“We’ve basically seen a multi-year acceleration of the world going digital over the course of a few weeks.”
That’s Visa Senior Vice President and Global Head of FinTech Terry Angelos reflecting on the impact of the rapid shift to digital for consumers and businesses around the globe who en masse began living many aspects of their personal and business lives in a mostly digital world — literally all at once, overnight.
Buttressing that great acceleration, Angelos told Karen Webster in a recent conversation, are demands for new use cases for digital that are emerging nearly every day. FinTechs, he noted, are currently “working overtime” to steady their organizations through the current turbulence, while at the same time developing apps and tech to help meet new consumer and business needs.
Making it easier for these FinTechs to get up and running with Visa credentials — and providing access to a variety of payments players that represent the full payments stack — is the essence of Visa’s Fast Track program. The program launched in 2018 and has grown 280 percent since then, and now includes 140 FinTechs globally.
Today, Visa announces a new class of FinTechs — 18 firms who are all focused in some way on moving consumers and businesses on to the road to recovery. Those firms are spread across five categories, all aimed at bridging different parts of the digital divide for consumers and merchants: enablement partners, female-founded FinTechs, digital currency wallets, consumer-centric and business-to-business (B2B) solutions providers. With the latest induction, some of those categories are notably growing — the payments enablement partners category added Cascade FinTech, Deserve, and PEX Card, which join Fast Track global alumni Galileo, Marqeta, and Stripe. That brings the total number of enablement partners to more than 20 globally.
“There has been and will be the priority to move money quickly — something that we think is absolutely critical to rebuilding the global economy,” Angelos said.
How Innovators Are Moving Money
As a whole, Angelos noted, the latest class of Fast Track participants worldwide have stepped up in many ways to offer support to consumers and small businesses alike. They have better tools for digital onboarding, managing personal or professional finances, accessing loans and credit lines, replacing physical commerce channels with digital ones — the list stretches quite far in a world switched to digital overnight.
Three, in particular, he said, truly address the unique demands imposed on businesses by the pandemic by enabling the delivery of critical services to consumers and businesses in need.
Australia-founded Airwallex, which simplifies business-to-business cross-border payments, has helped expedite the purchase and delivery of personal protection equipment (PPE) from China. The on-demand delivery startup Rappi out of Colombia has begun piloting food delivery by robots, a “no-touch” delivery food service to consumers from restaurants working to minimize the spread of the virus. Rappi, he noted, was working on that robotics innovation long before the coronavirus appeared, but the market changed to enhance its relevance very quickly. In the U.S., Angelos acknowledged Fundation, an online lending platform for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) currently dealing with an acutely distressed client base, and that has redirected its efforts to helping the SMBs they work with apply for and gain access to PPP funding.
Efforts at helping SMBs that are often unbanked or underbanked gain access to PPP funds has become something of a theme among several members of the current Fast Track class. Cross River Bank, he noted, one of the Fast Track program partners, has created a white-label lending platform that allows FinTechs that aren’t qualified to process loans directly through the SBA program, to instead use their white-label product to underwrite the SMB customers’ applications, and process the loans using their rails.
Making it faster and more efficient for FinTechs to enable the issuing and processing of Visa credentials serves that aim on a global scale. As more and more digital wallets emerge worldwide, Visa B2B Connect enables bank-to-bank, cross border payments between businesses to streamline the payments experience. That’s particularly important as cash-based economies want to move digital, and consumers with digital wallets want to able to transact using funds in those wallets via digital channels. An M-Pesa client in Kenya can’t use funds in that wallet it to pay for a Netflix subscription, because it’s not a payment method Netflix recognizes — Visa Connect makes transactions like that possible.
“The digital world isn’t going away — if anything, it’s going to grow,” Angelos said. “Our goal is to offer FinTechs a faster, better way to a secure way to move money globally — at scale.”
The New Ecosystem
What comes next is not something anyone can know, Angelos noted. Consumers are learning new, digitally enhanced ways to do just about everything — and some of those habits are going to remain long after the pandemic has passed.
And while that means change, from Angelos’ point of view that change is exciting because it is going to mean more participants and people able to access the digital economy from anywhere and everywhere to interact and transact however they chose to — from paying for grocery pick-up curbside with bitcoin to purchasing a Netflix subscription with M Pesa for the first time. These activities, he said, are going to be supported by the up-and-coming generation of innovators Visa is working with today — and hoping to fast track onto the global stage.
“If you take a long-term view, which is generally what we tend to do at Visa, we think that the acceleration to digital that is happening now will keep right on happening in the recovery. And it will be carried forward by these new businesses and use cases that are emerging, built on these new payments stacks.”
Angelos said that one of the exciting outcomes of this latest FastTrack Class is the acceleration of Visa’s own digitization efforts. A year ago, he noted, much of the application process for Fast Track had to go through some offline channels: phone calls, meetings and emails to make the process work. Today, it all happens in a single digital portal where potential Fast Track FinTechs can log in and be educated about payment use cases, apply and go through a licensing risk assessment and certification process. And that, he said, was no small migration, considering that the documentation and information Visa needs about a firm to license them is comprehensive.
“In a time like this, we realized how much of an advantage it is that those clients don’t have to pick up the phone, or wait for a meeting or email back,” Angelos said. “All they have to do is log into the portal to see the status of an application — and we can monitor the status as well to see where they are in the process and troubleshoot, as needed, along the way.”
Because, he noted, Visa really believes building a better world going forward will mean a lot of processes will be improved and streamlined by going online. Even some of its own.