I’ve been in Dublin for nearly 30 hours attending the MoneyConf 2018 and I have yet to take out my wallet. It’s not that I haven’t spent any Euro… I have. It’s just that Europe is miles ahead of the U.S. on the road to a cashless society, and the companies on display here are trying to elbow one another out to get into leadership positions. Contactless payments are nearly 70 percent of the market in Europe and growing fast throughout Asia and other continents.
This year’s conference is leaning heavily on the future of payments and cryptocurrency. It’s a surefire way to pack a conference and a delightful city in which to do it. There are over 5,000 attendees here, and hundreds of startups on display here hoping to capture the attention of venture capitalists, bigger crypto fish looking for acquisitions and whales like Square (SQ) that have made bold moves into the crypto space backed by their public market valuations. (Related: What is Square?)
Square on a Roll
Square is trying to lock down that market, and CFO Sarah Friar was on hand to lay out the company’s ambitious plans to do so. It’s already the most downloaded app in the Finance space and on its way to cracking the top ten of free apps, which is indeed rare air for technology companies. Square recently added the ability to buy, sell and use Bitcoin through its CashApp, which demonstrates the belief the $25 billion company has in crypto and its future penetration.
Whether or not Bitcoin will be the cryptocurrency of the future remains to be seen, but, given its popularity and how widely it is held by both individuals and institutions, it makes sense for Square to start there. Square sees Bitcoin and its crypto cousins as solutions to the friction and costs associated with country-to-country money transfers. According to Friar, “… There will be a global currency that doesn’t have the downside of fiat currency… people pay a lot of money for remittances. Banks have profit pools that they are so protective of, but they are punishing the people who can least afford it.” (Related: Bitcoin's Most Profitable Use: the $600 Billion Overseas Remittance Business?)
Challenging the global banks and taking advantage of the opportunity to solve a problem for consumers that hits them in their margins is an ambitious task, to be sure. But Square is on a bit of a roll (pardon the oxymoronic pun.) Its share price has tripled in the past year and it is digesting its recent $365 million acquisition of Weebly, a website building company, as it expands into the omni-channel market. Square, and its competitors like PayPal (PYPL) and Intuit’s GoPay want to be wherever transactions are happening. Everywhere, except for maybe China, where Alibaba (BABA) and WeChat have built formidable moats. It’s too early and foolish to predict winners in the race for cashless payments, although the front-runners have set a brisk pace so far. Expect more M&A, more companies hitting the public markets and bold moves by the banks themselves to protect their hold on global consumers. Where this will be happening is also becoming pretty obvious. As Friar noted, “If you are a commerce company, it behooves you to follow GDP.”
The blueprint for global domination of a cashless society are clearly being laid out here and inside startups and global financial institutions from Singapore to Seattle, and beyond. If the MoneyConf crowd has anything to do with it, it will be built on the blockchain, and I’ll never need my wallet again.