Last week, Elon Musk informed his employees that he wanted X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, to become the next big thing in consumer finance starting next year. And while this seems like an audacious plan for the man behind Tesla and SpaceX, Musk is a member of the PayPal mafia, after all. Could he know something about turning X into a financial services superapp that the rest of us don’t?
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why Elon Musk might be crazy as a fox when it comes to turning X into a fintech superapp – and a reason or two why he might not stand a chance.
Payments: The Gift That Keeps Giving
Whether you see payments as the “gift that keeps giving” in fintech or merely the lowest hanging fruit for a platform looking to expand into financial services, the idea of adding payments to X as an initial step in the direction of becoming a financial superapp makes sense.
Moreover, Musk sees payments as not just an initial step, but a key one in terms of not just the success of X but the end of the bank account as we know it.
“When I say payments, I actually mean someone’s entire financial life,” Musk said in an all-hands staff meeting last month. “If it involves money, it’ll be on our platform. Money or securities or whatever. So, it’s not just like send $20 to my friend. I’m talking about, like, you won’t need a bank account.”
As such X has already secured money or currency transmitter licenses in seven U.S. states: Arizona, Maryland, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. These licenses enable X to offer a range of payment services, including crypto payment services. Observers have suggested this means Musk is initially planning on offering a Venmo or PayPal like payment processing service nationwide.
Elon Musk Has a Payments Pedigree
Although often forgotten amid his achievements with satellites, rockets, and automobiles, Elon Musk is a member of the group that paved the way for PayPal. Known colloquially as the “PayPal Mafia”, the group of 20+ technologists includes a number of entrepreneurs who, like Musk, have gone on to do more great things in the world of technology. These include the founding of companies such as YouTube and LinkedIn.
Musk’s specific contribution to the group was his founding of online financial services and e-mail payment company X.com in 1999. Among the first online banks to be federally insured, X.com merged with online bank Confinity in 2000, which had launched its money transfer service PayPal the year before. Interestingly, it was Musk who has been credited for moving the combined entity away from internet banking and toward a focus on payments. Nevertheless, within a month Musk was replaced as X.com CEO by Peter Thiel. The company took on the name PayPal in 2001 and in the following year generated more than $61 million in its IPO.
Embedded Finance Empowers All
The rise of embedded finance has made it possible for virtually any platform that wants to offer financial services to do so. Writing in The Financial Brand, Jim Marous underscored embedded finance as an “existential threat” to banks that could “divert 50% of banking revenue to other providers.” He noted a projection from consulting firm Publicis Sapient that suggested that revenue from embedded finance will reach $160 billion by 2025.
And while early adopters of embedded finance were fintechs and other financial-adjacent companies, the ability to embed basic, widely used financial services into a wider and wider range of consumer experiences has proved irresistible. From ridesharing and retail to hospitality and social media, the opportunity to boost customer engagement and create new revenue streams via embedded finance is clear. And between Musk’s payments pedigree and his desire to monetize X, the rise of embedded finance could not come at a better time.
Increasingly, the question for platforms will not be “can I do payments with you?” Instead, it will be “why would I want to do payments with you?” In this, a popular social media platform will have some advantages that other platforms will not.
Are Elon’s Eyes Bigger Than His Plate?
Whether or not you are a fan of Elon Musk’s X-ification of Twitter, it is hard to see X as a finished product. Some of the platform’s earliest adopters have left or are considering leaving. This is often due to combination of technical issues, changes in functionality, or an environment that critics have described as “a cesspool.”
How fixable are these problems? Much of X’s technical woes have been attributed to staffing issues – Musk claimed this spring to have cut the company’s staff by 80% – and Musk’s own mercurial management style. And many of the changes in functionality – such as making popular features like Tweetdeck a premium service – are essentially just attempts to monetize a platform that has been undermonetized for years in the eyes of many. As for the debate over how much X differs from Twitter in terms of tone and civility, social media platforms inevitably track the tone and civility of the societies that support them. If X in 2023 is a less happy place than Twitter was in 2013, there’s probably a good reason for that. And it isn’t Elon Musk.
That said, the idea that X could grow from a social media platform with a growing list of unfixed flaws into a trusted and widely used financial superapp does seem to skip a step.
Would You Put Your Trust in Musk?
As the launcher of rockets and the developer of tomorrow’s cars, Elon Musk has earned widespread praise and acclaim. But his tenure at the top of X has been rocky – both in terms of technical issues with the platform as well as the alleged proliferation of unsavory actors. Kara Swisher, a technology journalist and writer who has known Musk for years, astutely pointed out in a recent interview that Musk was surprised that he was not able to immediately parlay his success in the world of technology into the world of media. As such, it is an open question as to whether or not people who trust Musk enough to drive his cars, also trust him enough to safely move their money.
The post Three Reasons Why Elon Musk Will Turn X Into a Financial Superapp (and Two Reasons Why He Won’t!) appeared first on Finovate.