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Protocol | Fintech
The people, power and politics of fintech, every Tuesday and Friday.
Image: Blake Wisz / Protocol

One finance app to rule them all

One finance app to rule them all

Hello and welcome to Protocol | Fintech, your new home for news, analysis and research on the people, power and politics of how tech is reshaping finance.

We're Ben Pimentel and Tomio Geron, and we'll be your guides to the sector. We'll explore how fintech is changing the way consumers and businesses are managing finances, how banks are being remade through technology and how technology is upending Wall Street — with a focus on the people making it all happen.

You can expect deep-dive reporting, story packages about the most important industry trends, insights from our panel of Braintrust experts, a vibrant series of events, research that helps you prepare for the future and, of course, newsletters like this one, which you'll receive every Tuesday and Friday.

So without further ado, let's get on with it! This Tuesday: a look at PayPal's super app ambitions, Vlad heads to Washington and the trend that has Quicken's CEO excited (and slightly nervous).

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The Big Story

It's a bird, it's an app, it's a Super App!

When PayPal launched in 1998, there were few ways to pay online safely with fraud protections. Fast forward to 2021, though, and consumers have so many ways to move and manage their money using technology.

In this new world, a payments app isn't enough to keep up, even if it's a popular and widely-used one. That's why PayPal plans to build a "super app." It's a ... bold plan, to say the least.

  • Wall Street was certainly impressed, though. PayPal's stock has rallied about 20% in the past two weeks on strong results and now the super-app news. The company has now surpassed MasterCard's valuation.
  • Wedbush's Moshe Katri gave the company kudos for "adapting the company's technical infrastructure to scale globally with enhanced risk and compliance." He also told clients in a note that the super-app plan would give PayPal more ability to "handle the start and finish of commerce transactions or financial services."
  • "I think they're being smart in finding all the different pathways where they can be a key infrastructure layer for money movement on online," Mark Batsiyan, partner at Inspired Capital, told Protocol.

So what does a super app look like? Clearly, PayPal is following a playbook written in China, where fintech has been a fast-growing, dynamic and booming industry for years, Rob Siegel, a management lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business, told Protocol.

  • "Everybody would love to be like Ant Financial or a WeChat because you're integrating every part of the economy," Siegel said. "It's a very attractive vision."
  • In fact, PayPal has been making some big China moves of its own: The company now owns 100% of payment platform GoPay, becoming the first foreign company licensed to outright own a payment service in China. Katri noted PayPal's opportunities in the "large untapped potential for non-China based merchants aiming to transact with Chinese sellers."

But more importantly, what's the competition like? In a word: vast. Here are the main players vying to be consumers' go-to financial app — and their advantages over PayPal in some areas:

  • Apple has a locked-in user base of millions of iPhone consumers who use Apple Pay for touchless payments in stores and online. While PayPal has moved to focus more on in-person transactions, that's not its historical strength.
  • Google relaunched its Google Pay app, which has peer-to-peer payments and bill splitting, and can link to credit cards and bank accounts to surface budgeting insights. It can pull receipts from Gmail and Google Photos and aggregate that data for you, too.
  • Big banks are the default for many consumers who may not want to share their financial data through a payments or shopping app. Banks are also building their own digital brands pretty quickly.
  • Meanwhile, quickly-growing, mobile-first challenger banks such as Chime, Varo and Current offer younger consumers or those underserved by financial institutions a brand that speak to their needs.
  • Square is smaller, but is still growing its merchant network and popular Cash App.
  • Shopping apps from Amazon to Shopify to Affirm and Klarna have loyal followings and deep experience with ecommerce and serving up targeted deals. Amazon already has popular consumer and business credit cards.
  • The elephant in the room is Stripe, which many believe has much greater ambitions than being just a developer-friendly online payments company. Stripe recently launched Stripe Treasury, which provides ecommerce companies with the option to embed financial services.
  • And then there's the dark horses: the non-fintech companies, such as Walmart, with their huge existing user bases. Walmart already has a card and an early-pay program for employees and could spin up checking, other types of loans and so on if it wanted to.

So can there even be a dominant super app in the U.S. in the way Ant Financial has stormed China?

  • It's gonna be tough. Fintech in China is dramatically different, Siegel said: "China didn't have as developed a financial services infrastructure so there was an opportunity for somebody to get a dominant market share, and do so digitally. It was an open playing field, and Ant Financial just executed flawlessly."
  • In the U.S., there's a "more mature financial services industry, and a more competitive industry," he added. There's going to be a lot of choice, and consumers will pick a brand they trust and that fits their needs best. "I think it'll be hard to be as dominant as WePay and AntFinancial," Siegel said.

But don't rule PayPal's vision out entirely just yet. "Dan Schulman is a spectacular leader," Siegel said. "Anytime Dan says that he's going to do something, it's worth paying attention."

A MESSAGE FROM BROADRIDGE

Broadridge

The future is positively digital. Ready? Consumers, investors and shareholders are savvier than ever. Everyone needs to create more engaging experiences that keep pace with today's new expectations. See how you can stay ahead with next-gen technologies that deliver on what matters most. We can help.

Overheard

  • "We see ourselves as part of a replacement for Venmo. We saw couples Venmoing back and forth to each other sometimes six times a day. We want to take over your money chores."Aditi Shekar, co-founder of Zeta, which seeks to help couples manage their finances.
  • "Something with a long-term volatility of 80% can't be considered a medium of exchange. Just because everybody piles into an idea and talks it up doesn't mean it's a store of value." Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani, head of consumer and investment management at Goldman Sachs, on the future of Bitcoin.
  • "How come I didn't make a ton of money? Because not all cryptocurrencies are equal. That's why I don't really love this crypto stuff. You have to guess which coin is going to move."Investor Kevin O'Leary on cryptocurrencies.
  • "We don't leave a country when it's in really bad shape. We can really make a difference." Jane Fraser, incoming Citi CEO, on how the bank continued operating in Puerto Rico amid the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

Making Moves

Three Questions With...

Quicken CEO Eric Dunn

What was your biggest blunder and what did you learn from it?

One of my biggest blunders was hiring the wrong person for a leadership role, and after realizing that they were not the right person for the role, not acting quickly enough to make a change. The key learning I took away is the importance of listening to your gut. I had a somewhat uneasy feeling from the beginning, and I should have moved more quickly when it became obvious it wasn't working out.

What are you most excited about in fintech?

I am excited about open banking and the new FedNow payments system. Open banking is the concept of financial institutions unlocking for their customers secure access to their data. This lets customers use the best tools and technologies for achieving financial outcomes. FedNow is a 21st century payment system being built by the Federal Reserve that will offer fast, secure, economical and ubiquitous payments, enabling a new set of consumer-friendly payments services and applications.

What fintech trend/direction are you most worried about?

I am worried about security and the ability of bad actors to attack financial systems and tools. This is why at Quicken we have doubled our investments in security and fraud-prevention tools and resources over the last 18 months and are committed to staying leading-edge in our security-related systems and processes.

Need to Know

  • Vlad goes to Washington. Robinhood executives are expected to appear Thursday before a House panel together with representatives from Citadel Securities, Melvin Capital and Reddit, as well as the YouTube streamer and investor Roaring Kitty, to answer questions about the GameStop stock trading controversy.
  • Goldman Sachs will offer consumers help with investments. The bank is rolling out a new investing platform called Marcus Invest as part of its Marcus consumer banking app.
  • MoneyLion joins the SPAC bandwagon. The mobile banking platform is going public via a special purpose acquisition company led by Fusion Acquisition Corp. The deal is valued at $2.9 billion.
  • Shopify is expanding on Facebook and Instagram. The company is making its Shop Pay service available to users of the popular social platforms.
  • Citi is forging closer ties with Google. It's incoming CEO says the bank "plans to continue a collaboration … in which the internet giant offers low-cost bank accounts and payment services using Citi's plumbing." It already has Plex, a banking service from Citi and other banks, being offered through Google.
  • MasterCard is joining the crypto craze and opening up its network to some cryptocurrencies.
  • Revolut is creating self-destructing codes: Its new virtual card generates security codes for each transaction, which are then destroyed to minimize fraud.
  • Equifax bought AccountScore. The transaction data analytics company is looking to expand its open-banking capabilities.
  • De-Fi as a game changer. The Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis published a paper that portrays decentralized finance, which is the opposite of the existing federal reserve banking system, as a potential "paradigm shift."
  • LexisNexis Risk Solutions has an alternative credit score, which it says is based on a "comprehensive view of consumer credit risk."
  • Banks aren't that crucial, consumers say. A new survey by Fico, the predictive analytics company, found that only 1% of U.S. consumers view banks as "crucial to their financial success."

Deal Flow

  • Public, a social network that offers free stock trading, is raising $200 million at a $1.2 billion valuation in a Series D round led by Tiger Global Management.
  • Splitit, a "buy now, pay later" platform based in Australia, has secured a $150 million credit facility from Goldman Sachs to expand in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Symend, a platform that helps customers manage the way they pay their past-due bills, raised $43 million from VCs led by Inovia Capital.
  • TomoCredit, which raised $7 million from investors including KB Investment, Kookmin Bank and Barclays, helps first-time immigrant borrowers build their credit history.
  • Ramp, a corporate spending management platform, secured a $150 million credit financing with Goldman Sachs.
  • Uplift, which offers "buy now, pay later" services for enterprises, said it has signed a partnership with major airlines, cruise lines and travel agencies, including Air Canada, Alaska Airlines and Grand European Travel.

A MESSAGE FROM BROADRIDGE

Broadridge

The future is positively digital. Ready? Consumers, investors and shareholders are savvier than ever. Everyone needs to create more engaging experiences that keep pace with today's new expectations. See how you can stay ahead with next-gen technologies that deliver on what matters most. We can help.

Thanks for reading the first edition! We'll be back with Protocol | Fintech on Friday.

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