As the global economy screeched to a pandemic-driven halt, governments launched programs to keep people and businesses afloat. The World Bank unleashed an ambitious effort for the developing world: up to US$160 billion in aid dedicated to mitigating the health, financial and social damage. Less than two months after the project’s launch, World Bank funds had reached 100 countries, home to 70 percent of the global population.
The world’s largest social media network unveiled plans in 2019 to push digital currency into the mainstream. Unlike other blockchain-based solutions, each Facebook Libra coin would be backed with a reserve of assets, while transactions would be cleared by a small group of preapproved organizations known as the Libra Association, based in Switzerland. Facebook also claims Libra will be much faster: The initial launch would support 1,000 payments per second, making it around 140 times more efficient than Bitcoin.
35th Most Influential Project of 2020
Safaricom launched Kenya’s ﬁrst and only mobile overdraft service last year to ensure that customers of the company’s M-Pesa mobile money-transfer service had enough money in their accounts to complete transactions. Fuliza gives customers the option of borrowing money to cover the balance. Within three months of the rollout, more than 4 million customers had tapped some US$170 million in credit.
29th Most Influential Project of 2020
Once the domain of stock trading startups, fractional-share trading went mainstream this year when Fidelity Investments became the first major online brokerage firm to deliver real-time access to dollar-based transactions for stocks and exchange-traded funds. Launched in January, Stocks by the Slice—available only through the company’s mobile app— aims to let even traders with minimal funds diversify their portfolios.
After two years of testing in India, WhatsApp formally launched its fee-free peer-to-peer payment service in Brazil in June, where 120 million people already had the app on their phones. Next up: expanding the service to Indonesia and Mexico.
U.K. startup Wagestream started bridging the payday gap with a namesake service offered through employers that allows users to spread out salaries or choose when to get paid. For many users, it can be an effective alternative to costly payday loans. Launched in 2019, the platform saw a 30 percent jump in users taking early withdrawals as the coronavirus spread.
As a global economic bellwether, the New York Stock Exchange had to pivot and bounce back quickly after the coronavirus forced a two-month shutdown of floor trading in what was then the hardest-hit U.S. city. NYSE worked with banks over a weekend to disable traditional systems and test new algorithms so the 20 percent of cash equities trading that took place on the floor could transition to fully electronic.
Huntington Bank’s AI-powered Heads Up service delivers personalized, real-time insights aimed at letting customers make informed spending decisions. Launched in 2019, the feature sends alerts for customers’ savings goal updates, refund notices, double charges and subscription service expirations. Driven in part by what the U.S. financial services company heard on a two-year listening tour, the project shows how even regional banks can create more personalized digital experiences.
A year after Celsius joined the crowded cryptocurrency field in 2018, it launched a project to ensure it truly stood out—an app redesign to “show off the best way to earn, borrow and pay on the blockchain.” The U.K. startup’s Celsius Network 3.0 created a more intuitive interface and gave users access to real-time market predictions. Within a month of the makeover, the company reached two critical milestones: US$200 million in deposits and more than US$1.2 billion in coin loan origination.
Sweden’s Majority launched the first digital bank devoted to migrants in 2019, expanded to all 50 U.S. states in February and, with 20,000 users, has plans to go global. The eponymous subscription-based platform eliminates overdraft fees and minimum balances, and, by partnering with Ohio’s Sutton Bank, provides access to 55,000 ATMs across the U.S.