Virtual Payments Are Needed to Keep Up with Gig Economy Workers, AmEx Says

Plastic cards just aren’t going to cut it anymore for workers in the “gig economy,” and businesses have to be ready.

This goes for something as simple as travel and payment needs, according to Gint Balodis, vice president, global product management for American Express. What’s needed are virtual payments — non-card-based digital payments (that may nonetheless ride the card rails.)

“We’re seeing more changing needs in the gig workforce. We’re seeing virtual payments coming into play,” Balodis told Bank Innovation. “We’re starting to see the pendulum swing towards more centralized payment solutions.”

Taking that centralized ideal and focusing on the gig economy, which more than 40% of American workers count themselves as part of, according to Balodis, will go a long way towards helping businesses retain clients and end users that are no longer using corporate credit cards for something as simple as booking a hotel or car.

Certain banks, such as Green Dot, with its GoBank for Uber account, are already orienting themselves toward serving gig workers, GoBank for Uber allows drivers to cash out at the completion of any ride, rather than waiting for a traditional paycheck that would arrive at a fixed period.

“The traditional [cards], there is always the risk that the account number can be put into the wrong hands from time to time,” said Balodis, which is why American Express’s upgraded Business Travel Account product now comes with virtual account numbers. “If you have an invisible card, a dynamic account, using those features can help reduce fraud.”

These are features that can also speed up transactions (which, given the chip/no-chip debate at most physical stores, is something plastic could definitely use) as well as tie in neatly to the virtual methods of finance end users are already familiar with.

Faster payments have been a focus for quite a few companies in the payments industry, from individual startups to larger payments players such as American Express, as well as to those participating in groups like the Faster Payments Task Force, whose research is centered on developing more standardized methods of virtual payment across the United States. The group aims to implement solutions that will allow faster payments to become ubiquitous by 2020. Workers in the gig economy are certainly helping drive this change, and many will see near-instant payments sooner than that.

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