New Payment APIs: a Survey of Innovation, Pride, and Suspicion

Exchanging currency for items or services is such an old time tradition and yet there are so many ways it can be done.  I’ve just taken a stroll through the payment systems neighborhood and I’ve felt inspiration from the innovators FaceCash & Dwolla, pride in my home state operator PowerPay, and murky suspicion toward JunglePay.

The innovators in payment systems are web savvy, nimble operations that are pushing the envelope in today’s payment system culture.  FaceCash’s core Function is the ability to instantly and easily transfer money person to person.  The distinguishing feature that FaceCash adds to the merchant’s point of sale system is identity verification via photo rather than signature.  Do you know anyone that writes “see photo ID” in the signature strips of their credit cards?  FaceCash has implemented that idea.  When a customer uses FaceCash for a purchase, the cashier is presented with a profile picture to confirm the customer’s identity.

FaceCash requires developers to sign up before you can access the API Documentation.  Of course that’s a no-no, but a redeeming point is that they do offer a basic JavaScript API implementation as an example.  FaceCash has focused on the scenario in which several people are splitting a bill for a meal.  If the restaurant provides an itemized receipt, FaceCash is designed to make it simple and easy to assign different items to different people.  Digging into the details, it seems like the ability to send itemized receipts would be in the SendOrder API method, but I don’t see that in documentation.  I’m left wondering just how it’s done.

The next innovator here is Dwolla, which I heard of months before finding FaceCash in our API index. Dwolla is a digital cash system that allows money to be sent to both individuals and businesses without using the credit card networks.  This eliminates the credit card network fees, and that’s a big win for a lot of businesses.  There is some big news coming out on the December 15th which Dwolla says will mark a pivot point for the company’s strategy, firmly setting them on a new direction.  Clearly the business strategy is still evolving.

DwollaDwolla enjoys wider developer engagement with API libraries in iOS objective C, PHP, and Ruby on github while FaceCash has none.  Another nice point about the Dwolla API is the facilitator fee.  This allows the developer to charge a transaction fee to users of the application, making the route to income quite clear.  This built in payback mechanism is like developer bait.  It’s an easy target that can motivate programmers to work with the API and this baiting concept is becoming more common.

PowerPayNow with pride I’d like to turn to my home state payment processing API provider: PowerPay of Portland, ME.  Yes, this API provider lives “the way life should be” in the state of Maine.  Providing an API in Maine has got to make you a member of a pretty intimate club; It certainly wouldn’t be crowded!

The PowerPay API is more of a heavy weight here.  They are an established business that’s been honored as one of the fastest growing private companies and one of the best places to work in Maine for five years running.  This company can get you set up with real physical credit card readers and lend money to your business based on monthly sales.  PowerPay is a brick and mortar business that’s determined to enter the API space.

On the business side it seems that transaction costs associated with using PowerPay are negotiated and specific to each customer’s scenario.  The Powerpay API provides the ability to email receipts and calculate shipping rates in addition to the basic transaction entry features you would expect.  It appears that the core of the PowerPay API is the PayTrace payment gateway.  PayTrace lists many 3rd party integrations on their own site.

JunglePayLastly, I must mention the API provider that I’m still feeling uneasy about: JunglePay.  Is something sketchy or  did I just happen to find a few disgruntled customers?  It’s hard to say, but one thing is certain, the text-to-pay niche in which JunglePay specializes is no stranger to controversy.  The JunglePay API is focused primary on receiving payments through SMS short codes.  You might remember charity fundraising drives using short codes for events such as the catrosphic Haitian earthquake of 2010.  There numerous scams wherein money did not make it to those in need.  I’m not implicating JunglePay or txtNation (the company that provides the Platform used by JunglePay) in any of those unfortunate events, but it does leave the area tainted.  TxtNation has its share of criticisms in the forums.  I think that text-to-pay companies have a bit of work to do in establishing confidence among developers.  SveaWebPay of Sweden does a better job of inspiring trust with their site.

Choosing an API is about more than finding a service that provides the correct functionality, it should also be about the quality of the business relationship.  Whether you want to adopt the cutting edge person to person payments, work directly with a real brick and mortar credit card processing company, or take payments via text message, the options are out there for you.  All three of these diverse payment methods have been offered via API making them very real possibilities for the nimble business looking to stitch together services from various API providers.

Be sure to read the next API article: Want to Build a Holiday Shopping Mashup? First Choose the Best Shopping Search API