Data Dive

Data Dive, The Good, The Bad And The Uncertain: Amex, Ripple, Marriott And Instacart

With 2018 down to its last two weeks, the world is busy wrapping up the old in order to ring in the new — including the newsmakers in payments. Here are the highs, lows and who-knows of last week.

American Express Is Bullish On Ripple’s Blockchain

Amex was feeling the love for the blockchain this week, with the intimation by Corporate Payments GM Carlos Carriedo that its pilot tests with partner Ripple to enable real-time cross-border corporate payments have been a success.

“Blockchain is absolutely an option we’re looking at,” he said. “Just to give you a sense, we have invested in a FinTech lab based on blockchain technology, just to understand how to leverage this better,” Carriedo said at the Wings of Change Europe conference last week.

Carriedo also specifically cited its strategic partnership with Ripple in particular, which is working with American Express and Santander to test a blockchain-powered, cross-border payments solution.

“We did a test, partnering with Santander locally, and with Ripple to just do cross-border transactions,” he said, according to reports. “And in a matter of seconds, through this test, our clients were able to transfer funds in a very transparent and seamless way, from one part of the world to the other one.”

Last year, American Express joined Ripple’s RippleNet, the blockchain network designed to provide real-time B2B payments. As part of the collaboration, American Express FX International Payments is working with Santander UK to develop a mechanism to move corporate funds between the U.S. and U.K. in real time.

Carreido went on to note that early promise aside, a lot more will have to be done before the solution is ready to roll out to the market at large.

“There is more to come,” he said. “There’s still a lot of things that need to get addressed with blockchain as a technology. But it’s very promising. … The future is definitely digital. Digital is the way payments will continue to be across both the consumer part of the business and the commercial part of the business.”

The Ever-Worsening Marriott Hack Story

The Marriott data breach, which exposed the data on about 500 million guests, was bad news. The reports that the hack was done with the full support of the Chinese government were worse.

And then last week, things got worse again, with reports in  The New York Times indicating that the Marriott hack was not a one-off, but instead part of a larger Chinese government-backed data-harvesting effort.

The report, citing two people briefed on the investigation, says China had launched an intelligence-gathering campaign that includes a rather wide array of hacks that also including health insurance companies and security clearance files of millions of people living in the U.S.

The Times reported the hackers are believed to be employed by the Ministry of State Security, China’s spy agency and that revelation that China was behind the Marriott hack comes as the U.S. government is gearing up to launch actions against China’s trade that include indicting Chinese hackers. The Marriott hacking isn’t expected to be part of the indictments.

Reports also indicated that the Trump administration is planning on declassifying intelligence reports that show China had been trying to create a database of American executives and government officials that have security clearances; and mulling an executive order that would make it more difficult for Chinese companies to get access to components that go into telecommunications equipment.

Thus far, Chinese official have denied any involvement with state-sponsored hacking.

“China firmly opposes all forms of cyberattack and cracks down on it in accordance with the law. If offered evidence, the relevant Chinese departments will carry out investigations according to the law,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The New York Times.

Instacart’s Labor Uncertainty

Instacart is facing a facing a boycott from its shoppers in protest of its new payment structure, which has resulted in a decrease in wages. As a result, the workers are boycotting — and trying to organize the company’s network of independent contractors.

In October, the company announced that by the end of the year it would be fully implementing a new formula to determine how its shoppers would be paid, which would factor in details such as the weight of items purchased. The result, according to workers, has been inconsistent wages and a boost in low-paying orders.

“We’re being mistreated,” Alid Alvarado, a single mom who lives in south suburban Oak Lawn, told the Chicago Tribune.

Since the new wage system launched in the Chicago market Nov. 5, some local shoppers have been boycotting low-paying orders in an attempt to force Instacart to pay them more. Letters are being sent to state attorneys general and members of Congress, requesting that they investigate the treatment of independent contractors.

“The gig companies need to be held accountable to the people who built their businesses,” said Matthew Telles, a shopper in Des Plaines and a chief organizer in the fight for better pay from Instacart. He estimates that anywhere from 1,000 to 15,000 shoppers are actively participating in the boycott, which Instacart claims has not affected its operations.

“We want to be clear that every shopper and every order matters to us, and we take all feedback seriously,” the company said in a statement. “We’re committed to looking into every issue that our shoppers raise to better understand how we can improve our features and create the best possible shopper experience.”

The outcome there remains TBD — and it wasn’t the only big injection of uncertainty Instacart faced last week. The grocery delivery service also announced that it will begin the process of separating from longtime partner Whole Foods, according to a report from Bloomberg.

After working together closely for the last four years, the two firms are parting ways. Instacart customers will soon no longer be able to order from Amazon-owned Whole Foods, which offers its own free delivery service for Amazon Prime members. Reports indicate that Amazon delivery workers have been increasingly displacing Instacart shoppers over the last year.

The company has about 1,415 part-time workers picking and packing groceries in Whole Foods stores. Those workers will be given the option to move to other stores or leave their jobs, Instacart said, with either severance or transfer pay.

The separation between the companies will take about two months, because they were so interconnected. What the new Instacart will look like following the Whole Foods final separation is also a bit of a question mark — Amazon’s entry into grocery has seen a lot of new partners of Instacart popping up as they hope to compete with the eCommerce giant.

We’ll keep you posted as that story unfolds.

So what did we learn this week?  The tone of the news varies — good, bad, up in the air — but in payments in commerce there’s never a lack of it.

And since this will be the last Data Dive before the holiday, have a very Merry Christmas.

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