Family and Business Accounts

This is one for the future, but I can’t stop thinking about how badly mobile carriers mess up family accounts in particular, generally by making one person responsible for everything.

Having thought about it, the main thing people seem to use family or household accounts for are discounts, consolidated billing (parents pay, or for two partners it gets paid out of a joint account), and pooled resources such as data.

Support on family accounts is a nightmare though, nobody can decide who the “account holder” is and if they need the person whose SIM it actually is or the person whose name is on the billing contract. There is huge opportunity to rethink how a family plan should work.

There are also other cool things that can be done once you establish a concept of a group of people, such as a shared phone number that can ring everyone who has opted into it for use cases such as package deliveries where I would normally put a landline number for the house.

A lot of these things map on to businesses too, especially where you can offer API integrations and login with SSO/SAML. This would be ideal for business doing on-call on a separate phone, currently this is a nightmare to manage and expense while business accounts at large carriers often involve huge minimum contracts.

One of the things we did at Monzo on top of Twilio for on-call was build a floating phone number that payment schemes could call us on in the case of an operations issue, and it would use PagerDuty to update the list of who was on-call for what so the right people got the right calls. These either go to people’s personal numbers (not great), or to these separate phones that are a pain to manage.

We would have paid serious money for SIMs that could be tied to our own employee onboarding/offboarding system and a floating number that could be updated (done this way around to be resiliant to platform outages).

This is especially true if the API supported webhooks on calls, just to get something posted in an on-call Slack channel that a particular payment scheme tried to call, and then who picked up. This also helps automatically build incident report timelines.

As a bonus, if you own your own technology core, there is little to stop you from offering the ability to see the SMS log or make calls from a company laptop too, which is particularly helpful because you can use headsets for longer incident calls or phone conferences we have to join.

Even outside of incidents, the separation of work and personal phone numbers is important, particularly because when you offboard an employee or they just go on holiday, you want them to stop receiving business senseitive calls and either redirect or notify the person calling of the change, much like company email addresses. :slightly_smiling_face:

In general, there seems to be little middle ground for company-owned SIMs between buying Pay as you Go SIMs and going for huge contracts that also often include devices and don’t have that API or flexibility. There is a serious opportunity here for change from organisations willing to pay a small premium for easier management. :heart:

Another aspect is allowing both parents to view and top up the kids accounts, whilst not seeing each others (parents) account details.

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Indeed, in particular for my own life, I want no ability to manage my partner’s SIMs but we both need to see the shared billing information. Meanwhile, if I had a younger child, I might start them off as a SIM on my account, give them their own account with my oversight (I have opinions on where the line is there given LGBT+ issues and general parental control but that’s not for now), then graduate them up to their own private account where I just see billing before they go off independently and pay for their own.

Done right, that progression can be great for long term customer loyalty.

I also have grandparents who pay from their own bank account, but I have management rights to ensure they’re always on the right plan (example: boosting minutes when they’re in hospital a lot). So that may be a separate account and separate billing account that I may have control of from my user account (it makes sense if you draw it on a whiteboard!).

Back to my own needs, I think of this much like Monzo’s Joint Accounts, where you each manage and freeze your own cards, but can both see the account as opposed to my American Express supplementary card (granted, credit agreements require that I have control over all cards) where my partner can only see their own spending where I can see all of it, which was clearly designed for a different kind of relationship than ours.

We gave up on trying to do a family plan of phones out of a joint account because it was just too difficult, and just pay it our of our personal bank accounts. I myself currently have a mess of iPad, computer, phone + smart watch carrier accounts across three separate providers.

Then we built the features we wanted on our home networking infrastructure to convert the OpenReach landline (with a SIP gateway provider for cheaper outbound calls) into an IP SIP connection that feeds into a bunch of Power over Ethernet desk/DECT phones and can use either a SIP gateway or direct SIP client to our mobile phones (I really want access to the carrier-only iOS native WiFi calling here to make it seamless and not require sideloading a badly homemade CallKit-based SIP client. :sob:).