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Is Zelle a Threat to Paypal, Square, and Other Fintech Companies?

Motley Fool Staff, The Motley Fool

Person-to-person payments app Zelle certainly has its advantages, especially that it is integrated into many big banks' online and mobile platforms and doesn't require any separate account. However, rival apps like Venmo and Square (NYSE: SQ) Cash don't seem to be losing much ground to it.

In this segment from Industry Focus: Financials, host Jason Moser and Fool.com contributor Matt Frankel, CFP, offer some insight into how much of a threat Zelle is to the other major payment apps.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Jan. 28, 2019.

Jason Moser: All right, Matt, we wanted to jump in here and answer an email. There's an email that we received while we were away. This email came from Petey in Utah. Basically, he's asking us about Zelle. This was the situation. "My wife was going to Vegas for a birthday party with her friend. She owes money to the one that got it all set up. Her friend requested that she Venmo her the funds." His immediate response was, "Hey, just use Zelle," because his wife wasn't using Venmo. Long story short, she used Zelle to transfer the funds. No fees, easy to do. You don't have to download another app. "Can you speak to how Zelle can affect the War on Cash basket?"

It was a good question. I think it's something worth noting, anybody who has a bank account with Wells or Bank of America or any of the big banks probably has access to Zelle. I know I'm a Bank of America account holder and I have access to Zelle. Now, with that said, I've never used it. His question keys in on something that's worth noting -- my initial response to that is that while Zelle is something out there, it's a nice value-add for people who have those accounts, when you look at companies like PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL) and Square and the services they offer like Venmo and Xoom and whatnot, those are services that are being built more for the younger users in mind who are coming up into the banking world as they're growing up.

I look at my kids, for example, at 14 and 12.5 years old. They're a little bit more of that Venmo target vs. something like Zelle is with a Bank of America account. That's not to say that Zelle is not a threat. I think Zelle absolutely is going to continue to hold its own. But, it's a very big market opportunity, and I don't think Zelle is something that necessarily threatens smaller companies like PayPal or Square. I do think it probably keeps them on their toes. What do you think about it, Matt?

Matt Frankel: I think the one thing to keep in mind is just how many resources the people behind Zelle have. If you're not familiar, Zelle is a project that was funded by a bunch of the big banks all together. The banks that funded Zelle have something like, $4 trillion or $5 trillion in assets, a ton of resources at their disposal. I think Square is an extremely innovative company, same could be said for PayPal, with Cash and Venmo. Not that it's a threat to Square or Venmo, but it has to keep them on their toes. You think Square is a big company? Square is tiny compared to these banks, same with PayPal. So, it's a question of resources in my mind, when it comes to how much you have to worry about a certain competitive threat. Square and Venmo were the first movers. Venmo, especially, was the first mover there. But I think they still should strive to innovate and one-up the banks and beat them at their own game because the banks have a lot of resources they could throw at building competitive infrastructure if they really wanted to.

Moser: Yeah, you're right. Banks do have a lot of resources there that they can do a lot of things with. That always makes me go back to that idea that, just because a company has the resources doesn't necessarily mean they can execute. You have to be able to actually execute with the resources that you have. I think Zelle is something that's here to stay. We were actually reading through an article here earlier in regard to PayPal and Mastercard executives who are talking about this space and seeing it as such a great time for collaboration with all of these parties involved, big and small. They have opportunities to bring new products and relationships to market for banking customers of all ages. It's interesting when you see the executives from companies like PayPal and Mastercard saying that. Those are obviously two very big and important companies that are doing a lot on their own out there. When you talk about the opportunity to collaborate and do more, they're certainly not viewing this as a zero-sum game. They're not viewing this as win or lose. This is something where it's a big enough market opportunity that there are a lot of different ways these companies can all succeed. I think that's ultimately the way we look at it. We've talked before, certainly, about the war on cash. I could have probably thrown five more companies in that basket if I wanted, I just drew the line at four.

Anyways, a very good question from Petey in Utah. We enjoyed having the chance to talk about it a little bit. Thanks, Petey from Utah for emailing us that question!

Jason Moser owns shares of PayPal Holdings and Square. Matthew Frankel, CFP owns shares of BAC and Square. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends MA, PayPal Holdings, and Square. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.