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Finix becomes a payments processor, heating up its competition with Stripe

Payments infrastructure startup Finix has slowly been taking swipes at Stripe, first becoming a facilitator, and now becoming a processor.

Finix said today it now is directly connected to all major U.S. card networks — American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa. Now that Finix no longer relies on a third-party processor, it says it’s able to offer businesses “instant onboarding, improved economics and opportunities for lowering interchange fees.”

Says co-founder and CEO Richie Serna: “This has been one of the holy grails that we've always been aspiring to -- how can you get as close to the bare metal as possible?”

“One of the interesting things is that I think there's something like less than 25 payment processors here in the U.S. -- four of them actually have about 80% of the entire market share and most of those tech stacks were built in the early 90s,” he added. “And so, to really unlock some of the incredible innovations that these networks have released over the last few years, such as tap to pay, QR code payments, network tokens -- you have to go directly to the source and that's something that takes years of development.”

The SaaS startup — which started its business by selling its flexible payments software to other businesses — doesn't lean away from comparisons. VC history is partly to blame here: Finix raised a $35 million Series B led by Sequoia. In an unusual twist, Sequoia just one month later walked away from the deal in which it reportedly wrote the self-described payments infrastructure company a $21 million check. As TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos reported at the time, Finix told employees that soon after issuing its check, Sequoia concluded that Finix competes too directly with Stripe, the payments company that represented one of Sequoia’s biggest private holdings and that in turn counted Sequoia as one of its biggest outside investors.

Fast-forward to last May. Finix announced that it was becoming a payments facilitator, which it had not historically been able to do as just an API provider. That move too put it in direct competition with Stripe. For the unacquainted, a processor is a company that connects directly into the major card networks for the purpose of transmitting payment transaction data and funds on behalf of a merchant. A payment facilitator on the other hand has to work with a payments processor to move money.

Today, Finix says it processes “tens of billions of dollars for tens of thousands of merchants.”

Built from the ground up

The “big four” payment processors that Serna referred to include Fiserv (First Data), JPMorgan Chase, FIS (Worldpay) and GPN/TSYS. Block (formally known as Square) is often viewed as a payment processor, is actually built on top of other payments technology and itself works with a number of payment processors to provide direct connection into networks, Serna noted.

Serna believes that Finix’s tech stands out because it was built from the ground up, and not built through a number of acquisitions as in the case of some legacy providers.

“It's impossible to combine a lot of these tech stacks, because not all of those tools play well together,” he said.

He also points out that Finix’s integrations are not restricted to the U.S. like some of the other processors.

“If you’re looking at doing merchant acceptance worldwide, typically you'd have to go and find multiple processors,” he told TechCrunch in an interview. “By having those direct to network integrations like we now have, we can partner with banks all around the world to give our customers one access for multiple countries and multiple currencies, and other alternative payment methods as well.”

While it may not be a “big four processor,” Finix still views fintech giant Stripe as competition. Serna believes that Finix’s latest move only drives the two closer toward each other despite the disparity in size (Finix has 130 or so employees and Stripe had just under 7,000 as of last November) and funding (Finix has raised about $133 million in funding and Stripe has raised nearly $9 billion).

“I think we've always thought about building a company in our tech stack differently. When you think about Stripe they've built really for speed, whereas we've built on Java, for scalability and for security,” he said. “And from day one, they started off with startups who were really just e-commerce merchants whereas we built for SaaS platforms and marketplaces that had more configurable and scalability challenges that we wanted to be able to support.”

Serna added: “I think that kind of shows in what we've heard from a number of our customers, is that while Stripe started off very simple, they've actually oversimplified and abstracted away too much from what our customers really need.”

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