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Last year, when Fortune decided to start an annual conference focused on fintech companies, cryptocurrency investing, and blockchain-related innovation, I suggested that we call the event “Brainstorm Finance.” My argument was that some number of years down the road there would be no more fintech, only financial companies that use the best technology, including alternative currencies and new record-keeping techniques.
A spate of blockbuster finance-industry deals suggests a swallowing-up process is helping things along. Visa is buying Plaid, a newfangled payment-processing tech company, for example. Morgan Stanley last week disclosed plans to acquire Web 1.0 stalwart E*Trade, a way to give the Wall Street firm an electronic trading platform and oodles of retail customers. Similar-wise, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Intuit, maker of the tax software Michael Bloomberg won’t be using to generate his returns, is purchasing Credit Karma, whose services include free tax-preparation software.
Not every deal involves old finance gulping down new fintech. Upstart Lending Club is buying online bank Radius, a combination of not-so-big financial players Breakingviews.com cleverly describes as “tech tots.”
The point here isn’t that fintech is over, even if the distinction may not matter much longer. With every wave of innovation some newbies dominate. Payments companies PayPal and Stripe look like keepers, for example. But in finance, the strongest, biggest banks, with their massive balance sheets and legions of complacent customers, can buy the tech they don’t build.
Speaking of Brainstorm Finance, later this week I’m co-hosting, with the event’s co-chairs, a private dinner that will feature many of the hottest companies in this combining industry. Spots remain available for the big event this summer in Montauk, N.Y., June 17-18.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Bigger frogs, smaller pond. Speaking of fintech and what not, financial technology startups overall raised almost $34 billion last year, down 17% from 2018, according to a new report from CB Insights. And while most of the news about Facebook's Libra digital currency effort has been about folks quitting it, on Friday came word that e-commerce service Shopify was joining.
Can't say they didn't warn us. With cases of coronavirus spreading across the world, Samsung Electronics temporarily shut down a factory in Gumi City after an employee contracted the illness. Even in the U.S., companies are pulling out of tech conferences. IBM, AT&T, and most recently Verizon will not be sending employees to the RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco this week.
Can't say they didn't warn us, part II. The 2020 election is off to a great start, with news emerging that the Russians may be trying to bolster Bernie Sanders with their online trickery, while Twitter said it was suspending 70 pro-Mike Bloomberg accounts for artificially amplifying or disrupting conversations.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Since digital music first became a thing with compact discs in the 1980s, people have been complaining, often rightly so, about the ways tech threatens and degrades musical quality. In the age of streaming music on smart speakers, those threats are ever more real, as columnist Virginia Heffernan explores in an essay for Wired.
In classical music, overcompression all but deletes pianissimo and distorts high volumes to smithereens. But compression can also crush subtleties like timbre, the auditory minutiae that let listeners tell the sound of a trumpet from that of a trombone, and tempo rubato (“stolen time”), which is the slight speed-up or slow-down of notes used by soloists or conductors taking liberties with a composition. When you erase tone color and edit out irregularities in a classical recording, you're on your way to losing the music entirely.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Empty pavilions, taxis without passengers: A quieter Barcelona reveals the damaging reach of coronavirus By Jennifer Baljko
Smart speakers can mistakenly record audio nearly 20 times per day on average, study finds By Danielle Abril
How technology is changing how we volunteer By Jeff John Roberts
5G will transform smartphones—but it won’t stop there By Cristiano Amon
You don’t have to become a manager to grow your career By Sarah Fielding
BEFORE YOU GO
World-class tinkerer and builder Adam Savage got his hands on one of those dog-like Boston Dynamics robots. In a lengthy video, Savage says he wanted to come up with a task for the robot, which he's calling Spot, that was "fun and evocative and strange and hilarious." He most definitely succeeded.