A guy called Josh Browder who founded an automated small claims dispute company called DoNotPay has announced he’s trialling something I’ve been thinking about for ages.
As it turns it my frustration is shared by Josh, but he’s trying to do something about it and I’ve just been pondering!
When you sign up for a ‘free trial’ it’s very rarely a free trial without a catch. Most will want payment details ‘so it’s nice and easy to continue with the subscription once the free trial is over’. You can of course cancel at a certain point, but people forget, we live ever busier lives, and you can guarantee the companies will not be contacting you to ask if you’d like to cancel or continue. Which would be the right thing to do of course.
Josh is going about solving this in a very unethical way. Basically you sign up for a non-existent credit car using fake details, and then it simply doesn’t allow payments to be taken as it’s not connected to a payment source and there’s no credit agreement in place. Emails sent to the fake address will be forwarded to you so you can ignore them or choose to sign up if you wish. Not great but I get what he’s trying to do.
However, it gets a bit more worrying. Josh has signed up for a business account where he can resell accounts/credit accounts. This is backed by several banks that he won’t name as they aren’t aware of what he’s doing. Ticking time bomb basically.
I’m not here to inform you of the latest fintech news though.
Josh’s scheme reignited the spark in me to see if there is a legitimate system in this idea. I don’t think any bank would care to try to help people with something like this, except maybe Monzo…
The way I see it working on the front end is very simple. I sign up for a trial with someone. Could be Netflix, it could be software, a web system, or even a gym. I enter my card number for the payment details and I start the trial.
Within the Monzo app I flag up that this is a free trial period, and I turn payments off or on. This is assuming they’ve carried out an active card check of course. We select the date the free trial is ending, and if there is a date we have to have physically cancelled by we can select that too - these are often very different dates.
Within the app we can see the upcoming ‘cancel by’ date, and the ‘free trial period ending’ dates. Maybe we can request a notification too.
If we have to manually cancel this reminder is easy to set and very helpful if we check our Monzo app frequently.
We can now choose to carry on with the product or service, or to not pay for it simply by toggling the option against the companies name. If it’s turned off payment requests will be declined.
Some may look at this as trying to get loads of free trials and abusing companies’ generosity. I disagree. The tactic of assumption over communication and honesty is basically relying on people to forget. If they are not being dishonest why don’t they simply give people a free trial and ask them if they wish to continue at a later date?
They say they take payment details as it saves you worrying about it later, less hassle for the customer. I say that’s a poor excuse, they take payment details as it’s a fact that most people will forget to cancel or won’t be bothered to do so, and what’s really unfair is that some companies then have you locked into a long contract you can’t cancel.
Now some services may very well demand you cancel through a manual process, and simply won’t accept a declined payment request as notice that you don’t intend to continue with the account. Hence the reminder flag within the Monzo app. Sure, we could add it to our diaries or calendars, but we won’t. And if we did we are more likely to blur over it I believe.
There’s also the challenge that if an active card check hasn’t taken place it’s going to be hard to link up the process of cancelling or accepting to the company.
It will be easy enough for Monzo to build a database of the regular trials people are on, companies like Netflix, Prime, etc, but local gyms - not going to happen. Ideally they will carry out an active card check, and maybe that’s the only way this could work. A reminder to cancel a free trial could still be made to appear in a timeline though, that would be a great help - all money stuff in one app is a good thing.
What’s in it for Monzo? Quite a lot actually. Monzo could setup affiliate links very easily, with much greater rates per signup than the likes of you and me can achieve.
Two directions then. A page with all the offers that Monzo have for us, which would include these free trials, offering us a great deal if we continue. We select the trial, we turn the payment ‘off’ or it’s off by default (that’s the honest way of doing this), and then as the free trial ends Monzo reminds us and asks if we want to continue. If we do there will be an easy affiliate payout for Monzo. If not then that’s just how it should be - we’ve not been tricked into paying for something we don’t actually want.
Second direction is when we sign up for a trial period it shows in the app if an active card check has been carried out or we ‘add’ the trial period by selecting from a list. Then the same process as before - we get asked if want to continue or not.
Maybe other banks will follow, and it could transform the ‘free trials’ market and those trying to catch us out with a twelve month gym membership that we didn’t want no longer manage to rip people off.
As with everything online the back end is going to be the hard part, but it’s certainly possible. This kid in the US is doing it and it works. It’s just that he’s not being honest with the banks and there are fake details involved. Fake email addresses are not going to cut it, email verification is easy and rapidly finding its way to more signup systems.
If this was done properly, legitimately, then it could be a great attraction to new customers and a great service for existing customers.
Sorry for the long post but it’s a complicated idea and takes a bit of explaining. Happy to dive deeper if anyone is interested.