Fintech web 2.5 : Payments

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2023!

Most recently, I wrote a piece highlighting the massive dip in the crypto market and how I still believe in crypto and the underlying blockchain technologies to solve real tangible problems.

Today, I’ll continue that series and dive into how the new wave of fintech web 2.5 companies are well-positioned to both SUPPORT and DISRUPT financial institutions (FI) with payments by leveraging blockchain technology.

Payments

Innovations and solutions in the U.S. payment systems have resulted from skirting the existing regulatory blocks and infrastructure rails. We have come a long way from paying in cash. Still, massive opportunities in remittances, P2P payment, and B2B payment spaces have yet to be fully realized in the States.

The most common payment rails are ACH FedNow, card networks, and same-day electronic funds transfer systems (Fedwire and CHIPS). These solutions are expensive, with long waiting periods severely fragmented across the industry. Orum, a payments orchestration company that routes money on whatever rail is best for your business, and Affirm Debit+, which acts as a hybrid debit-credit card that allows customers to use the card for all their purchases to pay in full or through monthly installments, are coming up with innovative solutions on existing payment rails.

Yet looking at the legacy typical payment flow below, we see that every step along the way, there are fees incurred, slow speed, and centralized players who control the process.

Source: Payment 101 series

There must be a better way!

There is.

Three critical factors are setting in motion the dawn of emerging payment rails: 1) technological innovation, 2) market demand, and 3) regulatory changes.

Technological Innovation:

For the first time in history, blockchain technologies present the technological innovation to enable fast, secure, lower-fee payment transactions that are not restricted by traditional payment rails.

Blockchain enables instantaneous bilateral settlement between two unknown parties sounds like the perfect use case for payments.

Market Demands:

Every day more and more companies are accepting crypto payments, like Microsoft, PayPal, Overstock, Wholefoods, Newegg, Home Depot, Rakuten, Twitch, CheapAir.com, and AMC Theaters.

Regulatory Changes:

In January 2022, the Federal Reserve System released a report on central bank digital currencies (CDBCs) that didn’t provide plans to issue digital currencies as a liability from the Federal Reserve but instead potentially through intermediaries like commercial banks or regulated nonbank financial service providers. The report considers how CBCDs could “fit into the US money and payments landscape,” which strongly signals that the Fed sees the value and importance of these digital assets.

It pointed to stablecoins like USDC, USDT, and BNB pegged to the U.S. dollars as the predominant digital asset facilitating trades of other digital assets and viable means of payment. This was further endorsed by the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, which recognized that well-designed and regulated stablecoins could provide faster, more efficient, and more inclusive payment options. It also lists that the use of stablecoins can cause disruption in the payment system and concentration of economic power — all good things, in my opinion.

So, what are some solutions on the market, you ask?

The first solution I’d like to highlight is around crypto commerce enablement. This satisfies the needs of companies like the ones listed above to provide their customers with the ability to purchase goods and services in crypto.

Enter Fintech Web 2.5: Flexa

One of my favorite companies in this space is Flexa, a payment processing company that is solving the problem of “how do I buy something with crypto?”.

With Flexa, you can purchase goods and services with stablecoins such as USDC, Dai, and other supported tokens. Merchants pay a 1% fee compared to the > 3% fee credit card companies charge. Flexa is focused on reducing costs, settlement time, and fraud for merchants. Payments are backed by Flexas’s ERC-20 token Amp, staked as collateral against the transaction. If the merchant doesn’t receive payment, the staked AMP is liquidated to cover the loss. On the flip side, when the transaction is successfully completed, the 1% transaction fee is redistributed to AMP holders to reward the incurred risk. A significant differentiation is that AMP token staking yield comes from real-world use and not just staking innovation (which, to me, is deeply important when assessing the value of cryptocurrencies). Flexa is currently integrated with more than 40,000 partners and recently started working with Shopify. The company is based in New York City, adhering to the state’s tough compliance standards, including FinCEN and NMLS.

The mention of Flexa’s AMP coin gives an inaccurate depiction that the payment processing journey is for “crypto native” merchants. However, Flexa’s website outlines the merchant payment experience more akin to traditional payment company workflows. Flexa uses closed-looped payments to connect directly to the base layer of the merchant’s processing infrastructure, allowing crypto to fiat payments with faster processing times and lower costs.

Source: Flexa’s Website Merchant Experience

The second is around global B2B payments and invoice management, which I, a former entrepreneur with a presence both in the US and LatAm, can personally attest to this being a cumbersome, slow (taking 2–5 days), and expensive process.

Global payments have a slow settlement, high fees, and limited accessibility. The reasons for these tensions are underpinned by the procedures of currency exchanges, time-zone differences, legal and tech structure distinctions country by country, and orchestration problems between intermediary banks and financial service providers. Lastly, you are usually charged a premium if you’re in a country with few cross-border payment providers due to the lack of competition. This is all bad.

Cross-border payments represent a $130 trillion global market opportunity that will only grow as our world becomes more interconnected.

Enter Fintech Web 2.5: Syro

Syro enables instant cross-border B2B invoicing and payment. Syro processes payments in less than 5 seconds, costing around ~$.001. Competitors can’t compete with Syro’s speed and price because they use traditional banking infrastructure and legacy systems like SWIFT messaging, which includes a waiting period, transaction fees, and currency exchange fees.

Syro leverages stablecoins like Celo’s CUSD and Circle’s USDC to pay the invoice, reduce transaction fees, and remove third-party intermediaries. It’s important to note that these stablecoins differ from Terra’s UST, an algorithmic stablecoin backed by LUNA, not a real-world asset.

The Syro solution is built for non-native crypto customers to use easily by generating noncustodial wallets for the user through a third-party provider, sending, tracking, and confirming invoice and payment records, and cutting costs and time per transaction. Syro is streamlining cross-border payments using blockchain technologies, using stablecoins as their digital asset, and opening cross-border distribution channels.

Parting Thoughts

We are only at the tip of the iceberg regarding blockchain’s disruption to the payments market. We are at the dawn of emerging payment rails triggered by 1) technological innovation, 2) market demand, and 3) regulatory changes. As mindsets continue to change, we will see legacy payment players who either embrace the emergent payment rails or slowly die in this next chapter of change.

What other spaces do you see within financial services ripe for disruption by leveraging blockchain technology? Let me know!

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MichelleisVC.eth

NYC-based, Columbia MBA, Founder, Latina obsessed with entrepreneurship and all things VC