With fewer people carrying cash these days, managing small transfers for group payments can be tricky. Whether it’s splitting the bill for a pizza with friends or paying for a personal trainer, people now find that traditional bank account remittances simply take too long. Israeli startup PayBox offers a solution to this problem through a simple app that makes it easy to send or collect money between people and groups. Launched in 2014, in 2018 PayBox’s Israeli operation was acquired by Discount Bank, one of the biggest banks in Israel, and has more than 1.5 million users.
“The banking sector is changing dramatically: people don’t want to access services in the usual way, at a physical branch during working hours,” explains Sarit Beck-Barkai, Head of Paybox Operations at Discount Bank. “At Discount Bank, we’re focused on how people will use banking services in the future, and PayBox is part of that. All you need to set up the app is a credit or debit card and an Israeli phone number, and then you can make payments with a single click.”
In order for the acquisition to go ahead, Discount Bank needed to gain the consent of the Bank of Israel to operate workloads in the cloud. Growing PayBox on Google Cloud offered Discount Bank the security features it required to meet Israeli banking regulations, as well as the ability to scale up easily.
“When we acquired PayBox, our goal was to improve the security and the user experience, but we also wanted to keep the startup’s agility and innovation,” says Sarit. “Staying with Google Cloud has been an easy decision.”
Meeting banking security requirements
Making sure an application is robust and secure is key for any enterprise, but especially when large numbers of transactions are involved. “When we acquired PayBox, it had been built on Google Cloud, but there was room for improvement,” explains Sarit. “We needed to bring its security features up to the level required for the banking sector.”
Working with implementation partner DoiT International, the team responsible for PayBox at Discount Bank put into place two-step authentication for logins, SSL certification, and database encryption for sensitive data using Key Management Service with Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). These features bring PayBox in line with the broader Discount Bank security ecosystem. To keep important documentation and information in one place, the PayBox team within Discount Bank uses G Suite services including Gmail and Drive to share PayBox-related documents.
The persistent disk snapshot function on Compute Engine is also key to meeting regulatory requirements. “We are obliged to create a snapshot of all the transactions taking place every 15 minutes, and keep those records for seven years,” explains Guy Tobul, Dev Team Leader at Discount Bank. Using Compute Engine, PayBox can custom design the exact virtual machines required for its workloads by specifying the exact CPU and memory it needs.
PayBox uses BigQuery to monitor the service it provides by analyzing log data. “We use BigQuery to monitor all our operations,” says Guy. “That means handling large volumes of data, as each transaction generates hundreds of log lines. We’ve been amazed at how fast BigQuery can generate reports: it’s a truly great product.”
Achieving easy deployment and scaling
To keep its application up-to-date, PayBox uses a continuous deployment model on GKE, so new code is deployed every day. As its infrastructure deploys multiple pods in parallel, it is easy to isolate any issues that might occur.
As for scaling, GKE scales automatically to meet the peaks in demand that PayBox experiences. “Traffic varies over the week, since nights and weekends are much quieter, and we also have seasonal peaks around the holidays and the beginning of the academic year,” explains Sarit. “A peak might mean 200% more traffic, but with GKE, we can easily handle the extra traffic.”
Since acquiring PayBox’s operations in Israel, Discount Bank has successfully gained permission to run PayBox as part of the bank and grown its user base significantly. User satisfaction with the PayBox app is high, with a rating of 4.8 out of 5 for the Android App on Google Play. “PayBox is completely hosted in the cloud, and has gained approval from the central banking authorities in Israel,” says Sarit. “Since we acquired the app, its user base has grown from 120,000 to more than 1.5 million users. This is possible thanks to the flexibility offered by Google Cloud.”
Discount Bank is now looking to grow the app further by extending its functionality through partnerships with other major enterprises. “Through our latest initiative, users can now use PayBox to top up their Rav-Kav, the electronic transport card that enables people to travel on the Israeli transportation network,” says Sarit. Further partnerships are in the pipeline.
“Working with Google Cloud gives us the flexibility we need to launch new partnerships that are going to grow our user base exponentially,” she adds. “We’re really happy with the growth we’ve achieved so far, and are looking forward to having more users, more transactions, and more services to offer.”