I’ve spent the past few days with 11,000 of my closest payments and fintech friends at the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas.
It’s the sixth time around for this rodeo, which has firmly established itself as the one-stop shop to get a pulse on the payments industry.
Although I haven’t noticed many credit union badges, I’ve been heartened by a recurring pattern of “how can credit unions participate?” inquiries coming through the conference app at virtually every session.
I can’t tell whether this reflects a groundswell or a guerrilla marketing tactic. Nonetheless, allow me to share a few of my takeaways thus far.
Never underestimate the interest in artificial Intelligence (AI). In past years, Money 20/20’s Sunday sessions were treated somewhat like pre-game tailgates.
This time around, 9 a.m. AI sessions drew overflow crowds that had organizers scrambling to arrange a video feed in a second room.
Of course it doesn’t hurt to book heavyweights like Ray Kurzweil—who predicts machine learning will become “self-aware” by 2029—and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak—who suggests we employ the Golden Rule with computers in hopes they’ll someday return the favor by being nice to us.
Blockchain sessions also were well attended, not surprisingly, with an emphasis on pivots toward practical, enterprise-level applications.
On the other hand, discussions of initial coin offerings (ICOs) left me feeling we still aren’t speaking a common language on the topic, let alone reaching consensus on the value/risks of ICOs and appropriate guardrails.
The softer side of payments
There was increased focus on the softer side of payments:
• PayPal and MasterCard both devoted their keynote stage time to calls to action for collaborative industry efforts to address the two billion global unbanked population.
Before anyone files this away as a developing country problem, one speaker shared that 50% of residents in the South Bronx are unbanked.
• First Data touted its disaster recovery efforts in Hurricane Harvey’s wake, distributing wireless Clover terminals to client and non-client merchants to get commerce humming again.
• At Sunday’s on-site hackathon, a pair of 17 year olds created a particularly inspiring example with BloodBuddy, a chain-of-custody solution tracking donated blood.
• The rise of a new buzzword: Contextual commerce (not to be confused with “conversational commerce,” i.e. chatbots).
Contextual commerce is tied to the Internet of things, building on the notion of pay buttons by making payment available unobtrusively (and perhaps predictively) wherever the customer wants it. In many ways it’s a reframing of “frictionless payments,” and reignites questions of how easy is too easy.
• Seemingly contradictory statistics concerning financial institution perceptions.
On one hand, several panelists cited research that consumers dislike banks, ranking them below even airlines. On the other, some speakers emphasized banks’ enduring “trusted” status advantage.
McKinsey referred to “trust as a service” as a fundamental financial institution opportunity, and industry analysts floated the notion of financial institutions leveraging their “know your customer” and risk expertise to serve as “identity brokers” in this breach-laden world.
Similarly, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin doesn’t see financial institution lending being fully disrupted by insurgents like Lending Club because “trust is too central to the premise.”
I’ve been disappointed by the lack of blockbuster product/partnership announcements thus far. But Money 20/20 isn’t over yet.
I’ll cover a few of these in part two of my recap.
GLEN SARVADY is managing partner at 154 Advisors and senior payments expert with Best Innovation Group, a CUNA consulting partner. Follow him on Twitter via @154Advisors. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Credit Union National Association.