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Money20/20 US: The payments industry returns to Las Vegas

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Money20/20 in late October held its first in-person conference in the U.S. since October 2019. The event continues to serve as one of — if not the most — important convergences of stakeholders at the intersection of financial services and technology. This year's show was somewhat scaled back from previous years, for obvious reasons, but it still managed to attract several thousand attendees to Las Vegas and featured over 100 announcements. Key topics that emerged in our meetings and across the show floor included embedded finance, digital identity, buy now pay later, cryptocurrency, payment orchestration and earned wage access.

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While there was no shortage of activity at Money20/20, the show had a somewhat different feel this year. Aside from the obvious change of conducting meetings in masks, many of the industry's largest players such as Visa Inc. and PayPal Holdings Inc. had a limited presence in terms of attendees, announcements and visibility on the show floor. This is likely more a factor of corporate and international travel restrictions than anything else, but it provided an opportunity for the younger cohort of financial tech firms to largely dominate the narrative, look and feel of the event. Cryptocurrency and embedded finance were the unmistakable and omnipresent themes of this year's show, and BNPL was on everyone's mind. We also observed plenty of discussion around payment orchestration and digital identity, and saw growing interest in earned wage access.

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Key themes

In the words of Journey, the headliner at this year's Money20/20 industry party, "don't stop believing" in the staying power of in-person events. The fact that Money20/20 was able to gather several thousand — vaccinated and/or COVID-19-tested — attendees in Las Vegas during a pandemic is a testament to both impact the event has for the fintech ecosystem and the pent-up demand for face-to-face interactions. While this year's event was understandably smaller than in 2019, there was plenty going on during our three days on the ground. Below, we highlight several of the more prominent themes that we observed.

* Embedded finance. Software and technology businesses across verticals are increasingly integrating payments and financial services into their products. A burgeoning ecosystem of banking-as-a-service, or BaaS, vendors has emerged to exploit this opportunity, and many were present at the show. The emphasis on embedded finance was clear by simply scanning Money20/20's sponsor list, which included the likes of Zeta Services Inc.Marqeta Inc., Rize, Railsbank Technology Ltd.Synctera Inc.Bond Financial Technologies Inc.Treasury Prime Inc.Finix Payments Inc.Apto Payments Inc.Unit Finance Inc. and NovoPayment Inc.

There was notable activity relating to card issuance. Zeta was one of the show's largest and most visible sponsors and used the event to build U.S. awareness after seeing traction in India with its card-issuing platform. Additional card issuing activity was seen from The Hydrogen Technology Corp., which announced the launch of Hydrogen Cards, and Deserve Inc., which announced a new strategic investment from Visa. We also met with Highnote Platform Inc., an early-stage card issuing platform founded by Braintree alums that emerged from stealth mode in September with $54 million in funding.

* Buy now pay later. As expected, BNPL was a topic that permeated nearly all our conversations at the conference. Key areas of discussion included the future role of regulators in the segment, the opportunity for financial institutions to directly participate in BNPL and the long-term impact BNPL may have on younger consumers' financial behaviors. Two announcements at the show centered on bank-led BNPL: Inc., a BNPL platform for banks, announced a $22.5 million investment from IKEA's Ingka Investments, while Amount Inc., a Jifiti competitor, unveiled a partnership with Marqeta for virtual cards and loan origination tools targeted at banks.

We were also intrigued by Sezzle Inc.'s introduction of "Sezzle Up!" that aims to help consumers use BNPL to build their credit. Most companies we spoke with were confident BNPL will leave a lasting impact on financial services but expressed significant uncertainty on how the sector will evolve in the years ahead.

* Cryptocurrency. The level of activity around cryptocurrency, decentralized finance and digital assets at Money20/20 was palpable. Approaching the expo hall, attendees were greeted by a massive banner from New York Digital Investment Group LLC — a five-star sponsor of the show. Many cryptocurrency companies spent a lot on Money20/20 this year — was also a five-star sponsor, and BitGo Inc.Bitstamp Ltd.Chainalysis Inc.Circle Internet Financial Ltd.Paxos Trust Co. LLCPrimeTrust LLC and the Stellar Development Foundation were listed as four-star sponsors.

Announcements came from all directions, including merchant acceptance (ACI Worldwide Inc.'s partnership with RocketFuel Blockchain Inc. to integrate cryptocurrency acceptance into its ACI Secure eCommerce platform); consumer payments (Alt 5 Sigma Inc.'s launch of Visa and Mastercard Inc. cryptocurrency cards, Mastercard's partnership with Bakkt Holdings Inc. for cryptocurrency rewards and spending); and digital asset management (new cryptocurrency accounting capabilities from TaxBit Inc., Bitwave's new Enterprise Digital Asset Maturity Model, Vesper Finance's launch of Vesper Grow to generate yield on cryptocurrency holdings).

* Payment orchestration. Orchestrating payments across multiple payment providers was on the minds of many of the gateways, payment service providers and merchants we met with. Merchants are increasingly looking to architect a payment stack tailored to their business needs, and there is no shortage of startups eager to support them. Some independent vendors in this category present at the show include Spreedly Inc.Gr4vy Inc.Primer API Ltd. and APEXX Fintech LtdVery Good Security Inc. is among the newest entrants into the category, having launched and demoed its payment orchestration capabilities at the conference.

We believe the trend toward payment orchestration will only increase, fueled by a growing appetite among merchants to optimize their acceptance strategies. The growing emphasis on reaching new markets such as Latin America — where we saw plenty of players at the conference, including Pagsmile, PagBrasil, Dlocal LLP and Accion International — is another item we expect will drive the payment orchestration segment forward.

* Digital identity. It was hard to miss the focus on revolutionizing identity verification at Money20/20, with vendors targeting use cases including onboarding and login adorning nearly every aisle of the show floor. These providers aim to prevent attacks such as account takeover and new account fraud. Examples of vendors at the show providing capabilities across these areas included Socure Inc.Neustar Inc.Incode Technologies Inc., LoginID Inc., Trulio, Callsign, SentiLink Corp. Veriff, TeleSign Corp.DataSeers Inc., AU10TIX, Facephi Biometria SA, Prove and IDology Inc. Socure, which counts four of the five largest banks as clients, reported at the show that its third-quarter bookings had increased 500% year over year, while new clients increased by 221%.

* Earned wage access. We saw much activity pertaining to EWA for gig workers and hourly employees, such as after a completed shift or job. Also known as on-demand wage access, we see this as a trend that may help reduce consumer reliance on predatory payday loans and cash advances. For employers, it can be harnessed as a retention strategy and employee acquisition tool. Examples of vendors at the show providing these capabilities included DailyPay Inc.Gig Wage Inc.NetSpend Corp. (with its Earned Wage Access platform) and Payfare Inc., which announced a partnership with Wise at the show. Another notable partnership was announced between Marqeta and Branch, which will see Uber Freight LLC carriers gain the ability to receive payouts two hours after deliveries.

The growing conversation around real-time wage access has emerged as the U.S. begins its transition to real-time payment infrastructure, with The Clearing House's RTP network now live and the Federal Reserve's FedNow system set to launch in 2023. These initiatives will vie for contention with card-based funds transfer systems including Visa Direct and Mastercard Send.

This article was published by S&P Global Market Intelligence and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.

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