Google shuts down its Plex banking service before it even launches
Google has walked away from Plex, its program that aimed to pitch bank accounts to users of Google Pay. Announced two years ago, the idea of the service was that users of Google Pay could sign up for advanced checking accounts and debit cards at a number of partnered financial institutions. These were called Plex accounts and were pitched on the basis of not charging monthly or overdraft fees, while also offering a combined Google and bank dashboard. To put it simply: Google provided the tech, banks provided the financial services.
In the report from The Wall Street Journal, a Google spokeswoman said the company would now focus primarily on “delivering digital enablement for banks and other financial services providers rather than us serving as the provider of these services.”
Plex was announced in 2020, alongside the new Google Pay app. It would have pitched Google Pay as a direct competitor to other digital-first banks like Curve, Revolut, and N26. It was said to partner with nine partner banks, and they would be free to open. They even opened their waiting list, which had swelled to around 400,000 people. It was particularly a big deal to smaller banks that didn’t have a strong digital presence, and Plex would have helped to level the playing field. Citigroup was one such smaller bank, and a Citigroup spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that the bank would look for other ways to work with Google in the future.
It’s been clear for a while now that not everything is okay in the Google Pay camp. The team has reportedly been seeing an exodus of talent in recent months, with payments lead Caesar Sengupta departing in April. Sengupta was also the architect of the Plex project, though he was later replaced by Bill Ready, previously Chief Operating Officer at PayPal. Ready was concerned Plex would make other banks think Google was attempting to compete with them. People familiar with the matter also told The Wall Street Journal that banking regulators supported Plex and had no part to play in its demise.
Many banks were still under the impression that the project was moving ahead. As recently as last Monday, BM Technologies said its Plex accounts would arrive in late 2021 or 2022. “Google and BMTX are excited about this opportunity and are committed to this partnership,” the banking platform said in an email to The Wall Street Journal at the time.