“Lucas Likes to Dance” “Lucas Does Laundry” “Lucas Rides the Subway”
New York City dwellers probably know where I’m going with this (assuming you actually do take the subway, but if you can afford cabs everywhere then you probably aren’t reading this blog).
An odd ad started popping up all over New York City transportation in early 2014. These simple posters featured a declarative sentence, a mid-twenties Asian man (apparently named Lucas) with the shadow of a goatee, giving a dead-pan look at the camera and in tiny writing on the lower left hand corner the cryptic word, “Venmo.”
Like most New Yorkers, I found the ads strange, then annoying and, eventually, borderline enraging when I stepped into a car completely plastered with Lucas‘ face. That was, until I started using Venmo.
Getting on the Venmo train
My younger sister (who, at the time was still in college) introduced me to the world of Venmo. She owed me money for our parents’ Christmas presents and didn’t want to deal with going to an ATM.
“Can you just download Venmo?” she dramatically sighed in that way only a younger sibling can.
“What’s Venmo?” I inquired, always the technological Luddite (totally just got snapchat last week).
“It’s an app that you link your bank account to and then you can transfer someone money,” she explained. [Think of it as Chase Quickpay, but it doesn’t matter which bank you have.
“Um, I don’t really like the sound of linking my bank account to some app,” I retorted.
[Insert eye roll here]
“Fine. But it makes it way easier to pay people back or get paid,” she fired the final shot before we changed the subject.
Fast-forward a few weeks and I started seeing Lucas and Venmo’s ads everywhere. I finally caved and did some research.
How to use Venmo
From the mouth of Venmo (or fingers of the people who write copy on their website): “Venmo uses bank-grade security systems and data encryption to protect you and prevent against any unauthorized transactions or access to your personal or financial information.”
You download the app, or signup via their website. You can link a bank account, debit card or credit card to your account in order to make transactions. Most Venmo transactions are free. Those linked to your bank account or using your existing Venmo balance are free. Most debit cards (unsure which ones aren’t) are free, but there is a 3% fee for using a credit card.
Once you’re in the app, you can pay or request payment from friends. The app will access your contacts (made me a bit uneasy at first) and assess who already has Venmo. It will make it easy for you to type in a contact’s name and pay via Venmo. You can also pay to an email address.
Once you’re paid, you can “cash out” so the money is sent to your bank account. Or you can just leave the money there to use on future Venmo transactions.
One (sort of) flaw
My only worry about Venmo is small a security issue, which you never want to have when you’re talking about protecting your finances. I trust the app and feel it’s just as secure as using the app associated with my bank. My concern is what happens if my phone is ever compromised. Transactions don’t require a password, and your app will constantly stay logged on (unless you log out). So, if someone were to ever steal my phone and get by my passcode, he could theoretically send a significant amount of money from my checking account to any account he wanted (but it seems that would make a petty thief pretty easy to track). Now, I could log out of Venmo and need to log in each time I use it to appease my concerns. The company also addresses these concerns on their site stating:
“Venmo uses bank-grade security systems and data encryption to protect you and prevent against any unauthorized transactions or access to your personal or financial information. Furthermore, we guarantee all user funds against any unauthorized transactions.” And “If you have lost your phone, or feel that someone besides you is using your account, Venmo allows you to disable a device from accessing your Venmo account. By revoking access, your account will be logged off of that device. Access revocation can be found under ‘Passwords & Authorizations’ here.”
As an iPhone user, I could also remotely wipe my phone and clear all the data off it, so a thief wouldn’t have access to any of my personal information.
I also find it annoying that people can see your transactions on their homepage, unless you change that setting in privacy. People tend to make snarky remarks about what they’re paying friends for, so the homepage is populated with things like “Players gonna play play play play” or “Xanax & Rangas”. This part can be amusing, but I’m too private to want people to be able to see my information.
Ultimately, I’m a huge fan
Tiny security concern aside, that’s mostly chalked up to me being hyper-paranoid, I’m a huge fan of Venmo. These days, so few people carry cash (I feel like I’m a dying breed), that it makes splitting bills insanely easy. It also makes it hard for your friends to avoid paying you back with the, “oh man, totally forgot to bring your money” excuse. For roommates, it’s also a quick way to pay each other for split bills, in my case that’s the utilities. So, I’m going to continue to sing their praises, until there is a major breach of Venmo data (which could be accompanied by a PayPal breach because PayPal owns Venmo).
What other apps do you use to make your financial life easier?