San Francisco-based Square had reportedly been in the running to acquire payments processor Braintree, but lost out to rival PayPal last September. That was just one battle in an ongoing war between Square and PayPal for control of the customer experience at the point of sale.
Square’s consolation prize seems to be the acquisition yesterday of person-to-person payments player Evenly, a close rival to Venmo. Venmo was acquired by Braintree in 2012. The name Evenly refers to splitting the bill at a restaurant evenly between friends. (Parenthetically, that is not how people tend to use P2P. It is more often used for paying rent and other significant bills.)
Evenly’s engineering team will likely go to work bolstering the capabilities of Square’s no-frills P2P app Square Cash, which works via email, as does Google Wallet’s Gmail money-sending feature.
A P2P product may seem like a sideshow for a company focused on helping merchants process payments in-store and online. But a look at PayPal’s setup tells the story. PayPal has 137 million active accounts, and this is a huge advantage in signing up merchants.
“Building the consumer side of the payments equation makes merchant buy-in more palatable than a system where you need to build both merchant and consumer adoption,” said Nick Holland, senior payments analyst for Javelin Strategy & Research.
Square came late to this game, but Square Cash has been widely praised, and technology from Evenly will broaden its appeal. Square is looking to sign up larger merchants, as PayPal has begun to do. Can Square get enough cards on file to entice merchants with its POS and processing offerings? 137 million is a daunting number.
PayPal executives told Bank Innovation in October that the eBay subsidiary would attack payments on multiple fronts, and rely on partnerships rather than building everything itself. As PayPal goes, it seems, so goes Square.