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A Payments Geek Among the Major League Geeks, CES 2018

I had the opportunity to moderate a panel for the Digital Money Forum, an all-day session that is part of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), this week in Las Vegas. Attending CES was a bucket-list thing for me, so I was really excited to be able to attend, and the experience was absolutely worth it. This show is huge—180,000 people were there. For those of you who think Money 2020 is a big deal, it attracts about 10,000 people. Think of about 180,000 people trying to get a cab at the same time or a coffee at Starbucks, and you can get a sense of what it’s like.

Here are a few observations about CES, based on two days of deep immersion:

  • Smart home is about to really happen: Hundreds of companies were exhibiting around smart home, many with the usual array of smart doorbells, smart light bulbs, and even a smart cat litter box (really). The most interesting thing was the emergence of several companies offering in-home servers that could manage devices from any provider on any network protocol. With an in-home platform in place, every smart-home product can be easily installed and used in any home. The products and the infrastructure is in place for smart-home solutions to take off this year.
  • “OK, Google, get Alexa”: The two giants of voice user interface from Google and Amazon were everywhere in the show, and they are being embedded in all sorts of technology, from smart TVs to personal robots. It’s clear that voice-enabled technology is the hot topic in interfaces, and we’ll see it everywhere soon. Implementation of voice-enabled payment solutions should be a priority for the industry.
  •  China: A significant percentage of the exhibitors at CES were from China, ranging from giants such as Huawei to hundreds of startups, and they were present in every category—autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robots, drones (lots of drones), and everything else. The Chinese tech community is a force to be reckoned with, and possibly humbled by.
  • 5G: The next generation of mobile technology, 5G got a lot of exposure, and the companies most likely to benefit—such as Ericsson and the mobile operators—were shouting to the rooftops about it. It’s coming for sure, but it’s a ways off; it probably won’t be in common use for three to five years. 
  • Payments: Payments weren’t a priority at CES, except for paying for things such as taxis, hotels, and dinner. In fact, they were almost an afterthought in most cases. Amazon Pay, Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay weren’t there. Payments in the connected car space were limited to an application program interface (API) connection or a proprietary, one-card wallet. American Express had booths supporting its small-business offering, Amex Open, and Capital One was selling credit cards, but otherwise, none of the major players were visible. Only one payments company was visible, and this company had a huge presence, informed staff, and compelling information, and it was creating a great vibe. Which company? Alipay/Ant Financial (See China above).
  • One cool payment offering: The one cool payment product was from Dynamics Payment Solutions, a new electronic payments card that can dynamically change from one account to another for any tender type. When the account is changed, the primary account number changes dynamically, and it updates for magnetic stripe, contact, and contactless EMV transaction functionality simultaneously. It uses an e-ink display, and since it is linked to the mobile networks, it can be instantly updated in case of a breach and can deliver messaging to customers from their bank. It received an innovation award from CES, and it was well-deserved. We will be hearing more about them over the coming months.

The overall takeaway from CES? We are fortunate to live in a time when technology has the potential to improve lives, and it’s a privilege to be part of that. Attend CES if you can.