Every company is a fintech company in some way
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For someone who proclaimed that fintech’s days are limited, I spent a lot of time last week talking about fintech. My thesis isn’t that fintech isn’t a thing, but rather that one day all finance will incorporate tech and also that the incumbent financial services companies already have some fearsome advantages.
I recently met perhaps the fintech world’s best embodiment of that thesis. He is Zach Perret, co-founder and CEO of Plaid, the company that links financial services providers digitally to banks. Perret agreed in January to sell his seven-year-old startup to Visa for more than $5 billion. The deal hasn’t closed yet, so Perret isn’t talking much about Visa, which had been an investor in Plaid. But he is clear-eyed about why selling was a good idea—beyond the huge payday for himself, his employees, and his other investors.
“Every company is a fintech company in some way,” he says. If a company collects money digitally, it needs its apps to connect to the bank accounts of customers. Visa, he says, will allow Plaid to continue to plow money into working with developers who make those apps. It also will jumpstart Plaid’s international expansion. Currently, it operates in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. (Visa is in more than 200 territories.) And, critically, Visa has direct relationships Plaid doesn’t with banks, whose importance has not gone away. “They are huge on that,” he says. “We are small.”
Like any good founder, Perret repeated Plaid’s mission several times over the course of an hour-long conversation: “Making money easier for everyone.” Visa paid a huge multiple of Plaid’s revenues to buy it. But if its technology truly sits between every financially-oriented app and the banking system, buying it is a similar rationale for why Google made its Android software free. Mobile web usage is to Google what digital financial services are to Visa: the future.
Aaron noted it last week, but I suspect most people made too little of Shopify, the backend e-commerce powerhouse, joining the Libra Association. The news cycle made it feel like Libra was dying, but someone forgot to tell Facebook. I hear not only that new members will be joining but also that some who left might be re-joining.
Today is a sad day for e-bike riders in San Francisco. Lyft has raised its prices dramatically for its game-changing pedal-assist bikes. Already-expensive Jump bikes, owned by Uber, will disappear with the expiration of their permit. Riders are annoyed, and I don’t just mean me, though I mean me too. My plan is to ride the clunky manual bikes, which are free to members, when I’m not in a hurry, and the speedy e-bikes when I am.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Inoculation. An epidemic, even a potential one, depresses business activity. The coronavirus outbreak continues to take a toll in the U.S. even with only a few reported cases. On Friday, Google canceled a major internal sales and marketing event planned for later this month in Las Vegas. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the virus-induced slowdown would hurt his company's current quarterly results and possibly beyond: "There’s reason for optimism, but we’ll see,” he said.
Holy computer concerns. An influential Vatican institute and top officials from the European Union, United Nations, IBM, and Microsoft have joined forces to push for ethical development of artificial intelligence. Called the "Rome Call for AI Ethics," the document was presented to Pope Francis on Friday. "A.I.-based technology must never be used to exploit people in any way, especially those who are most vulnerable," the document states.
Swimming with the fishes. The latest project undertaken by Google parent Alphabet's moonshot factory is targeted at saving the oceans. Project Tidal is developing cameras to track and monitor fish populations and enhance fish farming efforts, the company disclosed on Monday.
Old wine, new bottle. Cord cutters rejoice, sort of. AT&T released a modified version of its DirecTV Now online package of cable channels, this one called AT&T TV. The service starts at $50 a month for more than 100 channels and can also be paired with 1 gigabit speed Internet service in AT&T's 21-state wired region for a total of $80 per month.
Ruckus in the feed. Activist hedge fund Elliott Management has beef with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The fund, last seen harassing AT&T, has bought a 4% stake in Twitter shares and nominated four people to run for the company's board. One goal: dump Dorsey as CEO.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
As the debate over the impact of ride sharing services rages on, the Union of Concerned Scientists has stepped into the fray with a study analyzing data from seven large cities. They found each trip by Uber, Lyft, and the like increases pollution by 69% over displaced methods of transportation. But as Stephanie Mlot notes at Geek.com, the report also has recommendations for what to do about it.
“Fortunately, the industry can implement several strategies to address the negative impacts of ride-hailing and contribute to a low-carbon transportation future,” UCS said. “It must move rapidly to electrify vehicles, increase pooled trips, and complement mass transit,” the firm urged. “Governments can support those efforts with smart policies that reduce pollution and support efficient, equitable transportation systems.”
Individuals, meanwhile, can “make informed choices” to reduce congestion and pollution, and encourage companies to offer cleaner options.
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BEFORE YOU GO
While you were relaxing over the weekend, Taylor Swift fans were racking up views on the pop star's newest video, "The Man." There's some ingenious low-tech special effects at work in the entertaining short bit. Fortune's Kristen Bellstrom rounds up some commentary of what she terms Swift's "most explicitly feminist" song. In a music video more Gen X-style, and while barefoot, David Byrne was brilliant as usual on SNL this weekend.