Industry Influencer Q&A #7: Bailey Reutzel

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This blog series is dedicated to sharing the thoughts of industry influencers from across the payments and e-commerce sectors. Over the coming months, we will continue to ask experts to comment on the key issues and trends affecting the industry, and share their thoughts with you here.

 

Bailey

 

This week’s influencer is Moneytripping blogger Bailey Reutzel (@BLR13). From a small town in the Missouri Bootheel, Bailey headed to the East Coast in early 2012 to cover the financial services industry. She started carving out a niche in fintech at Callahan and Associates in Washington DC. After that, for nearly three years she focused on emerging payment technology, specifically Bitcoin and other blockchain developments, with PaymentsSource and American Banker. She is currently Moneytripping, blogging about political economy while driving the contiguous U.S. 48.

How far are you into your Moneytripping project, and what are the most interesting insights/experiences you’ve had so far?

I started at the beginning of August, so I’m a month in and today I just drove into Hartford, Connecticut, which is my 12th state.
First, it’s been interesting to see how the project has morphed from the original concept. The blog has become a bit more political than I expected but that’s really a manifestation of what I’m interested in.
For instance, it’s been interesting to take on big political topics like whether Bitcoin will be any different than the current financial system, especially if it has to play by the same rules (regulation). I am innately rebellious so these systems that push against the status quo fascinate me, but in learning so much at SourceMedia (PaymentsSource and American Banker) and seeing how the rise of Bitcoin is being appropriated, it’s made me skeptical of the revolutionary change it touts. But these alternatives are still good; they just have an uphill battle to improve on the current system, because the big players are so entrenched.
One of the coolest things is seeing my network come through for me. The people I’ve met in one state have been able to hook me up with places to stay and cool people to bounce my ideas off of in other states. It’s been amazing…
Just a fun thing, I stopped to chat with a couple itinerants in Portland, Maine, listened to them play music and bullshit. And as I was walking around Boston a week later, I ran into one of the young adults in the group, playing guitar on the street. It was a really surreal thing.
What is your outlook on Bitcoin at this point?
My New Hampshire piece sums up my thoughts on Bitcoin pretty well…
Any kind of rebellion, which I think Bitcoin was and to a certain extent still is, is a positive. People should push the boundaries. Currency can be a voice, a way to stand up for what you believe… And I think Bitcoin is an interesting experiment to see if our payment system/data management systems can be operated better than they are today.
Because Bitcoin is open source, and you’re already seeing this, people will copy and tweak the code to build better systems, and that’s where the truly interesting, possibly world-changing innovations will be. For instance, there are groups trying to put the energy needed to mine a proof-of-work cryptocurrency into useful things, such as protein folding in an effort to find cures for diseases, and others that are tying cryptocurrency to environmental projects and offsets.

But when a technology or an industry has to work within the guidelines (rules and regulations and even to a certain extent how consumers interact with payment tools) of an older tech or industry, it will become the same system. There are early adopters of Bitcoin that have made considerable money on its price rise, and they continue to hold onto their bitcoin waiting for another upswing. That’s not really a great way to bring bitcoin to the masses… Telling people to buy bitcoin so the price goes up sounds a bit Ponzi scheme-like. Yet well-known investors/pundits in the space that say things like that aren’t booed off stage, but instead welcomed.

The industry could really use a good dose of critical thought.

Do you foresee mobile payments ever becoming as popular as credit cards among consumers? What would be needed for this to happen?

Of course! That’s inevitable… The technology needs to get a little better; it’s sometimes still wonky to use NFC, but ultimately people, starting with the younger demographic, will be all for only needing their smartphone to shop and transact.

Plus mobile is going to be a much more secure way to transact. Not only will companies be able to use behavioral biometrics to authenticate that the correct person is trying to make a purchase, but with encryption and tokenization measures, transactions via mobile, whether NFC or in-app, will be much safer than using a card with your account numbers clearly embossed on the front.
Ultimately these things just take time…

Are there any new companies or technologies that you see transforming the payments space over the next six months to a year?

One that I recently stumbled across again is OpenBazaar, an open source project to create a decentralized network for commerce. It’s a peer-to-peer marketplace basically… The company built off the skeleton of DarkMarket, which was the infamous Amir Taaki’s hackathon project to create a Silk Road-esque marketplace that couldn’t be shut down by law enforcement/the government.

So OpenBazaar has picked up $1 million in funding from two of the most well respected investors in the tech space, Andreessen Horowitz and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

I’m also interested to see how Venmo proliferates and what PayPal does with it. PayPal recently said they’d like to bring more Venmo-like features to the core PayPal platform…

See, if I could push my audience to Venmo to donate to the road trip or tip me for my work, that’d be great, because there is no fee for sending or transferring out into your bank account, whereas PayPal takes a percentage of my tips. So when someone sends me $10, I get $9.31. When they send me $40, I get $38.54.

I’m not saying that’s a hefty fee because I understand the risk that PayPal takes on, but it’s aggravating when I know I could collect funds cheaper somewhere else.

Plus PayPal knows me. I’d really like to see a payment system bring in reputation data to cut costs, speed up transactions or generally give me a better experience.