Venmo’s social payments too social?


At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

If you’ve ever found your generosity with the happy hour bill greeted by a rash of amnesia among your coworkers, you may now consider Venmo the antidote.

Unfortunately, for that benefit you may be giving up a little privacy in return.

One of Time Magazine’s “10 Startups to Watch for 2014,” Venmo allows users to send money to friends for free on a socialized platform, with the idea being to share that you’ve made the transaction with your friends on the app.

The result is a stream of friends’ payments, somewhat like a Twitter feed, with a simple descriptor for each payment such as, “Thanks for the sushi,” “2 campgrounds and groceries,” or “Don’t remember, but I believe you.”

Not only is the app easy to use for actually making good on IOUs (it functions similarly to any other mobile peer-to-peer payment service), the social aspect is quite addicting and the service may have already graduated to a verb: “Just Venmo me.”

What’s public, what’s not

A quick scroll through the publicly visible payments upon opening the app suggests that users aren’t too concerned about keeping their transactions confidential, as further evidenced by Venmo’s 62 percent growth over last quarter and more than $1 billion in payments handled annually.

With the app’s primary user base in the 18-to-24 demographic, is this an off-white flag of indifferent surrender on financial privacy? Do kids raised on 140 characters not care about this sort of thing?

Easy there, old-timer (or anyone over thirty-years-old); visibility is optional on each payment. A quick glance at public transactions is pretty mundane: small exchanges of money for split dinner bills, gas money, bar tabs, tips and the like (and incomprehensible streams of emoji).

The company touts its own bank-grade encryption and screens for suspicious transactions among its users. It also places a limit on how much money can be sent without a user verifying their identity with a Social Security Number or Facebook account. So while all the important stuff is safely hidden away behind the vault door of encryptions, passwords and settings, our comfort level with financial transparency is being massaged with the familiarity of social media.

It’s a safe bet that Venmo will continue to push the limits of how much users are willing to reveal to the Internet about their finances, too. Earlier this year, the company introduced “Nearby Payments,” allowing users to send payments to other users within Bluetooth LE range, even if you don’t know the person’s name.

Welcome to the social future of financial transactions: where you don’t need to remember your cash or, you know, names.

To learn about some other ways to transfer money to friends, check out our look at money-transfer apps.

What do you think? Would you ever want to mix personal finance and social sharing?