FinTech Payments

The Risks And Rewards Of Making Every Day A Holiday

February 27, 2021 at 09:00AM

Did you remember to skip the straw yesterday (Feb. 26)? Or eat your pistachios, or write a letter to your grandmother? Did you make your chili on Thursday, or the clam chowder the date so clearly called for? Have you paid your proper respects to a polar bear yet today (Feb. 27), eaten a strawberry, played Pokemon or properly appreciated the role protein plays in your diet?

Many reading this list are no doubt confused at this point, and wondering how exactly we came up with such a strange list of activities for the last weekend in February — but we at PYMNTS are nothing if not festive. So festive, in fact, that we keep abreast of all the #NationalDaysOnThe Register — all 1,500 of them. And if you find yourself noting that 1,500 is roughly four times the number of days in a year — well, that’s why chili and clam chowder both share a celebration day, as do National Write Your Elders Day and National Pistachio Day.

Now, some “national days” are more official than others, with a select few created by presidential proclamation: National Grandparent Day (first Sunday after Labor Day), National Good Neighbor Say (Sept. 28) and National Ice Cream Day (third Sunday of National Ice Cream Month, declared as July by Ronald Reagan in 1984). The proclamation (No. 5219) declared ice cream “a nutritious and wholesome food, enjoyed by over 90 percent of the people in the United States. It enjoys a reputation as the perfect dessert and snack food.”

Ice cream is no doubt delicious and deserving of its month of honor — but surely other snack foods somewhat less perfect in form and presentation deserve a day all their own. Twinkies are rumored to have a shelf life longer than human civilization — surely that warrants a national day of recognition. As it turns out, it’s April 6, reportedly the day Twinkies first rolled off the line and into the hands of the American people in 1930.

A presidential proclamation isn’t the only way to get a national day. Like most things of value in this world, it is also possible to buy one. The good folks at the National Day Calendar will sell one to you, starting at the bargain price of $25,000, plus an annual commitment of $2,500 in products or services for prize giveaways. And that’s just the baseline price to be considered for a National Day submission — their packages go up to $50,000 and $100,000, depending on how much additional marketing support a  buyer wants to invest in.

For those looking for less expensive and less marketing-intensive packages, other options exist that start as low as $99, though that only gets you a national proclamation day. The bargain-basement price to be included in a National Day archive seems to be around $500.

And notably, being willing to show up and pay isn’t always enough to make it. According to the National Day Archives, the process is somewhat selective. According to the website, “only 30 new days are added annually from over 20,000 submitted applications.” Getting into the National Day spotlight, as it turns out, requires both a large amount of money and a worthy cause for celebration.

So imagine our shock here at PYMNTS when we learned that payments doesn’t have any kind of a national day all its own. Well, there was National Equal Pay Day, but that seemed more about bringing attention to the gender pay gap than celebrating the wonder of modern payments technology. And so we have some suggestions for a few holidays and how we should celebrate them, for any payments peeps out there looking for creative ways to spend tens of thousands of dollars.

National Cryptocurrency Day: Celebrated by eating cupcakes. If the cupcakes are purchased at the start of the day, they cost 13 cents apiece. If bought at 10 a.m., they cost $10,000. At noon, they cost $50,000. At 3 p.m., they cost $500. At 7 p.m., they cost $75,000. And at closing time at 9 p.m., the baker pays you $20 apiece to take them.

National Contactless Payment Day: Celebrated by staying as far away from other people as possible and waving vigorously at them while tapping a card, scanning a QR code or picking up a meal curbside.

National Delivery on Demand Day: Celebrated on Zoom, a holiday for Americans to show off their recent delivery to friends and family, followed by the streaming of the traditional holiday meal ordered from Uber Eats or DoorDash.

National Buy Now, Pay Later Day(s): One holiday with its celebration broken into four parts, to be celebrated monthly.

And, of course ….

National Payments Day: We even have a date for this one — Oct. 20, a spot currently held by Brandied Fruit. We have nothing against brandied fruit, but we think payments has a special claim on the 20th day of October. That is the day in 2014 when Apple Pay officially launched — and, we would modestly argue more importantly, it is the day in 2009 when made its online debut.

We’re just saying: A holiday that could be successfully celebrated by buying or selling literally anything? Well, there are worse reasons to eat cake.

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Roblox Gaming Platform Pursues Older Users; Readies For Direct Listing

February 27, 2021 at 03:59AM

Digital entertainment platform Roblox is going after adult users as it readies to go public via a direct offering scheduled for March 10, CNBC reported on Friday (Feb. 26).

Roblox Founder and CEO David Baszucki said that he wants people to see the company as more than a gaming site, and one that can provide live events like entertainment and educational programming. “When we experience concerts together, we dance together, we chat with our friends, we dress up,” he said in an investor presentation, per CNBC. “Concerts aren’t just something we consume. They really are naturally something we do together.”

Roblox hosted the rapper Lis Nas X for a virtual show that attracted more than 30 million visitors on two nights in November 2020. The Silicon Valley firm has become one of the top-grossing iOS and Android apps. It features millions of user-created games that let youth interact with their friends while playing.

The pandemic helped fuel a revenue surge for Roblox in 2020, when it escalated 82 percent to $923.9 million. Users spent more than double the number of hours on the platform in 2020 compared to the prior year, logging 30.6 billion hours. As the company looks to the future, it aims to target older users and non-gamers. “We’re increasingly appealing to an older user base,” said Roblox CFO Mike Guthrie, per CNBC, noting that people over the age of 13 now comprise 44 percent of all active users.

Baszucki said that beyond entertainment and events, he thinks schools could make use of Roblox for unique, captivating lessons instead of having everyone listening on a crowded video call. 

Roblox had been exploring an initial public offering (IPO) last year, but scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had it look toward a direct listing instead. The company raised $520 million in January in a funding round led by Altimeter Capital and Dragoneer Investment Group. The company’s valuation after the round reached $29.5 billion, up from $4 billion in January 2020.

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Humana Partners With Mercy To Advance Virtual Healthcare 

February 27, 2021 at 01:36AM

Health insurance firm Humana is teaming with the Mercy healthcare system to expand virtual medical services to Humana’s Medicare Advantage members.

“This agreement unites two organizations striving to offer care that is more accessible, personalized and coordinated — a commitment that is more important than ever right now,” Jeremy Gaskill, Humana’s regional Medicare president, said in a press release on Friday (Feb. 26). He added that the partnership will help the company’s mission to “improve the health and well-being of people in the communities we serve, and that that Mercy “shares our dedication to innovation in healthcare.”

The collaboration offers Humana’s Medicare Advantage members access to Mercy Virtual,  the healthcare system’s “hospital without beds,” according to the release. Mercy Virtual has more than 300 clinicians and offers round-the-clock care, including virtual primary care.

The new service will be available to any Humana Medicare Advantage member who has in-network use of one of Mercy’s 4,000 primary and specialty care clinicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

As part of the partnership, Mercy is also entering into a value-based care arrangement with Humana. The new service expands on the existing network contract between both companies, which continues to provide in-network access at all Mercy hospitals, outpatient facilities and physician practices.

“Mercy is committed to working with our communities to improve healthcare while also reducing the total cost of care,” said Shannon Sock, Mercy executive vice president, chief strategist and chief financial officer. “Strong payor relationships, like this one with Humana, will help in our long-term journey to provide more seamless care for our patients. Together we can make a real difference for patients, which is especially critical during this pandemic.”

Humana’s total Medicare Advantage membership reached more than 4.8 million members in January, the release said.

Humana recently backed the Los Angeles digital health startup Heal with a $100 million investment. Heal said it made 200,000 home visits over the past five years

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Next Congressional Hearing Set For Robinhood-GameStop Debacle

February 27, 2021 at 01:07AM

The U.S. House Committee on Financial Services will hold a second hearing on the Wall Street trading debacle that involved GameStop, Reddit, Robinhood and hedge fund traders, Crowdfund Insider reported on Friday (Feb. 26).

The virtual hearing will take place on March 17 and final details about who is testifying will be made public a week before the hearing. Rep. Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the committee, had said there will be three separate hearings about the trading incident that rocked Wall Street and caused big losses for hedge funds.

The second hearing is anticipated to call industry experts to testify. The third hearing could result in final opinions about what happened and if new legislation is necessary, the news outlet indicated. 

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev testified at the first hearing and expressed regret for placing trading restrictions on GameStop stock. He maintained, however, that it was a necessary response to meet clearinghouse demands. 

The other witnesses at the first hearing included hedge fund chief executives, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and a Reddit user from the platform’s community WallStreetBets. Users of WallStreetBets were said to have played a major role in running up GameStop stock. 

So far this year Robinhood added 6 million new users for its cryptocurrency services. Bitcoin hit record highs, topping $58,000 with a market capitalization of over $1 trillion. The cryptocurrency dogecoin also saw values escalate during the Gamestop trading frenzy.

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PayPal Joins Uber’s Effort To Provide Transportation To US Vaccination Sites

February 27, 2021 at 01:05AM

PayPal Holdings, Inc. has become a part of Uber Technologies, Inc.‘s initiative to offer free or discounted trips to inoculation sites in the United States to help ensure that transportation isn’t a barrier to vaccine access, according to a Friday (Feb. 26) announcement.

“Over the past year, we have deployed our products, services and resources to help our customers and communities navigate the impacts of the pandemic,” PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman said in the announcement. “We are proud to join forces with Uber to extend these efforts to ensure that transportation is not a barrier to vaccine access, especially for those in under-resourced communities.”

Last December, Uber committed as many as 10 million free or discounted rides to make sure transportation doesn’t prevent people from getting vaccines. To help with the effort, PayPal is making a corporate contribution of $5 million to fund more rides. The company will also work with Uber to explore ways to leverage its “giving platform” to encourage individual contributions to the vaccine access initiative.

“Nobody should miss their shot at getting vaccinated because they lack transportation,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in the announcement. “PayPal’s generous donation and support will go a long way to accelerate our efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccination, and we are excited to partner with them in the critically important months ahead.”

The collaboration is an extension of PayPal’s efforts to help underserved communities throughout the country, which have been most impacted by the pandemic. As part of those initiatives, PayPal provided minority and women-owned companies with access to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. In addition, it committed $535 million to support Black and minority-owned companies and communities in the United States.

On Dec. 9, PayPal Holdings, Inc. said that it processed a record-breaking $185 million globally on GivingTuesday, which was the most raised on its platform for the global day of giving since the event’s launch in 2012.

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G20 Leaders Won’t Prematurely Pull The Plug On Pandemic Aid

February 26, 2021 at 11:08PM

The impact of COVID-19 on the world economy was the focal point of the virtual meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (FMCBGs), Reuters reported on Friday (Feb. 26).

In the first meeting under the Italian presidency of G20, the financial leaders of the world’s top 20 economies agreed that economic recovery will remain a top priority. They also agreed to work together to find more solutions to assist poorer economies with the effects of the coronavirus.

According to a G20 news post, the leaders are “committed to scaling up international coordination to tackle current global challenges by adopting a stronger multilateral approach and focusing on a set of core priorities.”

Among the top priorities includes ensuring access for all countries to safe vaccines, testing and treatment. The leaders also established an independent panel to address preparedness against future pandemics.

When the FMCBG meets again in April, they will discuss the G20 Action Plan and tackle tough issues like “low productivity growth, rising inequality, climate and environment-related risks, and the infrastructure financing gap.”

The ministers and governors also discussed the pandemic’s impact on financial stability and financial inclusion, the post indicated. They agreed that as a group, they should maintain “close cooperation” and ensure the financial sector can support recovery.

The group also talked about international taxation and “the urgent need” to overhaul the system for globalization and digitalization. The G20 set a goal of mid-2021 to “achieve a global and consensus-based solution.” 

Stepping up the implementation of digital payments and other financial services was also discussed as a top priority to ensure financial inclusion of the neediest groups. 

The G20 said in March it would infuse the world economy with $5 trillion to fight the devastating effects of the pandemic. The world leaders pledged to do “whatever it takes” to help stave off the negative impacts of COVID-19. 

The International Money Fund (IMF) called on G20 leaders in November to continue financial support of their economies to continue fighting the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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No Ports In A (Retail) Storm Of Logistics Delays

February 26, 2021 at 10:18PM

There’s the buying and the buying — but it’s getting the goods to the buyers that is a problem.

As Bloomberg reported Friday (Feb. 26), retailers across a number of verticals have been struggling with logistics — namely, getting goods from point A to point B, even as consumers continue to spend.

And, in particular, inventories may be disrupted, reported the newswire, which means, eventually down the line … prices may rise as demand keeps up, but inventories dwindle.

In one example, as quoted from a recent earnings call, Crocs CEO Andrew Rees said on an earnings call this week that getting deliveries “through Long Beach and other ports, getting shipped to customers is really challenging right now. And that’s not an issue with production capacity; that’s just logistics.” Anecdotally, other firms have seen similar issues, ranging from shoemakers such as Wolverine Worldwide on to equipment makers such as Bowflex. The end result is that sales get deferred into subsequent periods.

We note that the Crocs commentary is telling. California may serve as a bellwether of sorts for logjams and logistics challenges, which have the ripple effect of slowing down the last miles of commerce. In some cases, getting the containers reserved to ship has been an issue or ships idled due to delivery delays amid a surge of imports at the Los Angeles port. In other cases, cargo has been lost, gone overboard to the briny depths (seas can be rough).

Hurry Up And Wait  

The Commercial Observer reported this week that container ships at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach have seen bottlenecks even into January, where shipments were up year over year by more than 20 percent.

“A  record number of more than 60 container ships are now parked offshore as of [late February],” reported the Observer, which means that other shipments have had to be diverted.

If retailers have to wait weeks to get inventory in hand, then that of course leads to stockouts. Stockouts lead ultimately to consumer dissatisfaction, which means that consumers may, when shopping online, decide to abandon purchases until they go online and see the delivery windows they like.

The satisfaction of making a purchase, especially one that is of the “click and pay” variety, comes in part with knowing that what’s on order will come — and in the age of Amazon, come within a day or two.

There’s no real indication that making things, well, here, can solve the pain points the shipping industry is seeing.  As reported last week, in the U.S., consumer spending on durable good items was up 6.4 percent, but the domestic production of those same goods was down 8.4 percent.

And the urge to splurge, as we might call it, continues unabated. As PYMNTS reported this week, the Commerce Department report showed a 2.4 percent rise in consumer spending for January, with outlays for goods far exceeding services. Demand, and spending, grew for durable goods (led by recreational goods and vehicles, notably information processing equipment) and nondurable goods (led by food and beverages), according to the Commerce Department data.

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Sezzle Closes The Books On 2020 With Record Numbers

February 26, 2021 at 09:54PM

Installment payment platform Sezzle on Friday (Feb. 26) reported record results for 2020, with underlying merchant sales (UMS) up 250.8 percent and total income up 272.1 percent year over year.

“We are excited about the momentum in our business reflected in the velocity of signups for both consumers and merchants,” Sezzle Co-Founder, Executive Chair and CEO Charlie Youakim said in the earnings announcement. He added, “2021 is off to a good start,” since the firm’s January UMS of $117.8 million was a record and 65 percent above its 2020 average.

“We are also pleased to provide UMS guidance for Sezzle to achieve an annualized run rate UMS of US$2.5 billion by the end of 2021.”

The company said merchant fees for 2020 increased 266.9 percent year over year and active merchants totaled more than 26,000 as of Dec. 31, an increase of 166.6 percent. In January, active merchants reached over 29,000. In 2019, over 70 percent of new active merchants came from inbound inquiries. A year later, it grew to more than 90 percent.

In 2020, the startup added over 1.3 million active consumers, with the fourth quarter breaking records with over 438,000 new users. Another 126,000 consumers joined in January 2021.

Known for its buy now, pay later (BNPL) installments, Sizzle said it is increasing its focus on green and social good initiatives this year, which aligns with its status as a public benefit corporation. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., Sezzle was founded in 2016 and offers a payment platform that facilitates fast, secure, seamless payments between consumers and retailers.

In September, Sezzle teamed with Target to offer BNPL payments to its retail and eCommerce shoppers. The pilot is temporary and there is no permanent partnership. BNPL has escalated in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BNPL market is forecast to be worth $352 billion by 2024, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. In PYMNTS Provider Ranking of Alternative Credit Apps, Klarna ranked first, followed by Affirm, Quadpay, Afterpay and Sezzle.

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Report: Robinhood In Talks To Pay Financial Penalty

February 26, 2021 at 09:16PM

To settle probes into its options trading processes and the downtime that its equity trading app faced last year, Robinhood Markets Inc. is in discussions to pay a financial penalty, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a securities document. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), state watchdogs and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are examining the company’s behavior in areas such as how it “displays cash and buying power to customers and its options trading approval processes,” the firm said in a filing, according to the paper.

Robinhood Securities and Robinhood Financial, two subsidiaries, are in the process of working out a settlement with FINRA regarding the options trading procedures and the outages it has experienced, according to the paper. The attorney general and financial watchdog of New York, as well as other regulators, are also examining reported cases of entities taking over Robinhood user accounts without permission.

Robinhood has faced criticism over the way it deals with custom options trading. One 20-year-old student died by suicide in 2020 when he believed he was facing large trading losses on the platform.

The news comes as Robinhood encounters more legal challenges, as a judge has declined to throw out a suit alleging that clients lost money during outages in March of last year. U.S. District Judge James Donato said the case had merits to progress and that clients had a sufficiently firm allegation. However, he pushed for the attorneys for both sides to strike a deal. “This is an unusual case in the sense that, as the plaintiffs have acknowledged, Robinhood has pretty much said this is a problem,” Donato said. “There was ownership and apology, and that’s 80 percent of the battle in most cases.” The judge said the parties should locate a mediator to help begin negotiations to save financial resources and time.

Separately, leaders in the European Union said that the kind of commission-free share trading for retail investors provided by firms like Robinhood would not be allowed in the bloc. Officials there have been looking into such brokerage sites following recent controversies

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What Are The Odds That DraftKings Does $1 Billion In Revenue This Year? Pretty Good

February 26, 2021 at 09:00PM

With more players, in more states, placing more online sports bets than ever, DraftKings closed the books on a record fourth quarter and full year Friday (Feb. 26), while raising expectations for 2021 and predicting it could do $1 billion in revenue.

Officially, the Boston-based gaming firm reported a 98 percent increase in Q4 revenues to a better-than-expected $322 million. At the same time, the costs involved in rapidly expanding into new markets and acquiring new customers, as well as significant stock-based compensation costs, led to an adjusted loss for the quarter of $87 million, or $0.24 per share, which was still only about half the deficit analysts predicted.

As far as 2021 goes, DraftKings said it has already entered two new state markets this year in Michigan and Virginia, as well as the addition of Tennessee in Q4, and was raising its full year sales outlook by about 20 percent to a range of $900 million to $1 billion, which it said equates to year-over-year growth of 40 to 55 percent.

“Looking ahead, I remain very confident in the continued growth of the online sports betting and iGaming markets in the US,” DraftKings CEO and Co-Founder Jason Robins told investors on the company’s earnings call. “Even in a market like New Jersey where we’ve been live for 2.5 years, substantial growth continues. Our handle in New Jersey grew over 100% in 2020 and we are profitable in the state despite the impact of the COVID pandemic.”

Bigger Bets

DraftKings is not only entering new states as they approve sports betting, but it is also growing through affiliation and sponsorship deals with a number of prominent leagues and event organizers, including the NFL, MLB and the PGA as well as the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. fight.

As it stands, DraftKings reported improvement in two key metrics; its Monthly Unique Payers (MUPs) increased 44 percent in Q4 with an average of 1.5 million paying players each month.

At the same time, its average revenue per user rose to $65, marking a 55 percent increase for the fourth quarter and a 29 percent increase for the year.

The company said its full year forecast assumes that all professional and college sports calendars that have been announced come to fruition, and that it is able to continue operations where it is currently doing business.

“DraftKings is now live with mobile sports betting in 12 states, which is more than any other company in the industry,” the company said in its earning presentation. “These 12 states together represent 25% of the US population” and come less than three years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2018 decision that struck down a federal ban on sports betting that had stood for 25 years.

Growth Areas

DraftKings said the outlook for further legalization also looked very promising, noting that so far in 2021, 19 state legislatures have introduced legislation to legalize online sports betting, and five states have filed bills that would expand existing sports wagering frameworks.

As part of its ongoing expansion, the company said it is also in the midst of a tech migration that will enable it to use its own in-house betting technology. At the same time, DraftKings told investors that it is continuing its efforts to add new products, content initiatives and business relationships.

“I am pleased with the progress we are making with our organizational integration and the migration to our proprietary in house back-end and trading technology,” Robins said, noting a completion date target for the end of Q3. “Owning our own technology is important and will help with innovation, speed to market, site stability and availability of markets. We will also realize gross margin synergies associated with the migration starting in the fourth quarter of this year.”

As far as investors are concerned, DraftKings has been a homerun since its reverse merger listing last April via the SPAC Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp. Since then, its shares have risen about 250 percent to value the company at over $25 billion.

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