“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Groucho Marx
“Sometimes, when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” — Steve Jobs
One way to define innovation is as a journey into the unknown. In that sense, we shouldn’t be surprised when things don’t always go exactly as innovators plan. It’s a sign that they are trying new things.
And trying new things, even when they don’t go perfectly, is educational. Noteworthy educational developments from the fintech payments and payments-adjacent space over the last few years include:
- Google pulled the plug on its partnership with Citigroup in the fall of 2021 to launch Google Plex checking accounts that sync with Google Pay.
- Around the same time, Santander decided to shut down PagoFX, which it launched as a standalone international payments business in 2020.
- On similar lines, Barclays wound down its mobile P2P payments app PingIt in the spring of April 2021.
- WhatsApp’s payments service in Brazil was suspended by Brazil’s central bank just a few days after it launched in June 2020.
- Meta (formerly Facebook) discontinued its once highly-touted Libra cryptocurrency in early 2022.
- Onetime German fintech payments darling Wirecard filed for insolvency in June 2020.
These events follow older fintech slip-ups, like the mobile P2P payment platform PayM. Launched in 2014, it has languished in relative obscurity since roughly 2016.
Of course, the overall trajectory of fintechs and digital innovation in payments is upward. A full accounting of fintech payments successes over this same timespan would take a much longer list than the one above.
But in the spirit of learning from mistakes, we feel that analysis of these recent fintech lessons can yield powerful insights about where the fast-changing payments space is going.
Therefore, we respectfully present a few key takeaways from these recent events.
1. Innovation is hard for anyone
Perhaps the most striking thing about our list above is the range of organizations that appear on it. It includes traditional payments players (Santander, Barclays), digital-native fintechs (Wirecard) and tech giants (Google and Meta).
This illustrates the difficulty of successful payments innovation. The oldest, most successful financial services players don’t always get it right. The largest digital innovators in history don’t always get it right. Purpose-built, nimble, would-be disruptors don’t always get it right. The only guarantee when launching a payments fintech is that there are no guarantees.
2. Heed the line between disruption and negligence
A healthy skepticism for convention and the status quo is practically a requirement for innovation. But if it carries a would-be disruptor across the line that separates a bold, disruptive attitude from actual disregard for regulation or the fundamentals of business, any fintech innovation can explode on the launch pad.
3. Persistence can pay off
The list also demonstrates the power of persistence.
For example, WhatsApp relaunched its payments offering in Brazil a little under a year after its initial suspension. With 120 million users in that country and no significant competition in the payments-within-messaging-app space there, WhatsApp wrote a bright new chapter in its payments story through persistence.
The trick, of course, is recognizing when a new idea needs more time or tinkering to really take off, and when good money is simply being thrown after bad.
4. Innovators are willing to be misunderstood
Earlier in her career, my co-blogger Laura spent four years at Amazon working on payment products. There she became well acquainted with Jeff Bezos’ willingness to be misunderstood.
We think this is a helpful maxim for would-be payments innovators. When they try new things, they will not immediately be understood (or lauded) by everyone. But if the innovation is sound, the world will eventually take the time to learn about what you are doing.
As I recently wrote, Open Banking regulation and new competition are both putting pressure on payments players of all sizes to innovate. Recent headlines demonstrate that this is much easier said than done—and more important to get right than ever before.
If you’d like to discuss payments innovation at your organization, contact me here. To learn more about how payments leaders and fintechs have achieved growth, read our report Growing Payments to New Heights.Read report
Thank you to Laura McCracken, Managing Director, Global e-Commerce and Payments – Industry Lead, Software & Platforms at Accenture for her insightful contributions to this article.