Should Lawyers Use Peer-to-Peer Payment Apps?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 25, 2016 1:05 PM

There are apps for monitoring your billing, apps for tracking your time, apps for invoicing clients. There are even apps that allow you to send and receive cash with the click of a button, meaning you can pay and get paid without ever having to see a bank teller again.

Such money transfer or "peer-to-peer payment" apps have exploded in the past few years as companies have moved to take advantage of a market that sees more than $1 trillion in transfers every year. Venmo, Square Cash, and others all seek to make sending and receiving money as simple as hitting a button on a smart phone. Should lawyers get on board?

The Pros of Money Transfer Apps

Money transfer apps are great for consumers who think swiping a credit card or opening a wallet is just too much work. Millennials love them.

On a service like Square Cash, for example, users can simply type in a number, hit a name, and -- voila -- money is transferred. Venmo has the same ease of use, with an interface that makes it easier to annotate the payment. From there, you can transfer your cash into a connected bank account.

If you want a more direct connection to the bank, most major national banks and even some credit unions offer their own apps.

Such apps are handy for most consumers and in so far as you need to pay back someone for lunch or quickly hand over a few hundred dollars, they're worth using.

They're also worth using if your clients demand it. As money transfer apps become more common, some clients, particularly younger ones and clients with small matters (and small bills) could appreciate paying their attorney via app. But beyond that, money transfer apps aren't ready for the legal industry just yet.

The Cons: There Are Plenty

One of the major draw backs to money transfer apps is there low transfer limits. Venmo lets users transfer only $2,999.99 a week max; recipients can send only $20,000 a week (minus a penny) from Venmo to their banks and in amounts no more than $3,000 per transfer.

Then there are the fees. For personal use, many money transfer apps are free if you are transferring straight from a bank account. For businesses, though, Square Cash takes 2.75 percent of each payment, for example. That's more than many credit card processing fees and a hefty percentage to hand over for an "instant" payment.

And yes, instant is in scare quotes for a reason. While the apps record the transfers immediately, the can often take a few days to process them and release the cash.

Aside from money, there are other drawbacks as well. The first is simply the amount of apps available. To use peer-to-peer transfer apps, you'll need the same app as your customers. And while Venmo and Square Cash are some of the most common, there are dozens of apps out there. Even Google, Facebook, and Snapchat let you transfer money now.

Then there are privacy and security concerns. Unsophisticated users can have their payments broadcast to friends and neighbors, for example. And a lost or stolen phone could mean a compromised bank account.

So, for the time being, save the cash transfer apps for splitting the tab at happy hour and stick with good old cash, check, or credit card when it comes to collecting the legal fees.

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