David Briggs, founder and CEO of GeoGuard, explores how the pandemic has triggered the acceleration of digital in the payments arena, and why he believes the change is a permanent one. Read his insights in “A Look Forward: What Executives Wish for America and the World in 2021.”
From a business and consumer perspective, 2020 has been both intensely transformative and cripplingly recessive. There have been mighty winners, but also horrific declines. Although travel has been the poster child for COVID’s negative impact on commerce, cash has also been deleted from many aspects of daily life in Europe and North America. 2021 will therefore be an interesting recovery story as some of COVID’s business victims, such as travel, rebound at a ferocious pace, while others never do.
The Reign of Cash Is Over: Digital Is King
Cash is sure to be one of COVID’s victims that never recovers. Many retailers will never remove their “CASH NOT ACCEPTED” signs, and consumers, led by the youngest, will abandon the practice of carrying paper currency in a wallet. What will this mean for the payments and commerce sectors, and how will it impact our focus as we all recalibrate for the new world order? For some startups and challengers, this change will accelerate their rollout and drive the innovation they have been advocating for years. For others who are slower to adapt or more oriented toward the old world order (ATM manufacturers, for example), the post-COVID world will be brutal.
Digital-First Will Be First
From the area we know best, iGaming, this dichotomy of winners and losers has been clear. Land-based gaming and its long reliance on cash and in-person visitation (mostly from older demographics) has been nearly obliterated in some places, and the fear is that a large portion of these establishments will never reopen. Those savvier digital-first operators, led by DraftKings, have soared and are set to ride the updrafts of the extreme channel shift that COVID has prompted. These companies saw extraordinary growth, and that looks set to continue, even after the world settles down to “normal.” Scaling these organizations (and the likes of ours that support them) is a tremendous challenge, and most of 2021 will simply be holding on through hypergrowth. Compared to being on the wrong side of COVID’s impacts, this is a good problem to have, but not one to be underestimated, nonetheless.
New Kids on the Block vs. The Empire: A Battle for Dominance
Competitive pressures are sure to change as the dust settles and the consensus is reached that the “new kids on the block” who have rocketed to pre-eminence in 2020 are no longer niche/early-adopter players, but now the mass-market category killers. The empire(s) will strike back for sure, as those once-dominant players that still have firepower make a final effort to wrest control of the future from the canny upstarts who stole the lead during the lockdown. And consumers will, I am sure, just be happy to have some options on the table again — to travel, to visit land-based merchants, and yes, even have the exotic thrill of paying for something in cash again. However, once the nostalgia of old-school 2019 life is over and we are in late 2021, the future will be irreversibly digital.