Square launches Cash, a peer-to-peer payments service that’s incredibly simple to use

Square officially took the wraps off its planned peer-to-peer payments service Square Cash today, and the results are quite impressive — it isn’t just creating a PayPal clone. It’s streamlined the transaction to a bare minimum of two elements: both the payer and payee connect with an email address and a debit card.

Here’s how it works: A payer simply creates an email from any mobile, web or PC client with the email address of the payee in the “To” line, [email protected] in the “CC” field and the dollar amount in the subject. Then the payer hits send. That’s it.

Square CashIf the payee is already a Square Cash customer then he or she will receive the email notification and find the money transferred from the payer’s bank account in one or two business days. If either the payee or the payer — or both — aren’t yet Square account holders, then they would receive registration prompts asking them to enter their bank debit card numbers. Once that number is entered, their debit accounts will become automatically linked to their email addresses through Square. All further transactions require nothing more than sending and receiving email.

When Square decided to create this service it wanted to replicate the same simplicity of design and ease of use of its other payment products, said Brian Grassadonia, head of Square’s Cash team. That meant it wanted to strip out all of the steps that complicate other peer-to-peer payments services: no multiple verification steps, no entering checking account and routing numbers, no passwords and — most significantly — no need for a separate financial account to act as repository for all transactions. With Square’s approach, the consumers use the basic financial and online tools they already have, Grassadonia said. (Square CEO Jack Dorsey will be talking about the power of design at our RoadMap conference in November in San Francisco).

For now, Square isn’t charging any transaction fees for the service. “Right now we’re focused on creating the best possible experience for the consumer,” Grassadonia said. “We believe the best way to do that is to make it free.” As Square layers on more functionality to the core peer-to-peer payments service, the company will look for ways to monetize it, Grassadonia said.

Of course, the simpler a payment’s design, the more prone it is to abuse — in this case getting access to a consumer’s checkbook would as easy as hacking an email account. Grassadonia said Square is putting the same fraud prevention tools in place it uses to secure its business mobile payments networks. The first line of protection is an SMS alert system that notifies an account holder any time a payment is received or sent, giving the user the opportunity to suspend transactions. Square is also imposing a $2,500 limit per week on transactions.

Correction: This post was updated at 11 PM on Tuesday to correct the CC email address to send Square Cash payments. Instead of [email protected] the email address is [email protected]