North America Paytech View from the Top

US Payments: Smart, Episode Six, PAAY and Paya in View from the Top 

There are plenty of defining years in the history books, and as 2020 draws to a close, it’s almost certain that the global pandemic will ensure that this year is featured prominently. With events cancelled, launches delayed, and country-wide lockdowns, the way we work has changed forever. Still, for financial technology and surrounding industries, this was also a year of challenge and opportunity. 

This December, The Fintech Times is asking industry leaders for their ‘View from the Top’ to gain an insight into the decisions behind the last 12-months. Today, we’re looking at the issue of US Payments, hearing from Jodan Ledford, John Mitchell, Yitz Mendlowitz and Andrea Kando on their 2020 thoughts, plus a look ahead to 2021. Will there be a Happy New Year? Read on…

Payments have been a hot topic this year as they have had to evolve to meet the demands of consumers in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been no different in the US, which has seen its own transformation throughout 2020, shifting to alternative payment methods other than just cash. In this View from the Top, companies Smart Pension, Episode Six, PAAY and Paya outline their own 2020 experience.

Jodan Ledford, US CEO, Smart

Jodan Ledford is the US CEO of Smart, providers of Smart Pension, a pensions and retirement technology business. He advises that, despite the challenging global environment, 2020 was “an outstanding year for Smart.”

“We launched our US business off the back of a foundational win with a fantastic partner. The recent passage of a seminal piece of legislation, the SECURE Act, enabled the creation of Pooled Employer Plans (PEPs), the US equivalent of a UK Master Trust. Building on its extensive UK and global experience, Smart has been selected as the technology partner to a large financial services organisation that is launching a PEP in Q1 2021.

“Turning to 2021, Smart USA will focus on delivering the full PEP operating system to our partner in the first half of the year. Beyond our initial mandate, Smart is focused on delivering PEP solutions to the broader marketplace, as well as forming new partnerships in the retirement technology space. We will also be launching our retirement income solution, Smart Retire, which is designed to offer a user-friendly, guided retirement journey that will allow participants to plan for retirement and flexibly spend down their assets with confidence. Our mission in 2021 is to ensure that people saving for retirement can do so in comfort as their parents and grandparents have done.”

John Mitchell, CEO, Episode Six

Episode Six are providers of a financial technology platform for creating innovative and differentiated financial and payments products for consumers and businesses. For CEO John Mitchell, he believes that the payments industry has evolved towards digital due to the ever-growing demands of the consumer.

“There’s no doubt that the events of 2020 have been a global wake up call in many regards. From a payments perspective in the US, financial service providers are finally adapting at a pace to meet heightened demand from customers for truly digital solutions – for example, QR codes to bring up helpful information such as payment options in restaurants are becoming not just the norm, but expected. And this isn’t just demand from young customers, it’s all ages. A more digitised payments landscape has been the direction of travel and talked up for many years now, it’s accelerating quickly.

“The problem in US Financial Services has been for too long new digital payments services have been bolted onto dated and complex banking systems. The challenge – and opportunity – for these digital payment service providers is to ensure they have the right infrastructure behind their innovative front-end functionalities, so they can continue to expand their user base without risking technology disruption, and the customer journey is as seamless as possible. The companies that ignore the back-end infrastructure risk complications that will erode trust from the customer base and could face even great problems. What’s next? For those that can do this, they’ll be reaping the rewards of fast-growing consumer uptake for years to come.”

Yitz Mendlowitz, CEO, PAAY

Yitz Mendlowitz is the CEO and Co-founder of PAAY, a consumer authentication service. He founded PAAY to give merchants choice and control of their destiny and thinks that the pandemic has sped up the shift to contactless payments. 

“Looking back at 2020, there has been an unprecedented amount of innovation & change in fintech, especially in my area of expertise; e-commerce payment security. There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has accelerated the shift to remote commerce, and contactless payments. In Q1 of 2020 Mastercard reported a 40% increase in contactless payments. The global pandemic has caused many merchants who were traditionally selling products in a brick and mortar environment to pivot and change their business model to have an e-commerce first approach.

“From a fintech perspective, specifically looking at payment security – It’s been a big year. The increase in e-commerce has led to a significant increase in fraud. Hackers go where the money is, and moving transactions online makes their job easier. In addition to hackers, we are seeing merchant’s bottom line suffering because of “friendly fraud” aka chargeback fraud. Legitimate cardholders are calling back their credit card companies saying they never made purchases – just to keep the items.

“All of this has pushed fintech companies to focus on building fraud and payment security solutions for merchants. This is where we are seeing unprecedented innovation. The demand for payment security and fraud tools is at an all-time high. I am a technical associate on the EMVCo board, a governing board that facilitates worldwide interoperability and acceptance of secure payment transactions and this year we have been laser-focused on building security solutions to help protect remote commerce merchants. Perhaps the most important is the adoption of EMV 3DS (also known as 3DS2) throughout the payment ecosystem. 3DS allows merchants to authenticate cardholders at the point of interaction on the web, and as a result, shift the liability for fraudulent chargebacks off the merchant and onto the card issuer.” 

Andrea Kando, Head of Product, Marketing, and Communications, Paya

As the Head of Product, Marketing, and Communications at Paya (a payment solutions provider), Andrea Kando manages Paya’s solution portfolio, oversees the company’s marketing assets, and champions client and employee engagement. She sees the shift towards integrated payments as a major trend of the year. 

“Within the payments space, one trend stands out amid a year of widespread shutdowns: the increasing need for cloud-based business management software with integrated payments capabilities. Many verticals had of course been moving in this direction, but those who lagged behind quickly found themselves at a disadvantage as the pandemic forced shutdowns and accelerated remote purchasing and management use cases. 

“This year, more organisations moved toward integrated payments, which fold payment collection and processing into their existing business management software. During the pandemic in particular, this integration has offered companies the ability to seamlessly move from paper printed invoices – which were often being mailed to empty offices – to online invoicing services, with recurring billing, flexible invoicing, and customer portals to manage all parts of the payments process. For many organisations, this has proven to be an invaluable way to maintain revenue collection during shutdowns.

“In the next year, the payments space will see providers continuing to broaden their capabilities to support the expanding needs of distributed organisations, including robust and instantaneous reporting of information about companies and their end customers, to simplify and virtualise back-office reconciliation. In-person payments are also accelerating the use of contactless acceptance. Providers offering EMV cloud services will also stand to gain, as companies with those capabilities can seamlessly upgrade their hardware and software to support contactless payment methods.

“With businesses and their customers becoming more accustomed to the ease of use and flexibility of integrated payments, this technology has gained a steady foothold even in sectors, like nonprofits and local governments, that have traditionally been slow to digitise – and its adoption and usage is only set to trend upward in 2021.”


  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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