G Pay fits in in both places,” he says. “It helps digitize both of these mega trends in the industry.”
See more from Fast Company’s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. Our new book, Fast Company Innovation by Design: Creative Ideas That Transform the Way We Live and Work (Abrams, 2021), is on sale now.