I just presented to the Merchant Payments Ecosystem conference. I’ve presented there before, and this year was virtual … as are all 2020 conferences. 2020 is the virtual year.
I sat and thought about what to present. I have 1,000 slides or more, but I don’t do slides on lockdown. Too boring. I talk. So, what to talk about? Then I stared at the conference name. Merchant Payments Ecosystem. Merchant Payments Ecosystem. Merchant Payments Ecosystem.
Merchant Payments Ecosystem.
What is a merchant?
What is a payment?
What is an ecosystem?
I had to ask. What are these things?
You may say: but they’re so obvious; and I would say: they used to be.
It used to be that a merchant was a merchant; a payment was a payment; and no-one used the word ecosystem.
Now, we bandy them around here and everywhere and never ask what they are yet, today, possibly we should?
For example, what’s a merchant? Originally I heard the word in the title of a Shakespeare play the Merchant of Venice.
As I grew up, I learned we had moved a long way away from Shakespeare and merchants seemed to be more often that not big retail chains. Therefore, I associated merchants to be the Wal*Marts and Tesco’s of this world. Yet, today, maybe merchants are more like the Jewish lenders of Shakespeare’s play. They’re not lenders necessarily, but they’re small businesses that want to take payments. They’re the merchants that use Square, Stripe, Adyen and Klarna. They’re the mom and pop businesses that are enabled by Alipay and WeChat Pay. They’re the any old person in any old place who wants to take any old payment from any old mobile phone … or even a new smartphone.
Merchants are everywhere.
According to the World Bank, small businesses represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. It is these businesses that have been crushed or turbo-charged by the coronavirus lockdown and they are incredibly diverse and different. There’s no homogeneity in small to medium enterprises, or SMEs for short.
The only common thing they all share is that they need to make and take money. This leads to the second point: what is a payment?
A payment is assumed by most to be an online exchange of USDs or similar currency. That’s a payment, yes, but what about exchanging Pepsi Cola for vodka or warships? And what happens when innovative new SMEs start taking bitcoin or ripple XRP? Howsabout if businesses sold future products for payments now? Yes, we talk about factoring but what about factoring on an SME scale?
This is what a bunch of FinTech firms in the UK did during lockdown, with a campaign framed around #savemylocal.
Equally, this leads to other forms of exchange such as community currencies, also known as alternative currencies. These forms of currency have been around for years and often presume an exchange of time for money, or good deeds such as eco-friendly for money, or just being local and spending local. I bought some David Bowie money from Brixton years ago.
It can only be spent in Brixton, but it’s a form of payment there.
Could there be such a form of payment on a global scale? Well, it’s been tried – just look at the Terra – and one day, I’m sure it will succeed.
In fact, today, with so many decentralised and alternative currencies, what is a payment in the form of our traditional way of thinking? Well, it’s obvious it’s not just government-issued national currencies … it’s an ecosystem of value exchange.
Oh, and there it is! There! I said it!
WTF is an ecosystem?
An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the non-living components of their environment, interacting as a system.
Maybe that’s what it was in 1935, when the word was first used, but not anymore. Not since Silicon Valley poached it. That started in the 1990s when James F. Moore’s book appeared: The Death of Competition: Leadership and Strategy in the Age of Business Ecosystems.
Now we easily bandy about ecosystem as a term. We need to be a part of an ecosystem of partners. Our solution is a key part of the payments ecosystem. The ecosystem of money and technology is based on platforms.
Yada, yada, yada.
What we’re really getting at is that the telecommunications networks of data offer a way for anyone to connect with anything via the network. That’s the ecosystem we want to be a part of.
That network can exchange any form of value from US dollars to lion’s pooh.
This allows anyone to be a merchant of anything, whether they’re a massive store or just a guy on a street corner busking:
In other words, when we talk about a Merchant Payments Ecosystem, don’t for heaven’s sake believe that it’s all about big retailers doing online payments in national currencies. It’s nothing about that at all anymore. Today, it’s about unleashing the wave of end-to-end, point-to-point innovation that the network offers us today.
@Chris_Skinner issues a challenge to the entire payments industry “do you really operate as part of an ecosystem? If the lockdown lasted forever, would your business be prepared? Is your business truly digital-first and ready to cope?” I’d love to see the answers! #mpesummerweek
— Helen Owen (@HelenOwenEM) September 7, 2020
@Chris_Skinner poll shows that only 50% of #mpesummerweek attendees can define what merchant #payments ecosystem means.
And you? Thanks, @Clairelmaslen, Michel YVON @Decathlon, @dgwbirch @Chris_Skinner Daniel Kornitzer @PlugIntoPaysafe for Session 1 on Day 1 @ #mpesummerweek. pic.twitter.com/1vK4mrqXpE
— MPE (@mpecosystem) September 7, 2020