As consumers become more conscious about who they share sensitive information with, a Cleveland-based company has launched a mobile person-to-person app that adds a level of anonymity its co-founder and CEO believes is missing from the market.
Mezu enables users to transfer funds to each other without the need for personal identifying information such as an email or phone number and instead uses a one-time, location-based encrypted code to complete a transaction.
While the most popular mobile P2P apps on the market have positioned themselves as a way for consumers to pay friends, family and people they “know,” Mezu offers a different twist for P2P transactions that might require some more anonymity in users’ eyes, and in a digital way without the need for cash.
“People want to have a way to pay other people without the process of having to get someone’s phone number or email address or exchanging any contact information,” Yuval Brisker, Mezu’s co-founder and CEO, said in a interview with Mobile Payments Today. “When I found myself in that position more than three times, I thought to myself, if I’m experiencing this problem, then it must be a problem.”
Mezu developed three different ways consumers can use its mobile app to transfer funds.
The app contains four tabs: Drop, Get, Give, and Send. The last of those choices is your typical P2P transfer case where both the sender and recipient know each other and use the typical email or phone number to initiate a transaction.
But Mezu’s remaining options is what Brisker believes makes it unique from other P2P apps in the market.
If a user wants to transfer money in person to an unfamiliar recipient, they press the Give tab and enter an amount they want to send. Mezu allows for up to three preset values from the Give tab, as well as the ability to enter a custom value. Once the value is set, the app then generates the one-time, location-based four-digit transaction code.
The recipient then presses the Get tab, enters the code and the transfer is initiated. Mezu’s code is valid for two minutes.
Brisker said the Drop tab acts as a virtual tip jar and enables users to give anonymous donations to charities, or even to tip a bartender at the local bar.
Mezu does not charge users for transfers that originate from a checking account, but adds a 3-percent service fee for credit cards.
Users have the option to keep funds in the Mezu account, which is FDIC insured and maintained by MainStreet Bank in Virginia. The app’s FAQ section said a withdrawal from the account to the funding source could take “several days” to clear. Mezu offers a “Fast Withdraw” option that cost 1.5 percent of the amount.
Mezu arrives to the market at a time when consumers appear to be more concerned about protecting their personal information than ever before. And while Brisker began to develop the app a couple of years before events such as the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal, he and his partners believed they saw a problem brewing when it came to data privacy and large corporations.
“When the whole thing with Facebook happened, it became incredibly clear what people wanted,” Brisker said. “We happened to be in the right place at the right time and that’s what makes businesses successful.”
Whether Mezu can actually be successful remains to be seen because most nascent payment products tend to face issues building a substantial user base, and one that consistently uses the platform for the long haul.
To build that user base, Mezu started with a focused event in California with L.A. Pride earlier this month.
Mezu worked with L.A. Pride to collect monetary donations during a weekend’s festivities via the app’s Drop tab. L.A. Pride promoted a special Drop code donators used to transfer funds to the organization.
“We’re very carefully and very slowly getting [Mezu] into the public’s hands” Brisker said. “We started with [a 25-person] field events team in L.A.”
Mezu also launched a local Facebook ad campaign in the city and a national strategy includes a partnership with Google across its network. Brisker said the company also will work with charities and merchants on a local level as it begins to raise Mezu’s awareness nationwide.
Brisker does have bigger plans for Mezu and wants to take it international. A Canada launch is imminent, and Brisker also is positioning the app as a way for unbanked to gain entry into the digital economy via Mezu’s connection to MainStreet Bank.
“I think this is part of the appeal that we’re not just going after millennials,” Brisker said. “We’re also going after the unbanked and working class demographic, not necessarily the millennial.”