The PayMaya Card is a First-Generation Product That’s Hard to Recommend

Last September, Smart Communications announced an interesting new card payments product called PayMaya, which ostensibly combines the abilities of a Smart Money mobile wallet, a VISA debit card, and a Beep stored-value card in a single platform … all without necessarily having a Smart mobile subscription. On the face of it, it seemed like a huge leap forward, but the hodgepodge nature of the product makes it a difficult concept to pitch to anyone but the most curious of early-adopters.

The Paymaya App

In order to get started with PayMaya, you’ll need to download the free IOS or Android app. Once you’ve registered, the app immediately gives you access to a virtual, on-screen VISA debit card, which you can deposit money to (more on this later) and use for online purchases. But what you really want is to upgrade to the physical card — which gives you access to user-to-user money transfer, ATM withdrawal, and Beep stored-value for trains (and soon, tollways).

Currently, you can only get the physical cards in one of three Smart Jump centers across the country — in SM Megamall, SM Cebu, and SM Lanang in Davao. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I was even able to put together this essay was because I already happened to be in Megamall on another errand. It’s hard to imagine the average person making this kind of effort. Indeed, our conversation with the customer rep at the Jump center indicated that they were seeing less than 5 signups per day currently, which is not exactly the most heartening on-boarding statistic for such an ambitious new product. (You’ll be able to get the cards at all Smart stores in 2016, however.)

The PayMaya Card

Getting your physical PayMaya card from the Jump Center is a pretty straightforward experience — you show your government-issued ID, fork over 100 pesos, and then jot down your contact information in a logbook.

The process is both impressively fast … and inexplicably redundant.

Firstly, the fact that you need to sign a logbook is just weird: they’ve photocopied your ID and linked it to your PayMaya customer profile, so there’s no information being captured in the logbook that you haven’t already provided twice over, in far more robust data formats.

Secondly, you pay them 100 pesos for the physical card, and that amount gets credited to your VISA balance as your very first deposit. That part is fine, and is a good way to welcome new users. However, when I asked if I could deposit more than 100 pesos, I was informed that they couldn’t accept my money and that I needed to go to a 7–11 or SM Business Center for that. So you can open your PayMaya account at Smart Jump, but can’t deposit funds through them. This is just mind-bogglingly silly, especially when you consider that they literally processed that initial welcome deposit for you not one minute ago.

Lastly, the virtual VISA card number that you get when you initially install the PayMaya app is DIFFERENT from the one on the physical VISA card, so you now have two different ways to accomplish the same thing. You can’t have more than these two card numbers though, which makes you wonder why you wouldn’t just collapse them into a single card.

Three Different Account Numbers, Two Different Balances

The PayMaya card has two important numbers printed on it — one corresponding to your VISA debit card, and the other representing your Beep account. Additionally, if you want to accept funds from another Smart Money user, you must give them a totally different number that is your mobile number prefixed with 8877. So you have to keep these three numbers straight in your head when interacting with the platform: the VISA number for retail spending, the Beep number for transportation, and the 8877 number for making deposits.

The Anatomy of the PayMaya Card and Mobile App, as of November 2015

If that’s not confusing enough, you have TWO balances on the card — one for your VISA debit and the other for your Beep funds. What that means is that when you add funds to your PayMaya account, you need to decide whether you want to load up your shopping budget or your transportation budget, because you can’t move funds between the two once they’ve been deposited.

Essentially, this payments product can’t shuffle funds around internally on behalf of its users. If you had money in your PayMaya VISA that you wanted to use for the MRT, you’d have to physically withdraw it then manually re-deposit it into your Beep account … which is on the same card!

Not every 7–11 has a Cliqq pay-in machine, but it’s a reasonably quick experience when the option is available

The Payment Experience

I tested the PayMaya card one Sunday afternoon by walking to a nearby 7–11 and looking for the Cliqq machine, which is a cash-in aggregator for all sorts of digital products — airtime load, e-money, etc. You tap the onscreen PayMaya button, then enter your mobile number and the amount you want to be deposit. The Cliqq machine doesn’t accept cash — it only prints out invoice slips that you need to pay for at 7–11’s cash register.

After standing in a short queue, I handed the 7–11 cashier my 1,000 pesos and watched as she scanned the Cliqq invoice. About 10 seconds later, I received an SMS that money had been credited to my account. It was exactly 1,000 pesos, as promised.

I then walked over to the Jamba Juice a block over and paid for a fruit shake with my newly-loaded card. Again, the SMS confirmation came in within a few seconds of the transaction being settled. I couldn’t decide if I was impressed because it worked, or saddened that it was the first time I was experiencing this kind of responsive payment functionality from a Philippine company.

To be clear, this is the expected behaviour from any modern debit card system. Even the Bitcoin debit cards from Xapo, ANX, etc. all work this same way, and their backends involve a far more complex crypto-exchange mechanism alongside the regular fiat debit system. The technology required to build something similar to the PayMaya card is available from a whole host of debit card providers, and yet, here I was, shaking my head in disbelief that it all actually worked. I suppose that that says more about my faith in telcos than it does about the product itself.

No More Free Deposits

My deposit at the Cliqq machine was processed for free, but beginning January 2016, loading money onto your PayMaya card will cost 15 pesos for every 1,000 pesos. (Withdrawing your money from any ATM will likewise cost another 15 pesos.)

When I first read about this deposit fee, it seemed like a real dealbreaker. What customer would be OK with being charged a 1.5% fee purely for the privilege of handing their money over, with no interest? Heck, your money isn’t even insured! It seemed like an insane proposition … almost predatory.

After some consideration though, I concluded that, for some people, it might be a workable compromise. Let’s say that, for whatever reason, you simply couldn’t get a regular debit card to shop online with. BDO, BPI, Metrobank, etc. all offer similar products, and none of them charge a 1.5% deposit fee, but let’s say that you just hate using traditional banks. Perhaps you dislike filling out application forms and those endless signature cards so much that the very idea prevents you from stepping foot inside a bank. Or perhaps you are one of those people that need to review every single purchase you’ve made this week as part of your budget tracking mission/quest for self-improvement. Or perhaps your card wallet has exactly one slot left in it — too many people have gifted you with near-empty Starbucks cards maybe — and you absolutely must have both a debit card and a Beep card.

In any of those cases, the PayMaya card is a compelling solution. Or at the very least, a companion product worth considering.

If they feel like weak (nigh on facetious?) arguments, it’s probably because they are. There are a lot of cognitive disconnects in this first-generation version of PayMaya that makes it a difficult product to explain, and also a tricky product to figure out a proper use for. I totally understand the rough nature of a young service — especially one such as this with so many moving parts — but it’s hard to get excited about something so half-baked.

As of this writing, I’m close to spending all of the 1,000 pesos on my card, and it’s performed admirably well so far.

I just wish it did something that was actually useful.

###

Thanks to C.V. for turning me on to PayMaya last week, and curbing some of my initial ire at the platform.

[ UPDATE: I unfortunately neglected to mention that Globe has a very similar offering with Mastercard and Beep, which also launched in late September. I’ve not had the chance to try it yet, but plan to pay my neighbourhood Globe Business Center a visit soon. ]

Luis Buenaventura {bloomX}

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On startups, technology, and the coming financial revolution. For more about the author, visit http://cryptonight.org

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