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As Andrew B. Morris from The Fintech Agenda, LLC highlights at CES 2021, the dark clouds of Covid-19 had a silver lining for the fintech industry. Unicorns Stripe and Plaid supported the global shift to a contactless economy, helping businesses deliver products and services to consumers who had collectively formed new daily habits for everything. Ginger Baker and Erika Wool explain what’s next for the payments giants.

Hours after Visa and Plaid called off the $5.3 billion merger following a Justice Department objection, Plaid’s head of financial access Ginger Baker took to the stage at CES to explore how the fintech company’s mission to “unlock financial freedom” saw success during the pandemic – Plaid being the providers of the API-led plumbing behind popular consumer apps Venmo, Betterment, Acorns and Robinhood.

She adds: “It’s almost as if this future that we’ve been envisioning and building towards, thinking it would take us years to get there, we just pressed the fast forward button and we’ve arrived. There’s been a monumental shift in the speed with which we’ve accelerated.”

Baker reveals that in the United States, 60% of consumers are using more fintech products and services than before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and a staggering 80% of Americans now believe that they can manage their finances without visiting a bank branch. Alongside this, Plaid saw a 44% increase in new users from March to May 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

Baker has observed a shift from “delighting the customer” to “protecting the customer,” and states that digital payments products will now be designed with convenience and consideration for physical health in mind.

Following news that the payments giant halted processing of Trump campaign donations because of violence at the Capitol and amid the rumoured imminent IPO, Stripe’s head of payments partnerships Erika Wool shifts the conversation from e-banking to e-commerce.

Wool posits that despite “internet businesses growing faster than the rest of the world economy, only 3% of global commerce happens online today.” While Stripe’s intention is to remove barriers to ecommerce, expedite growth for existing businesses and build an economic infrastructure for the internet, it is evident that Covid-19 also accelerated digital payments acceptance in the small business space.

She goes on to say that “by August 2020 - six months after the onset of the pandemic in the US - Stripe had processed over $10 billion for businesses that joined Stripe in that six-month time period, and much of this is coming from businesses moving online, many of them for the first time.” Further, on the consumer side, 90% of adults in the US made a purchase on Stripe in the last year, Wool explains.

Both Baker and Wool agree that recent developments in the digital payments space are here to stay, as consumer behaviour has changed for the long term; in what has been referred to as the ‘new normal,’ or the ‘next normal’ as Wool puts it, this behaviour shift has emerged “out of necessity.”

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