Flint Mobile swaps card reader for camera

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In the last few years the mobile payments space has become increasingly crowded with the likes of Square and its many copycats. The technology, which involves a mobile app working in conjunction with a small card-reading dongle plugged into the headphone jack of a smartphone or tablet, has been a boon for service professionals who previously were mostly limited to accepting cash or checks as tender.

Flint Mobile is an iOS 7-optimized iPhone app that takes a slightly different approach, entirely doing away with a card reader, instead using the phone’s camera to read (not photograph) the numbers on the front of a MasterCard or Visa card. After tapping in the card’s security code as well as the customer’s billing zip code and finger-drawn signature the transaction is processed Flint’s payment gateway partner.

Flint mobile
A truly “mobile” mobile payment solution.

Dispensing with extra hardware translates into simplicity and reliability, says Flint Mobile co-founder and CEO Greg Goldfarb.

“It’s the fact that if I’m a photographer or a fitness trainer and I’m going from place to place during my day I have enough trouble keeping track of my keys and my wallet and my phone,” he says.

Losing or forgetting a card reader is a real pain point for non-countertop businesses such as photographers, consultants or home contractors, he says, whereas it’s not that big a deal for businesses that would typically have a point of sale machine or credit card terminal sitting on a counter.

“For them, they’re using say Square plus an iPad to replace VeriFone. It’s actually not mobile at all, they literally will lock an iPad to the counter,” Goldfarb says.

In addition to the scan-instead-of-swipe differentiation, Flint is more social than some of the other players in the mobile payments space. Every time you send an email receipt, for example, Flint encourages a customer to rate your business, write a recommendation and share it on Facebook. If they do, it shows up on their Facebook page as well as on your own business page, which makes for an easy way to build content there. You can also include in a receipt loyalty offers customers can redeem right away, such as discounts on future services.

Goldfarb says Flint is also geared to help users drive repeat business through the way it lets them customize how they filter and search transaction history data. For instance, a tennis pro could login to her online Flint account to search for only the customers to whom she gave one-hour lessons last summer. Because Flint transaction history data also includes customer email addresses, she could send those folks a message telling them about an upcoming winter clinic.

As for transaction fees, Flint is in the ballpark of what you’ll pay elsewhere. Flint charges 1.95 percent plus $0.20 per transaction for debit cards, or 2.95 percent plus $0.20 per transaction for credit cards. In comparison, Square charges 2.75 percent per swipe; Intuit GoPayment is either $12.95 a month plus 1.75 percent per swipe (but if you don’t pay the monthly fee the fee jumps up to 2.75 percent per swipe); PayAnywhere is 2.69 percent per swipe; and PayPal Here runs 2.7 per swipe.

Flint generally pays out transactions minus transaction fees within one to two business days.

Goldfarb says the Flint app has been downloaded from the iTunes store about 150,000 times and an Android version will be released “very soon.”

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