Inside Plaid’s plans to build a new, global finance network

When Visa announced plans to purchase Plaid for $5.3 billion in January 2020, the deal represented one of the largest acquisitions of a fintech upstart by an incumbent financial powerhouse.

But 12 months, one pandemic and one DOJ antitrust lawsuit later, and the credit card network provider decided the “protracted and complex litigation” necessary to consummate the acquisition would take too long to combat. The companies abandoned the deal exactly one year after it was announced.

Visa and Plaid might have chosen to go their own ways in the end, but the year wasn’t a total loss for the data connectivity startup: Plaid claims its customer count grew 60% in 2020, and company execs say it has had similar growth so far this year.

“Despite the outcome not being what we predicted when we went in, I think we as a company grew a lot and learned a lot,” Plaid CEO Zach Perret told TechCrunch.

More important than the continued growth could be its peek into how a company like Visa operates and figuring out what it could emulate as the startup targets global reach through deep connections with financial institutions around the world.

“I think we’ve benefited from having the opportunity to understand how Visa ran their business at scale. It’s very rare that one gets a look inside a company that has been operating for as many years as they have in financial services,” he added.

Plaid has been fairly quiet about its future plans in the wake of the failed Visa deal. As the company kicks off Plaid Forum — its virtual conference for customers — this week, however, it’s also unveiling a suite of new data, connectivity and payments features designed to increase trust, provide better insights and expand where and how financial services are delivered.

Building consumer trust

For a company that sells primarily to fintech startups and (increasingly) large financial institutions, Plaid sure does talk a lot about the consumer experience. Despite its B2B focus, consumer safety and trust were topics that repeatedly came up in conversations with Plaid execs over recent weeks.

Perret said that’s a relic of the company’s early days when the founders worked out of a small office off of San Francisco’s Union Square while the Occupy movement was protesting throughout the city, including right across the street from their first headquarters. “The metric I always wanted to move is: I want consumers to be less frustrated with financial services. I want them to dislike the system a little bit less,” he said.

Rather than build a single budgeting or bookkeeping tool, the team set out to create infrastructure that would power thousands of financial products, with the lens that if financial products went digital they would have more impact on more people, ultimately leading to better outcomes.