Santander launches “pub kitty” app in social banking experiment

Santander has rolled out an app that has “digitised the pub kitty”, a move to combat the growing presence of tech giants like Facebook, Whatsapp, Google and Apple with services that make transferring money easier.

Dubbed Kitti, the app is based on the insight that one person in a group of friends, family or colleagues will inevitably become responsible for a collection jar – be it a best man organising a stag do, a flatmate making sure the bills get paid, or a group going on holiday.

Open to people from all banks, the organiser can invite people to join the kitty within the app, where money can be transferred to and from the pot. A prepaid contactless MasterCard, sent to the organiser of the kitty after they register, allows them to pay direct from the app’s funds.

“It’s perfect for the WhatsApp generation,” said Sam Nixon, head of Kitti at Santander.

Like its high street rivals, Santander is facing a new kind of threat from tech companies which have slowly been making their way into financial services. A survey conducted last year by YouGov and law firm Pinsent Masons showed a quarter of people today - already wary in wake of the Libor rigging scandal - are likely to turn to an alternative digital-payment service in the future.

And the tech and start-up community has responded. Today, consumers can send contacts money with the click of an emoji while they’re in a Facebook chat, or through Whatsapp, or in a Twitter message.

Proving its own innovative edge, Santander has claimed this to be the first ‘digital kitty’ in the UK. It is hoping that by the end of the year, it will have somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 kitty owners on the platform.

“We feel that gives us a critical mass of consumers who can viralise it,” explained Ben Green, head of innovation at Santander.

Closing the loop

The elephant in the room, of course, is that Santander has been unable to facilitate mobile payments through the Kitti app. The fact that the ‘cash kitty’ has been digitised up until the point of payment could prove a barrier in mass adoption as the prospect of digital wallets reaches fever pitch thanks to the UK roll out of Apple Pay.

A recent global study revealed that 42 per cent of mobile owners make financial transactions on their smartphones, up 60 per cent from 2013, while a third said they will adopt the technology soon.

However, mobile payment is, stressed Green, on the road map. The sticking point is that Apple Pay currently doesn’t accept pre-paid cards – like the Kitti card – on the system while Samsung’s offering has yet to be released. And with some 9,000 card providers in the queue to have their cards accepted by Apple the wait could be a long one.

Santander does have an already established relationship with Apple, and so Green believes within the next year it should be able to integrate it within the app.

Additionally, there is the thought that the barrier of getting a card will encourage people to habitually use the service, as opposed to setting up an account and not bothering to top it up - a potentially costly burden on the infrastructure for Santander.

Retailers

In the coming months, Santander will also be banking on its relationship with merchants to woo customers. Although Green declined to expand fully on the retailers signed up, he said the idea is that they will be able to pitch to Kitti groups to spend their money with them.

For example, a local restaurant might offer a discount bottle of wine for a hen party. Or a holiday company might offer an upgrade on group travel if the kitty heads in its direction.

“We should be able to use the spending power of these groups to attract relevant offers and deals,” Green said. “We can open up that dialogue.”

Location and push messaging is also another avenue being explored to bring together Kitti users and retailers.

Security

Behind all of this is the issue of security. This is because as people publicly stockpile money on Kitti, Santander tracks it, and retailers potentially bid against it before knowing where it is spent.

Currently, the Kitti organiser has to give only 15 pieces of data for a basic customer check and for the people invited, the onboarding process is much shorter.

All data is owned by Santander and policed under their policies regarding normal banking data. Green stressed that any discussions around sharing data – which would be anonymised - will be done so within the Kitty with the proviso of users.

The app was created in partnership with Monitise and technology services provider Kalixa Payments Group.

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