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Virtual Piggy banking on kids making parent-monitored online payments

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Virtual Piggy's Oink app enables parents to open a digital wallet account for kids and set a spending limit
Wal-Mart, Gap, Banana Republic among growing number of retailers accepting Oink app as form of online payment

Parents who have found big credit card and debit card charges for unauthorized online purchases by their teens might be wondering what they can do to prevent it from happening again. That's one reason why Virtual Piggy Inc. exists.

The Hermosa Beach company's primary product is an app called "Oink: Your Digital Family Wallet" for Apple, Android and — soon — Windows-based phones. It allows parents to download an app and use it to create an account and set a spending limit for their children. It also authorizes where they can spend the funds.

As that spending occurs, the buying and spending patterns can be accessed by tablet or phone and discussed by both the parents and the teens, offering a record that can be refined.

"We created Oink to serve as a way to provide kids and teens with a safe and parent-monitored environment to learn how to spend wisely, save for the future and even donate to charities," Chief Executive Jo Webber said.

Wal-Mart, Gap and Banana Republic are among a growing number of retailers that accept Oink as a form of online payment. Stores for some of the world's biggest virtual online worlds for teens, such as Habbo and Gaea Online, also recognize Oink.

"If you have an 11-year-old, we will only show you products, companies and games that are acceptable for 11-year-olds," Webber said. "If there was a game rated for teens, it won't show up on their curated list of options."

Webber said that its data systems "meet the highest standards of compliance" for privacy and security.

Webber founded Virtual Piggy in 2008, but found that the global recession was the wrong time to push the idea forward.

Webber served as chairwoman from the beginning but was also running another company and didn't become chief executive of Virtual Piggy until 2012.

The company is still at an early stage with little revenue, despite having signed up more than 1 million users.

It has some heavyweight backing. Billionaire John Paul DeJoria is on its board of advisors and is an investor in the company.

The company is hoping to capitalize on growing parental and regulatory disenchantment over big credit card bills from in-app virtual goods.

The Federal Trade Commission recently filed a complaint against Amazon.com, alleging that the online retailer unlawfully billed parents millions of dollars for mobile games' in-app purchases made by their kids.

Webber said her company was a solution.

"Ultimately, what we are doing is allowing you as a parent to have control and make the final decisions," Webber said.

The latest

In July, the company announced that it had expanded its partnership network to include Oracle and EBay customers.

Also in July, Virtual Piggy announced that merchants that use the Netbanx online banking system can now offer Oink as an alternative method of payment.

In June, the company said it broadened its reach into online games, getting recognized as a payment option by Ubisoft Entertainment, OnNet, Woozworld, Wargaming, Crytek, Fantage and Bandai Namco Games America Inc.

Accomplishments

Virtual Piggy was a winner of the 2014 NextGen Mobile Awards. It was also named "Best Savings Coach" in Kiplinger's 2013 Best of Everything guide.

Virtual Piggy was also recognized with a Parent Tested Parent Approved Award last year.

Challenges

Webber said that Virtual Piggy needs to define itself and avoid being pigeonholed, referring to one publication that called it "PayPal for kids."

"We have a technology that is new," Webber said. "Our challenge is to get our name out there and make sure that people understand the service."

"Most teens understand what we're doing in a nanosecond, but parents don't know what Oink is or does."

Analysts

The company is not currently followed by Wall Street analysts.

Edison Investment Research, which is based in London and tracks more than 700 stocks, said Virtual Piggy "continues to sign up merchants and payment processors," which should provide "additional scope for increased transaction volumes" and revenue opportunities.

ron.white@latimes.com
Twitter: @RonWLATimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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