Monday Recap: Money 20/20 in Las Vegas

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The day started early at 8am with an outstanding session on FinTech – Venture Capital: Insider Perspectives, featuring Tom Stafford of DST, Dana Stalder of Matrix, Tricia Kemp of Oak HC/FT Partners, and Ravi Visawanthan of NEA.

Key take away was agreement no one really knows if we’re in a bubble for FinTech companies; the number of new entrants is truly staggering (well over 1,400 payments plays on Angelist for example) but while some are getting Series A from the likes of Matrix, and some continue to attract growth funding to delay their IPO, from the likes of DST or Oak, “frothy” is about as far as most would go in terms of describing the market.

Although not stated often enough, it seems one driver is the emergence of mobile commerce solutions – a decade after they were heralded during the dot com bust, when I was still working at Scient. Tom spoke with clarity how FinTech is going through a transformation like enterprise software providers saw with the cloud, which can now sell into SMB’s (acquiring them more like a consumer play might, i.e. without a salesperson) and at lesser cost, due to the rise of services like AWS.

But I think he went too far to say that larger Financial Services companies don’t do customer acquisition, service or loyalty right, and will be relegated to arcane asset-liability, risk management and back-office tasks in ten years (Wells Fargo, American Express and Capital One are excellent at what he thinks of the domain of start-up’s; user experience at Wells Fargo is top notch, for instance, and AMEX wrote the book on loyalty). But VC’s will have their inbuilt bias towards new startup’s…

For all the talk of Apple Pay, it still seems no one is covering Apple Pay as well as A16Z’s Benedict Evans.  I recommend checking out his late October post on his blog on Apple Pay (and listening to the podcast the day iPhone 6 was unveiled).

Stripe’s CTO Greg Brockman was terrific on payments and technology, and importance of continuous change. You can see why Stripe is at table, alongside much larger and more established companies, enabling mobile payments for Apple Pay.

I had a chat with with Arunan Sri, from Pivotal Labs, who talked about the importance of large companies learning to be more agile from both a business and development perspective, to become more like Stripe in continuously improving their products.

Key surprises — Ryan McInerney spoke convincingly on how Visa fits into the future, again by not resting on its laurels, but innovating around payment Security (giving a great example of how tokenization is more than just a buzz word and technology, it’s taking away the consumer’s fear around using their card for online purchases), and the need to be Intuitive (e.g. in today’s world, to move past old models, e.g. 7-10 days to get a new card, but issue cards in real time) and Instinctive (with Visa now creating a new digital payments platform that’s platform and device agnostic).

Kudos to Osama Bedier – clearly a crowd favorite – for a great talk on what he and Poynt are doing with their new product, which seeks to do for merchants what smart phones did for consumers. Beyond NFC, EMV, the Poynt team are offering up a cool device that merchants will want, consumers will love, and just keeps going with great partnerships and integrations with Vend for POS, Bigcommerce (e-commerce features, e.g. pick up in store) and Boom (traffic/conversion analytics).

Hill Ferguson from PayPal did a good job telling the crowd why he’s glad that the world is just now discovering payments are interesting after all, but key take-away was the 15-year vet of the firm sees us just as at the beginning of the FinTech change.

Next, a straight-forward talk on Citi’s Consumer Bank CEO, Jane Fraser who spoke on Citi’s shift to focus on urban markets, and leveraging its best practices gained in mobile-centric Asia.  Good article on strategy was published in today’s WSG.

A great day overall but went out with a whimper: a bit stilted interview with CEO of Western Union on how he feels about all the start up’s trying to eat his lunch, but most surprisingly a terrible presentation on “what is banking” by the Winklevoss brothers,  causing amusing tweets, e.g. “Winklevoss Brothers teaching 7,500 payments experts banking 101.”

Overall, though, Jonathan Weiner and team put together a top-notch day here at the Aria in Las Vegas.

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