Atlanta may be the payments capital of the world, but the world doesn’t necessarily know it yet.
That’s why, to get its due, Atlanta is teaming up with another global capital whose financial pedigree is less in question: London.
The two cities are joining forces to create what they’re pithily calling the “Davos of payments,” a play on the colloquial name for the World Economic Forum held annually in the alpine Swiss city.
The official name will be the P20 for the Global Payments Industry, and it will kick off in London Oct. 9-10, bringing together innovators, influencers, industry leaders and government regulators to showcase the importance of fintech, a traditionally under-appreciated sector currently having its moment, to the global economy.
The idea is that communication among those at the top is vital to ensuring security and consistency in the payments sector, and that regulation doesn’t stymy the fast-moving innovations. Another aim is to help ensure that the U.S. and United Kingdom, leaders in the sector, help set the rules of the road for transaction technologies in other developing countries now leapfrogging traditional progressions in the sector.
The P20 is the brainchild of the American Transaction Processors Coalition, which was looking for the “third leg of the stool” — an international outreach — after helping inspire Fintech Atlanta, the city’s economic development initiative, and PeachPay, an ongoing forum of Georgia payments leaders at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The group is also working on a cybersecurity platform.
“We’re going to be on the world stage of financial services in a unique kind of way,” says H. West Richards, the ATPC’s executive director.
Mr. Richards said London came into view after it was clear that cities in the U.S. like New York and San Francisco might see Atlanta as a competitor. With London-based WorldPay as a member, the organization had a natural bridge across the pond.
“Brexit notwithstanding, London is the financial capital of the world — period,” Mr. Richards told Global Atlanta. “We thought, ‘Maybe we’re thinking too parochially. Maybe we need to reach out across the Atlantic. Maybe that would be cool, and maybe that would build some gravitas for Atlanta.’”
A meeting last year with key stakeholders at London’s Canary Wharf showed that the interest was there, and both sides decided to move ahead. Brexit, the U.K. vote to leave the European Union, actually might have helped accelerate the process, Mr. Richards believes.
“Brexit actually afforded Atlanta a stronger opportunity in that now they were really jazzed up about supporting this concept, because leaning into the USA has suddenly taken on priority No. 1, Mr. Richards said.
Alastair Lukies, chairman of the P20 Advisory Board and the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s business ambassador for fintech, underscored the importance of the event in a recent news release.
“To have Atlanta and London as a rotating venue for the business leaders across the globe in the payments industry, working with U.S., UK and EU leaders in regulatory, compliance and innovation is a powerful combination,” Mr. Lukies said. “This will ensure that consumers, all over the world, benefit from customer-centric innovation and economies benefit from improved systemic stability and security.”
The results of the event could be felt on multiple levels, including strengthening industry and investment ties that have already been blossoming.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber led a delegation of Atlanta companies to the 2015 Finovate conference, and Innovate Finance, another London financial tech conference, is partnering with the ATPC to make the P20 happen.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is considering attending, given that this year’s event will help pass the torch for 2018 in Atlanta. Mark Garnier, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK Department for International Trade, was also recently in Atlanta to talk things through.
“We wanted that big bang out of the big city, so when it rotates over here in Atlanta in 2018 we have a good solid base of where everyone’s taking this very seriously,” Mr. Richards said.
Already, multiple Atlanta companies have been looking to London as their European fintech gateway. Atlanta-based TrustStamp, which won a $50,000 award recently from TAG for its facial recognition authentication system, has an office there, along with a variety of other startups. All the big guys — Global Payments, TSYS, First Data, Elavon and others — have London offices as well.
And it’s starting to come in the other direction too. TruRating, which provides actionable data to businesses through customer ratings at the point of sale, is using Atlanta as its U.S. beachhead. Georgina Nelson, TruRating’s CEO, at the recent TAG Fintech society summit celebrated both Atlanta’s quality of life — like public art the Beltline — along with a fintech community that has taken her under its wing.
But Mr. Richards believes there is a bigger story at play in the London/Atlanta partnership. It’s generally accepted that growth in the payments sector will happen in the developing world — places where credit cards are nonexistent or embryonic and could be bypassed altogether in favor of mobile payments like Kenya’s M-PESA platform. Helping those places set their payments standards would have the dual effect of providing Atlanta-based companies exposure to markets where growth is accelerating.
“(P20) is the thought leaders getting together from the governments and business sand thinking about what do we need to do to help bring payments to the rest of the world,” Mr. Richards said. “This is a tool that allows more and more people to participate in the ecosystem. Payments is a way where people can actually get out of poverty.”