Technology has transformed how consumers get daily tasks done, changing in-person local services into a vast coordinated system involving millions of people. Potentially caught in limbo as this on-demand environment grows are the independent workers – who face new financial responsibilities as contractors instead of employees – and the companies they work with. PYMNTS recently spoke with Michael Ting, the newly appointed SVP of Digital Markets at Hyperwallet, who shared his thoughts on this issue, as well as others related to the quest to simplify mass payments globally.
In your opinion, what are the top trends influencing the digital market sector today, both in the U.S. and abroad?
MT: If you were to dial the clock back a few years, the conversation would be about the surge of digital marketplaces, the sharing economy, crowdsourcing – things like that. Today, although those categories continue to grow, the environment for on-demand services has taken a front seat.
Technology has enabled what typically were local, in-person services to be coordinated systematically across millions of people. It’s rapidly shifting the way that consumers get daily tasks done: everything from transportation, to food delivery, to grocery shopping…everything has a solution. And all of these solutions have developed playbooks that enable them to light up their services in multiple cities and countries around the world, without having to reinvent the wheel.
While many consumers have quickly adopted these services, there’s also a trend in migration of independent workers, who effectively fill the supply side of the equation for these on-demand marketplaces. We’re talking about drivers, couriers, food delivery folks – you name it. A lot of people are calling it the “1099 economy.” While it’s empowered a lot of these people to earn a livelihood with the flexibility of working when they want, there are unintended consequences.
For example, a lot of these independent workers now have to deal with filing income taxes as independent contractors, while they likely never had to deal with that as a full-time employee because they had taxes withheld. They have to track and deduct their business-related expenses; they have to figure out how to manage their finances when the frequency of payment from the marketplace doesn’t exactly match their cash-flow pattern. These are some of the problems that we tend to keep an eye on.
In your new role, you are tasked with developing commercial and strategic partnerships with emerging high-tech and high-growth companies. What have you heard from them so far?
MT: We’ve been hearing a couple of things. First and foremost, these companies are in a constant cycle of simplification – simplifying the user experience and moving toward a sort of “frictionless utopia.” They are all very aware of what their own core competencies are and of where they want to focus their resources.
That being said, everything else that falls outside of that – in their view – can and should be sourced to one or more third parties who specialize in a particular area. All of this happens with the caveat that they get to retain control.
That’s really the second thing we’ve been hearing. They want control of the experience, control of user relationships, and – in many cases – control of the data. When we talk to these companies about the issues they deal with, specifically in payments, simplicity and less friction are common objectives. They’re looking for solutions that can eliminate barriers to adoption and activation, like collecting and validating a consumer bank account.
Control also becomes a key part of that discussion. It’s not necessarily about having control over how the payments are done, or over what network, or things like that; it’s about having control over the user experience, the transparency into all the downstream costs in the value chain, and some access to visibility into the last mile of delivery so they can properly support their customers.
They take the obligation to pay their independent workforce very seriously, so these are all things that enable them to fulfill their promise to their payees.
Scalability, global reach and a frictionless payment experience are top priorities for these companies. With so many payment providers in the market, why do you feel Hyperwallet is particularly well suited to meet the needs of this segment?
MT: Hyperwallet is a 15-year-old company – but it was founded as a technology platform, rather than strictly as a payments service. Our core DNA really resonates with a lot of these emerging companies, and that contributes to our avoiding the trap of being classified purely as a method of payment.
When you look at our peers in the field, there are some outstanding companies who manage payouts very well – but they each do so purely for a specific type of payment method. There are global bank deposit solutions, prepaid card programs, cash pickup outlets, et cetera.
The goal of any of the marketplace companies is to enable as many options as possible, and our platform model is infinitely scalable in that regard. Not only can we enable any type of payment that exists today, but we’re also built to enable any type of payment that may emerge in the future. By that same token, we’re unrestrained geographically, because we’ve built our own network of last-mile partners and banks across more than 170 companies over the course of many years.
Above everything else, we tend to take a more holistic view of a problem. There are three parts to our objective. First, we wanted to help simplify and streamline how companies pay their independent workers or suppliers – plain and simple with no conditions. We’re entirely agnostic to the preferred method of payment; instead, we act as the full-service link between companies and those that they have to pay.
The second part is we want to help those companies deliver more value to the community beyond just the pure payment transaction itself, so that the affinity between that company and those workers becomes that much more binding.
The third part is that we want to enable those companies to have the flexibility and control to adopt and deliver these services as their businesses scale and evolve.
Hyperwallet’s stated vision is to simplify mass payments globally. What do you bring to the table to help with that vision, and how do you expect that digital marketplaces will evolve?
MT: I can speak from a personal perspective, having been on the other side as an operator with a digital marketplace company. Simplifying mass payment is really about enabling companies to know that their provider can manage all of their payments – not just a specific type of payment or a particular set of countries.
We want companies to avoid going down the path of layering different payment solutions on top of one another and creating a clunky user experience and inconsistent operational processes. We want to streamline that for them so that the friction typically associated with paying out hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of payees is virtually eliminated, and a better relationship results between the company and its community.
As for how digital marketplaces will evolve, I expect to see them become more commonplace, in general. Specifically with regards to individuals on the supply side, I expect them to start regarding these platforms as more than just a source of discretionary income. This means that they’ll have to start taking into consideration all the things that I mentioned earlier – related to tax consequences, and how they manage their working capital and cash flow – because, at the end of the day, they’re effectively small businesses.
As a result, I expect these companies to shift away from regarding payments as just a pure function – like an accounts payable function or an accounting function – and more as an integral part of their marketplace. They’ll be the first ones to admit that, despite their vision, none of them has entire control over what changes will arise in the future or what their businesses will look like in 5 to 7 years. Our platform was designed to grow with the companies, so that they’re not forced to revisit their general payment strategies when they hit a new inflection point every couple of years.
Michael Ting, SVP, Digital Markets, Hyperwallet
Michael has more than 20 years of product, business development, and operations experience in financial services, payments, and digital marketplaces. As the Senior Vice President, Digital Markets, Michael is responsible for developing Hyperwallet’s commercial and strategic partnerships with emerging growth companies in the high tech and marketplace sectors.
As the former Head of Payment Services for oDesk (now Elance-oDesk), Michael was responsible for global payments product management, operations, and vendor management. This role involved the handling of all payment-related business development activities with financial institutions, merchant acquirers, and payment service providers. Prior to oDesk, Michael managed online payment products at Obopay, Inc., as well as serving in a variety of strategic partnership and operational roles for WR Hambrecht + Co., PayPal, and Barclays Global Investors.
A resident of the Bay Area, Michael holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics (Business) from UCLA.