The One Thing Missing From Money 20/20

In Digital Transactional Processing, Industry Solutions, Insights, Mobile Solutions, Tokenization by Giles Sutherland

In the world of payments and fin-tech, Money 20/20 has emerged as the definitive event industry event.


by Giles Sutherland
Vice President Strategic Alliances

Last week, almost ten thousand of us descended on Las Vegas, and crowded into standing-room-only, sold-out sessions to hear from the biggest names in finance. Were it not for all the suits (and absence of Google Glass), you might have thought you were at SXSW, not a global payments conference. It’s only been around three years, but Money 20/20 defies all the conference stereotypes of moderately attended sessions and attendees skipping out to schmooze with clients in the lobby.There were many standouts to remember from the event, not the least of which: the introduction of Pay by Ass. Perhaps the most notable take-away though is what was missing, and if I was to try to sum it up in a word, I would say “suspense”.It was a giant leap from the discussion at last year’s event:In 2013, Money 20/20 saw heated debate from speakers and panellists over what seemed like revolutionary developments in the industry.In the previous two years, but noticeably in 2013 there was real debate around the direction of the industry and some genuine excitement. Amex, Visa and MasterCard had just announced tokenization standards, Android 4.44 Kitkat ushered in wide-scale capability for Host Card Emulation, the JV that was still doing business as “Isis” and MCX were looming and experts were speculating on Apple, BLE and beacons and the demise of NFC.

To use a Vegas analogy, the stakes were high and bets were being placed.

There was huge speculation and starkly divergent opinions over whether HCE would fly—if it was secure enough, whether the US would broadly adopt tap & pay POS technology, who would own the customer, and who would control security and trust in payments.

And it’s hard to understate the huge cloud of uncertainty that lingered over Apple’s next step—what would payments look like on iPhone? NFC? Bluetooth? Some new proprietary solution?

What a difference a year can make.

Tokenization has moved from obscurity to the buzzword of the industry.

More recently (and most significantly perhaps), the Apple riddle was answered: they’re using the same NFC standards we’re all using—with tokenization and in partnership with credit card companies.

In 2014, a lot of the doubt has dissipated. Networks have fully endorsed HCE and Tokenization and NFC as accepted standards for payments. Mobile payment is no longer a future vision; it’s an active reality.

Instead of fierce debate over the fate of mobile payments, there’s friendly discussion over the potential for these technologies. And while I’ll miss some of the heated discourse, it means the conversations are shifting toward what’s next and how we’ll bring it to market.

As the hyperbolic hype around “Wallet Wars” wanes, I’m hoping our focus will go beyond the US market and questions like MCX vs. Softcard vs. Apple, toward potential for innovation in the global market.

In the digital payments world, there’s no border on the service we can offer. There’s a big world outside of the US, and we should all be thinking globally. Who knows what “futuristic” technology will be standard fare by 2015.

More importantly, as our attention moves from the “what” to the “how,” mobile payments will take the shape of real solutions, that real consumers (and not just us nerds at payments conferences) will adopt on a mass scale. And while Apple has resolved a lot of the how within their integrated ecosystem, there is plenty of work, and open opportunity for banks and the 85% of the smartphone market running Android, to meet the high benchmark set by Apple Pay.

The stakes are just as high now as they have ever been, only now it’s a little more clear what game we’re playing.

Whatever the case, this time next year, if I can’t get a seat at the big ticket Money 20/20 panels, you’ll find me in the lounge, buying drinks for clients with my phone (or maybe my ass).