Payments company Square just sent out another round of notifications in the Square Cash app that its new prepaid debit card is available, and surprise! The notification appeared in my own Square Cash account. I tweeted at the company yesterday asking when the card was going to become more widely available; apparently, requesting one via Twitter, Jack Dorsey’s other company, helps expedite the process.
For those not up to speed on Square’s prepaid card, it’s a new card that gives users of Square’s peer-to-peer payments app — which, like Venmo, lets people pay each other directly from their smartphones — the option to carry around a physical Visa card and buy things with a good old-fashioned swipe.
More on that below, but, here’s what the process is like for requesting a card in the app:
Note: I didn’t include a couple steps here, like part where I confirmed my address. Also note: I saw lots of emoji throughout this process.
The plastic card was first spotted in April by Recode e-commerce reporter Jason DelRey, after Square founder and CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted a photo of a nondescript, black Visa card with his name scribbled on it. Then, earlier this month, Square started sending notifications to select Square Cash users that they could now order the prepaid card. A Square spokesperson confirmed that these invites were for the same card that Dorsey had tweeted about.
While I don’t yet have the card in hand, here’s what I do know about the card so far:
- It’s a prepaid card, not a debit card, which means it’s not directly linked to your bank account. It’s only linked to the money in your Square Cash account, and that account has to have enough of a balance to buy something before you buy it. You can’t use the card to draw money from a bank ATM, and you can’t expect overdraft protection.
- In that way it’s not much different from just keeping a balance in your virtual Square Cash account. Except now, you can use the Square card and just go buy stuff in a store if you want to. Before, your options were to a) link Square Cash to Apple Pay and pay for things that way, or b) “cash out” from your Square Cash account, which meant waiting a couple days for that money to appear in your regular bank account or paying a small fee to have the money transferred immediately.
- My understanding is that you can put additional money on the Cash Card within the Square Cash app, which ultimately pulls from the bank account linked to the Square Cash app. But again, I haven’t tried this yet; I will have to do once I get the card.
- The prepaid card doesn’t work overseas; like Square Cash, this is in the US only.
- As Recode already pointed out, you can opt to have your signature or even your Twitter handle laser-printed on the card, but the company will be pre-screening names for expletives and other shenanigans. Pro tip: since you have to scribble your signature on your phone’s touchscreen, I recommend using a stylus if you have one.
- In the case of fraud — like if your card is stolen or skimmed — Square absorbs the cost of the fraud, just like it does now with Square Cash.
The bigger question, of course, is why Square is making a physical card. The prevailing theory, and the one that makes the most sense, is that it’s another way for Square to make its peer-to-peer app stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
Competitors includes PayPal-owned Venmo, a “social” P2P app that lets users publicly post their money exchanges with friends and, like Square, is in the top 10 of all finance apps in the App Store; PayPal itself, which might not carry the same cachet with millennials but pioneered digital payments; and now Apple is exploring a P2P service. On top of that, many banks offer their own version of quick payments from customer to customer, like the aptly named Chase QuickPay.
Another way to look at this: the physical prepaid card could be another baby step toward offering actual bank services, not just payment processing and merchant services. After all, Square already offers small business loans through its capital arm. But with its core payments processing business doing so well right now, and with Square Cash a seemingly inconsequential part of the company’s revenue, the former theory is probably more accurate: it’s a kind of laser-etched business card, with Square trying to make it more hip to be Square.