Mobile pays hit the digital scene nearly a decade ago, transforming traditional software companies into major players in the payment industry. Commerce via device has since become the norm, and more companies today are looking to embed payments into their offerings. There’s just one challenge: Legacy systems are not always the beacons of speed and agility required for the digital age.
“A big part of our focus is really enabling companies to take advantage of this recent phenomenon known as embedded payments,” says Finix co-founder and CEO Richie Serna.
“This is where we help companies layer in payments to monetize and add in new revenue streams while reducing their costs.”
Finix leverages Visa Direct to power its push-to-card platform, enabling real-time debit card payouts for businesses and replacing slower methods such as paper checks and ACH transfers. Here, Richie looks back at where he started a decade ago in payments, ahead to the most exciting payments trends of 2024, and at the impact he hopes to make by creating a more accessible financial ecosystem.
What is your elevator pitch for Finix?
Richie: Finix enables merchants, vertical SaaS platforms and marketplaces to manage every part of the payment lifecycle. We provide developer-friendly APIs and a suite of no-code solutions to help with everything from onboarding merchants, to accepting payments, and eventually managing payouts. For the hardcore payment geeks, Finix is really a full-stack acquirer processor that has direct connections into all the major payments networks.
What problem were you trying to solve when you started the company?
Richie: One thing we realized a few years ago was that software companies are really becoming payment companies. What that means is that software companies are very quickly becoming the primary distribution point for payments and other financial services.
However after integrating into every single major acquirer processor we realized that these legacy providers failed to keep up with the pace of innovation. For example, following the introduction of smartphones in 2007, there was a tremendous wave of new forms of commerce from marketplaces to SaaS platforms, and multi-merchant models. These legacy payment systems just weren’t designed to support these use cases. These are some of the use cases we continue to focus on.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started this journey?
Richie: Payments is such a complex web. It’s a difficult space to enter not just because it’s complicated, but also because the technical pieces are so difficult to get right — you’re really weaving together a number of different threads from security, accounting, compliance, money movement, and API design. To do this well, you have to be able to put your head down for a few years, just to develop the product and get started. This forces you to think about your product and company across a much longer horizon. Honestly, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.
What makes Finix unique from its competitors?
Richie: Most companies are actually built on top of one or multiple legacy payment processors and are limited in terms of the quality of the infrastructure that they’re built on. This is one of the reasons why we built Finix from the ground up rather than relying on these legacy systems. This allowed our customers to really derive a number of different key benefits.
One, higher availability and uptime. Even a minute of downtime can cost businesses millions, so having high availability and uptime is crucial.
Two, richer and more transparent transaction-level data, which allows businesses to grow and scale better.
Three, faster product velocity that we can bring to the market. Our customers always have our highest-performing and most up-to-date products and features because of this.
Four, it allows us to enter into new countries and support new types of business models and risk models, shortening the time to expand and enter new geographical markets.
The last one is that it really allows us to stand up payment facilitators or PayFacs very quickly, drastically reducing the amount of time that it takes to go to market and drive revenue gains.
What is your idea of success?
Richie: Do we want to take our company public? Absolutely, but that’s just one milestone in a much bigger picture. For us, when we think about what it means to build a global operating system for fintech it means that one day in the not-too-distant future you can go to any single country around the world and know that Finix is a part of that money movement. It means that we’re processing trillions of dollars all around the world, and that we’re a critical part of the global infrastructure.
For me, there’s also a personal vision of success. My parents were formerly undocumented immigrants from Mexico. So I’m invested in how we can create more opportunities for other founders from underrepresented backgrounds. The startup ecosystem is still probably one of the most homogenous industries I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve previously worked in investment banking and management consulting, and I can tell you that the startup ecosystem is far less diverse than those industries, which can be pretty shocking to a lot of people. So at Finix we think a lot about how we can create more opportunities for our employees to become founders themselves. That’s something that we take a lot of pride in.
Finix’s mission is to create “the most accessible financial services ecosystem in history.” In a perfect world, what does the most accessible financial services ecosystem in history look like?
Richie: We believe that by empowering software companies with better, cheaper, and more accessible products that they, in turn, can create a world where end users, merchants, contractors, vendors, what have you, are really going to be able to enjoy the most competitive financial services ecosystem in the world. One very simple example, and I think it really resonates with Visa, is this idea of faster payments and faster funding – so rather than having to use the very old school banking systems to pay, where it can take anywhere between one to three business days to hit an account, you can use the debit card that’s in your pocket today and have those funds sent to you in real-time.1
What keeps you up at night?
Richie: Our customers and delivering the best possible product experience for them. What's going to make or break our business isn't the competition, it's the customers and making sure that they really love what we've built for them, that they love the experience and the support that we provide them.
What's one word that describes your life as an entrepreneur?
Richie: Focused. I think you absolutely have to remain focused on the long-term vision, focused on your customers, focused on the bigger picture because anything in payments and fintech that's worth building, you're going to have to dedicate 20+ years of your life to it to make it a reality. If you're thinking about building a fintech company, it's not something that you can hack together. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and focus to do it right.
Going into 2024, what trends in payments are you most excited about and why?
Richie: There are three trends that are most exciting:
Embedded payments are definitely starting to catch traction here in the U.S., but there's still a complete fragmentation between payments and software in other international markets. If someone is accepting a payment in most countries, they're tallying up the bill on a calculator, they're doing the FX conversion, they’re on a piece of paper, then they're running over to a device and entering in the total amount and handing it over to you. That, as you can imagine, is not the payment experience either for the consumer or for the merchant that's the best and most scalable. I think that a lot of those vertical SaaS businesses that we take for granted here in the U.S. are just starting to emerge in these markets to enhance the consumer experience, which is incredibly exciting.
Real-time1 payments is finally gaining traction in a way that people understand what it means and the value of it. For us, Visa Direct is something that we've been involved with now for seven years, but now you're starting to see that people actually know what it means and are asking for it and demanding that their funds hit their bank accounts sooner, which is exciting.
Cross-border connectivity of payments. Five years ago, most payment systems were completely domicile-specific. That's a result of how these payment companies came about. Most of them spun out of banks years and years ago, but as the economy has become increasingly globalized, the expectations of their payment partners are also becoming global and multinational in nature so everyone's really looking for one single API that can solve for all of these things, that can solve for the in-store and online omnichannel requirements, that can enable them to be able to offer instant disbursements and money movements, and to be able to support them with their global aspirations. And Finix can do that all with one API.
Learn more about Finix and partnering with Visa Direct on the next generation of money solutions.
1 Actual fund availability depends on receiving financial institution and region.