A summit designed to preach the power of electronic payments is coming as planned to Georgia, the hub for some 70 percent of such transactions in the U.S.
The P20 — short for Payments 20 — held its inaugural meeting in London last fall, bringing together top business leaders, government officials and regulators to tackle issues facing the industry.
In addition to executives from payments giants, attendees included former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Alastair Lukies, the British prime minister’s business ambassador for financial technology. (Former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron also was slated to speak during a P20 dinner.)
“What made it really special was, if we really wanted to make changes, we had everyone in the room who could drive change,” said Bruce Lowthers, chief operations officer at FIS and chair of this year’s P20.
Fostering high-level collaboration is the idea behind the conference, which was always meant to alternate between the British capital, a global financial services hub, and Atlanta, the city that describes itself as “Transaction Alley” due to its dominant position in the largely unseen industry that handles what happens after a credit-card swipe.
With their combined and complementary strengths, the argument goes, London and Atlanta are in a unique position to set the tone for an industry with broad implications for the future of global commerce.
The first edition last October helped align the United Kingdom and the United States on crucial issues like cybersecurity risk, identity verification and financial inclusion, said Peter Radcliffe, a longtime payments-industry executive who joined the P20 as executive chairman last year.
“We’re not doing any original work,” Mr. Radcliffe said. Instead, the forum is about evaluating ideas from multilateral bodies, companies and national regulators — then persuading the influencers in the room to throw their weight behind consensus solutions.
“That will speed it up, because it does have that gravitas to actually push it forward,” he said.
Still, the focus has always been global, particularly in ensuring that the industry can serve the unbanked or underbanked in emerging markets. Shi Wenchao, president of China UnionPay, the top card issuer in the world’s second largest economy, was among last year’s attendees.
“Undoubtedly, a vast number of countries in the world look to the U.S. and the U.K. for leadership in these issues,” Mr. Radcliffe told Global Atlanta at a kickoff reception Feb. 26 at Holland and Knight’s Midtown Atlanta offices.
Those behind the P20, including Atlanta’s American Transaction Processors Coalition, believe the long-term health of the global economy depends on a robust payments sector, especially as the developing world continues to move away from cash.
Many new solutions — from mobile payments to digital wallets and cryptocurrencies — are being driven by emerging markets, but even disruptors eventually need established payments partners to gain the scale and security they need to thrive globally, said Mr. Lowthers of FIS.
“Innovation is not just about product, necessarily, but innovation is really around how to improve processes and become more efficient. That’s really what we’re pushing through P20,” he said.
This year’s conference will include progress reports on each of P20 pillars, themes like cybersecurity, innovation and inclusion.
“I think the big thing we’ve all agreed on in the kickoff meeting in London was that P20 is not to be a talking shop,” said Mr. Radcliffe. “We’ve actually got to show that we’re making genuine progress with these issues, and the working parties that are actually looking at these now will be reporting back to Atlanta in October.”
A ‘Special Relationship’ in Payments
Already, the collaboration has helped position Atlanta in a new way, providing a stamp of approval for a city just waking up to its own industry heft in the last few years.
Ross Allen, who heads up the New York office of the U.K. Department of International Trade, said in a keynote speech at the reception that many British fintech companies show up in the U.S. assuming they’ll end up with an office in Manhattan.
“I derive great pleasure in explaining to them all the reasons they should actually look elsewhere,” Mr. Allen said. “Atlanta is definitely somewhere they should be looking at, not just alongside but ahead of New York.”
As an example, FeatureSpace, a firm that sprung out of Cambridge University using artificial intelligence to help banks and card issuers detect fraud, set up its North American headquarters in Atlanta in October.
Similarly, Atlanta firms like Kabbage Inc. are finding London to be fertile ground for global expansion, in part because the Financial Conduct Authority — the regulatory body in the U.K. — is so open to innovation.
“Our regulator actively wants to support disruption in that industry. They don’t want to defend the incumbents,” Mr. Allen told Global Atlanta.
Atlanta-born Kabbage, a platform for small-business lending, is valued at an estimated $1.3 billion after its latest $250 million funding round.
“You got a lot of companies in Atlanta that are quietly doing brilliantly,” Mr. Allen said, noting that the vaunted U.K.-U.S. “special relationship” in diplomacy is beginning to apply to the fintech sector.
H. West Richards, executive director of the ATPC, doesn’t want the Atlanta industry to stay quiet any longer.
His coalition has helped mobilize the payments sector in Atlanta, inspiring the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to form a payments council and helping spur the creation of Fintech Atlanta, an economic development group that developed out of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s fintech task force. The P20 is designed to take this momentum beyond U.S. borders.
“We’re making global impact,” Mr. Richards told the kickoff event attendees, specifically thanking Holland and Knight attorneys Robert Green, Roth Kehoe and Allen Maines, long-time backers of the coalition and the Atlanta payments scene.
Lead sponsors of last year’s P20 included FIS, Hogan Lovells, Holland and Knight, MasterCard and Visa.
This year’s closed-door meeting is expected to draw some 100 heavy-hitters from across the Pond and inside the Beltway to the Atlanta History Center.
Among those with a shorter commute will be Georgia-based executives of companies like TSYS, Global Payments, Worldpay and Elavon, many of whom sit on the P20 board.