Although payment platforms are continuing to expand with new opportunities for companies and freelancers to attract and retain customers from all over the world, specific emerging industries are still struggling in terms of payment solutions. From international freelancing to cryptocurrencies to cannabis, emerging industries face barriers to how they can send and receive money. Behind the scenes, a number of legal and regulatory factors are standing in the way as illustrated below.
Even though cannabis is becoming a more mainstream and accepted business, especially after states like Colorado have legalized it, there are still stigmatisms attached to it that hinder how these wholesale and retail companies can accept and make payments related to their products. As Tatum Cohen, Founder of CleanHealing.org, noted, “Until cannabis is taken off the list of Schedule 1 narcotics and is made legal on a federal level, there will be cause for concern. There is considerable risk whether their funds are in a safe or the bank even when they are following their states laws.”
Similarly, wholesale cannabis company District 8 in Colorado has faced its own set of challenges when trying to pay its freelancers and vendors within and outside of the state. As District 8 Co-Founder Antonio Russo explained, “It’s frustrating to have to resort to traditional paper payment methods like checks because it slows down payment to our vendors. We’ve even lost working relationships due to our inability to access online payment platforms and get them paid quickly.”
The payments struggle is real for this emerging industry. For example, dispensaries in Colorado have had their ATMs unplugged and shut down, which has complicated matters for these businesses that otherwise survive on cash transactions. Considering the movement toward a cashless world, this puts the cannabis back in the “dark ages” of payments.
In looking for solutions, some have been seeking to set up their own charter banks and credit unions like Salal Credit Union in Washington and MBank in Oregon. However, the FDIC has focused on immediately shutting down these types of traditional financial institutions geared toward the cannabis industry. In terms of merchant processing, more startups are now trying that angle to assist with payments in the cannabis industry. Some players include 420 Merchant Solutions and Greenhouse Payment Solutions, which places ATMs on-sit as well as offers funding, e-commerce payments, and cash management.
Another potential payment solution is Bitcoin, a decentralized currency that involves no government intervention and uses encrypted services to generate currency units for funds transfer. The thought is that there is greater acceptance among those using Bitcoin than with traditional payments institutions plus anonymity and the lack of the red-tape regulations that have already troubled the cannabis industry. However, those within the cannabis industry note the main issues revolve around getting those within the industry like vendors, customers, employees and others to accept this new type of currency. So far, there has not been real buy-in.
The other issue is that the cryptocurrency industry in itself is struggling with its own payment issues. Because this digital currency is so often misunderstood in terms of what it is, how it works, and its applications, there are many myths that prevail, further hindering its acceptance.
Additionally, the Handbook of Digital Currency notes other issues that can complicate cryptocurrency adoption for payments. Each country has its own specific rules about various local and foreign currencies, and many of these countries don’t even recognize cryptocurrency as valid. The lack of standardized rules and regulations prohibits the use of Bitcoin and other altcoins around the world, making it problematic as a valid payment solution.
Coindesk shared other issues that make it difficult to use cryptocurrency like Bitcoin for payments. These issues include double spending, the forced centralization of this currency, increased reactionary regulatory pressure around the world, and poor mobile platform support. The last issue is absolutely critical to address since more consumers and businesses are growing accustomed to handling payments through their smartphone.
However, there is quite a bit of hope that cryptocurrency may prevail and work past its current payment issues. Enough interest is there that National Science Foundation, a U.S. government agency, is pouring $3 million into grant funding for three universities to conduct a wide range of research directed at understanding how cryptocurrencies can be used. Financial institutions and venture capitalists are also putting money into exploring how Bitcoin and other alt coins, as well as the general ledger known as blockchain that underpins cryptocurrency, can be used for payments and other applications. At this point, only time will be able to tell if the cryptocurrency industry will work past its issues and offer an alternative platform for payments.
As more talent enters the freelance workforce and realizes that there is a world of opportunity out there beyond their state and country, including working for companies in numerous regions of the world, payments becomes an issue. Although some payment platforms offer a way to send and receive payment via currency exchange between the freelancer and the company located in a different country, issues remain.
This is especially true if a freelancer resides in a developing country and is seeking to develop outsource relationships with companies in the U.S. or Europe. Unlike Western freelancers who have access to bank accounts, debit and credit cards, and services like PayPal, these other international freelancers may not have anything similar that they can use to accept payments.
Some have turned to the aforementioned cryptocurrency industry for help, including freelancers in Argentina who are using Bitwage to help them receive payment for work. Others in the fintech arena are looking to expand the available payment options for these international freelancers. This includes companies like Payoneer and Tipalti that are marketing their payment services directly to freelancers. Paymax offers more payment options like an eWallet, global bank transfers, international checks and prepaid cards, illustrating the potential to really expand the types of payments available to fuel the international freelancing industry.
However, there are still regulatory and security issues as well as standardization challenges to overcome before this segment of the freelancer industry can really grow.
Potential Solutions for Payment Issues
The World Payments Report has offered a number of ways to restructure transaction and payment systems to better align for increased support and resources that work together to offer solutions for these emerging industry payment issues. Beyond technology research and development, countries need to make decisions about these emerging industries outside of payments that encourage their development and recognize them as viable industries that can stimulate local, national, and global economies. For these potential solutions to really work, there will need to be collaboration, greater understanding, and focus on making significant changes to how we view industries and payments around the world.