in general

During a recent conversation with a friend, I realized something – there are a lot of services and companies out there that are the byproducts of conglomerates, and since these are not standalone services fighting for their customers, but rather are meant only to enhance their parental companies’ value, these companies/services suffer enormously, and so do we, as their customers.

Two such services are Zelle and Hulu.

Zelle is a owned by a series of banks, two of which I have accounts in. When I had Zelle setup with only one bank, life was fine. I had my phone number and email ID attached to the same account. But when I tried to setup Zelle with the other bank account, I had to jump through a few hoops to basically disconnect Zelle from the first account, then connect just one of the IDs to each account. Now if you want to send me money, depending on whether you send it to my email, or my phone number, it lands up in different bank accounts.

My friend thinks this is normal. After all, how would Zelle know which account I want the money to arrive in, if there’s only one ID (either email or phone number)?

If you look at other competing services, like Paypal, SquareCash, Apple Pay, and that other service that I won’t name because it can burn in hell, you’ll notice a trend – all of these services hold your money in an account for you, till you’re ready to take it out and put it in a bank account. During the period your money sits in these accounts, the companies earn interest on that cash, which they count as profit. Further, if you want to take your money out faster, or if you want to use your credit card, or if you want to use these services for business purposes, they charge you a few percentage points, which are further profit for them.

All of this money serves to add value to the company itself. It drives further growth, or just drive stockholder value. If you compare that with Zelle, you’d notice that Zelle doesn’t charge you money to get your money faster, doesn’t make you wait to get to your funds, and generally, doesn’t care for any interest it might be able to get from your money. So much so that Zelle’s website doesn’t even have a signup page. You can’t interact with the service directly, only through your respective banks!

There are pros and cons to Zelle.

Let’s look at Hulu. It started as a joint venture between some TV networks. It’s main competitor is Netflix, and for the longest time, I hated Hulu, but kept it around as a necessity – my wife is hooked on to Grey’s Anatomy. Recently, I decided that it doesn’t make sense to keep the service active year-round. Instead, we’ll get it every time the new season comes along.

Hulu’s got issues. Since it’s corporate overlords run all over it, Hulu can’t remove ads from their shows. Even though we paid for the Plus plan, we would still see ads for Grey’s Anatomy, because the network behind it has deigned it to be so. Content on Hulu doesn’t remain forever, so much so that episodes disappear at a pace so that you can’t really binge watch things.

All of this is to the detriment of Hulu.

It has it’s pros – for us cordcutters, there’s no reason to even think about wanting cable, since we can watch the latest episodes on Hulu. Due to it’s ownership, the TV Networks are somewhat obligated to bend over backwards to provide content to Hulu. This is certainly showing up to be a problem for Netflix, who is losing content faster than Softbank is losing credibility. But for Hulu, this is just fine.

Again, there are pros and cons to Hulu.

What I’ve noticed is that these companies and services that get formed by joint ventures are often stuck in limbo. They’re dependent on their overlords to approve new features and services for their customers, are often not able to compete with their independent competitors at the same pace as the market innovates, and often end up getting the brunt for mistakes their ‘bosses’ make.

Do the pros outweigh the cons? I’m not sure. I’m going to be a seasonal Hulu subscriber. I’m not going to not use Zelle if my friends aren’t going to.

But these services will remain, till they have a critical mass. They will be the common denominator and the fallback. I guess that for those purposes, they’re fine where they are?

Are there any other such joint venture services that you can point me to?

What do you think?


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