Visa pitches a program offering fintechs faster market access through an ecosystem of partners

Visa is pitching a new way for startups in the fintech space to get to market faster by using its rails and a group of pre-approved partners.

The Fast Track program, a variant of an investment commitment and ecosystem of services the company has already launched in other geographies around the world, comes to the U.S. without an investment commitment, but with a pre-defined list of partners that will help new financial services startups launch more quickly, the company said.

Chiefly, the process makes it easier to integrate with Visa. It’s an attempt to put the payment processor’s network, VisaNet, at the center of a vast array of services ranging from payroll to business to business payments and online banking, online lending and even digital wallets.

“There’s about $17 trillion in cash and checks today that hasn’t gone digital and $20 trillion in business to business that’s happening over wires and check… those are all opportunities for Visa,” says Terry Angelos, a former fintech entrepreneur who now serves as a senior vice president at Visa and the company’s global head of fintech. 

“To some degree Visa has been the original fintech,” says Angelos. “Today, you would  pitch it as a SaaS platform for payment and commerce.”

For its new service, Visa has come up with a list of partners to provide the array of compliance services and infrastructure that a startup in the financial services space would need to get up and running quickly.

“These are vetted partners that are providing a fast track process and a concierge service so we can track the companies in the program,” says Angelos. 

What the program won’t include, Angelos said, is a commitment to invest in startups in the U.S. that would be equivalent to the $100 million investment fund the company has carved out for European investments as part of the fast track program there.

“We have investments that are happening that are in parallel,” Angelos says. “We don’t have a separate fund.”

Companies that are partnering with Visa on this program represent a different service offering for the ecosystem, including: Alloy, BBVA Open Platform, Cross River Bank, Galileo, Green Dot, Marqeta, Netspend (TSYS’ Consumer Segment), Stripe, TabaPay, TSYS, Q2 and Very Good Security. The company said its debit processing service will support some of the partners’ participation in the program.   

Last year, fintech companies raised $39.5 billion from investors globally, up 120% from the previous year, according to data provided by Visa. And as part of their outreach to this startup community, Visa is pre-qualifying for its program portfolio companies from investment firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Nyca Partners, Ribbit Capital and Trinity Ventures

“We see many entrepreneurs with big ideas that can add real value and solve problems in the global payments system; the problem can be the difficulty of distribution and connectivity to the essential infrastructure,” said Hans Morris, managing partner, Nyca Ventures, in a statement. “Fast Track solves for this, enabling some of our best companies to start working with Visa right away.”

Many of the firms’ portfolio companies are already partnering with Visa in some capacity. The company has already announced agreements (of an undefined and undisclosed nature) with startups like Currencycloud, Flutterwave, Ininal, N26, PayActiv, Rappi, Razer and Remitly

Visa has also invested in startups. In 2019 alone, the company added Anchorage, Bankable, Branch, Finix, Minna Technologies and Paymate to its stable of startups. 

The main thing that startups would get from the Visa Fast Track program is mentorship and access to the company’s experts in payments and fintech. And its effort to tie itself more closely to a financial services ecosystem comes as Visa finds itself under threat from some of the very startup technologies that the company may look to co-opt.

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies offer the possibility of alternative payment mechanisms that don’t rely on the traditional money transfer systems developed decades ago by companies like Visa and Mastercard, and can offer potentially faster transaction times and charge lower fees.

To combat that threat, Visa has been aligning with some of the largest technology companies to head off challengers at the pass. The company (along with its largest rival, Mastercard) is collaborating with Facebook on its controversial proposed cryptocurrency, Libra, in an effort to head off any challengers with a new transaction system of its own.

Angelos insists that there’s nothing nefarious in Visa’s efforts to engage with startups, and says that the company is merely another actor supporting the movement of trillions of dollars into a digital economy.

“If you look at what’s happening in the fintech ecosystem… Fintechs are reducing friction and adding consumers that are underbanked,” Angelos says. “They can work on any payment rails they choose. [But] all those fintechs… are choosing to build at least part of their products on top of the rails that we built… if you look around the world, fintechs are probably leveraging the existing payment  rails to provide a lot of innovation and remove friction.”