Payments, Power of Payments Podcast

Power of Payments Ep. 23: Elon Musk’s grand ambitions for Twitter Payments, Cash App Savings, and more

  • This week, we discuss Elon Musk’s payments plans for Twitter, and Cash App’s new savings feature.
  • We also talk about Gen Z’s changing preferences when it comes to sending and receiving money digitally.

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Power of Payments Ep. 23: Elon Musk’s grand ambitions for Twitter Payments, Cash App Savings, and more

Welcome back to the Power of Payments podcast. I’m your host Ismail Umar, and in today’s episode, we will discuss Elon Musk’s payments plans for Twitter, Cash App’s new savings feature, and Gen Z’s changing preferences when it comes to digital payments.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Elon Musk’s grand ambitions for Twitter Payments

The Financial Times recently reported that Elon Musk is pushing ahead with Twitter’s payments plans.

The firm has started applying for regulatory licenses across the US and designing the software required to introduce payments across the social media platform, as Elon Musk searches for additional revenues beyond advertising to turn the business around.

Before Musk took over Twitter, the company had already set up a subsidiary called Twitter Payments in August 2022. But Musk recently appointed Esther Crawford, Twitter’s director of product management, as the chief executive of Twitter Payments.

Crawford has started mapping out the architecture needed to facilitate payments on the platform, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans.

The move to allow payments through Twitter is a critical part of Musk’s plan to open up fresh revenue streams. The firm’s advertising business has taken a major hit since he bought the platform last year, with marketers citing concerns over its management and content moderation.

According to Reuters, ad spend on Twitter dropped by over 70% in December, as many top advertisers slashed their spending on the platform after Musk's takeover.

Musk has said he wants Twitter to offer fintech services such as peer-to-peer transactions, savings accounts and debit cards, as part of an ambitious plan to launch what he calls an “everything app” that incorporates messaging, payments, and commerce – somewhat similar to WeChat, the Chinese social media giant with over a billion users that has displaced AliPay as the most widely used payment service in the country.

Musk’s relationship with fintech and payments goes all the way back to his early tech days. In 1999, he co-founded, one of the first online banks, which later became part of PayPal.

Twitter is pushing forward with the regulatory checks needed before launching a payment service. In November, the firm registered with the US Treasury as a payment processor, according to a regulatory filing.

It’s also started applying for some of the state licenses that it would need in order to launch, and it aims to complete US licensing within a year. After that, the company will look to expand its focus and gain international regulatory approvals.

But delivering on Musk’s grand vision will require taking on new technological challenges and compliance burdens, and winning consumer trust.

Implementing these plans is also expected to cost a lot of money. Late last year, Musk approached Twitter’s equity investors in an attempt to raise more capital, indicating that some of the money would be used to fund the hiring of programmers to build a super app that could process payments.

In an early pitch to investors, Musk said he aimed for Twitter to bring in about $1.3 billion in payments revenues by 2028.

Prior to Musk’s takeover, Twitter had been exploring some payments features around ecommerce and tipping creators.

But Musk’s vision goes far beyond that, including exploring more ways for users to reward creators directly, send payments to each other, and buy items directly through the platform.

Musk has also said he wants the system to be fiat-based, but designed in a way that would allow crypto functionality to potentially be added at a later point.

Research from FXC Intelligence shows that hundreds of thousands of Twitter users currently share links to third-party payment options, either in their tweets or on their account. Lucy Ingham, the head of content at FXC Intelligence, says Twitter is already a platform on which payments take place, so this move makes a lot of sense for the company.

But other experts have questioned whether Twitter can achieve a competitive scale, particularly in the US, where there’s tough competition in the space from apps like Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle.

Twitter will also face high levels of regulatory scrutiny. The move into payments comes after Musk has removed more than half of the platform’s employees, which has raised fears that its compliance staffing is insufficient for this type of move.

Businesses involved in money transfers, currency exchange, or cashing cheques are required to alert unusual activity to authorities.

As part of monitoring for fraud and suspicious transactions, user accounts have to be directly linked to a user’s identity, according to Lisa Ellis, senior equity analyst at research firm MoffettNathanson.

She says such regulations mean that many tech companies experiment with payments capabilities, but eventually give up. They often find it a burden to bear the long-term investment and risk — where companies can get fined if there’s an issue, and they need to have the right compliance infrastructure in place to tackle regulatory challenges.

Cash App's new savings feature

Designed to make it easier for people to grow their savings, the new Cash App Savings feature allows customers to deposit their savings into a separate account within the app, set savings goals, and build additional savings by rounding up their purchases when using their Cash App cards.

Cash App’s head of financial services, Ryan Budd, says that many Cash App customers are already treating the app as an informal savings tool, and a separate savings balance was one of the most requested features by users.

As of September 2022, there were about 18 million active Cash App Card users, up more than 40% from the same time a year earlier, according to Block’s Q3 2022 financial statement.

Block says that with this first iteration of a Cash App Savings product, users with a Cash App account can set aside cash in a separate balance, track their financial goals, and save at a pace that suits their individual circumstances.

Additionally, with the Round Ups feature, the spare change from each purchase made using a Cash App Card will be automatically deposited into a separate savings balance.

Block says users don’t need to have a minimum balance or pay additional fees to use the new savings feature, which will help lower barriers faced by consumers when trying to establish a savings account for the first time.

The new functionality is being introduced at a time when the personal saving rate for Americans is the lowest it has been since 2005, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Fintechs are currently tapping into a trend of helping consumers with their financial well-being by offering a variety of digital tools. Many of them are introducing products that provide consumers with an overview of their spending habits, tag purchases with a label to help them identify spending categories, and incorporate historical data into their budget.

A savings offering is viewed by many fintechs as a value-added feature, along with lending and investment. A 2022 study by Bank Rate showed that less than half of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency.

The release of this new feature from Cash App comes just days after Klarna added a financial planning tool to its core functions. The new Money Story feature in the Klarna app presents data in an animated format similar to that seen on social media, and aims to engage users, deliver important insights, and encourage smart spending habits.

Similar to Klarna’s feature, the new tool from Cash App arrived during Financial Wellness Month.

Block recently said that banking product adoption is a primary focus for Cash App as its looks to move beyond peer-to-peer payments as a way to deepen customer relationships. Banking products such as the Cash App Card and direct deposit have had some of the fastest-growing attach rates across the Block ecosystem.

Gen Z's changing relationship with digital payments

Despite their recent entry into the market, Gen Z consumers are already exerting their influence on things ranging from how we shop and consume media to the way we handle our finances. A growing number of brands are now taking a particular interest in decoding Gen Z in order to cater to their unique demands and preferences.

One of the more widely known characteristics of Gen Z consumers is their desire for quicker and more convenient payment options, which is evidenced by their growing adoption of mobile payments and short-term financing options like BNPL.

Their demand for a faster and smoother customer experience is a central trait, especially when it comes to sending and receiving money. However, somewhat surprisingly, it’s not their top priority, according to a recent report by B2B payments firm Billtrust.

The Billtrust report examines Gen Z’s use of digital payments, which reveals some interesting findings about this generation’s evolving relationship with payments.

When consumers were asked to rank the importance of speed, user experience, security, fees, and a low carbon footprint while using payment services, nearly half chose security as the most important feature. They ranked fees second, followed by speed and UX – showcasing similar results to Billtrust’s 2019 survey on Gen Z’s digital payments preferences.

However, the research also found that Gen Z consumers consider a low carbon footprint to be the least important feature when making payments.

This is somewhat surprising, considering that Gen Z is often called “the sustainable generation”, with many studies demonstrating their desire to help reduce carbon emissions. But given the dramatic increase in the number of cyber threats against consumers and businesses in the last few years, it seems they’re prioritizing security above all else.

The Billtrust report also has a number of additional findings that tell us more about Gen Z’s preferences when it comes to digital payments:

  • Today, 93% of Gen Z consumers report using P2P platforms like Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle at least once a month, compared to 79% in 2019.
  • 85% of Gen Zers use mobile wallets at least once a month, and one in four say they use contactless payments at least five times a month.
  • Consumers’ preference for cash has dropped from 27% in 2016 (when the oldest members of Gen Z were in their late teens) to 19% today.
  • More than a third of Gen Zers say they haven’t used a paper check in the last 6 months, and 20% report that they’ve never used one in their entire life.
  • Still, over a quarter (27%) of Gen Zers say their employers pay them by paper check, and another 26% get paid in cash.

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