Despite the fintech hype most payments are still offline, says Square CFO

Tyrone-born financial boss of payments firm Square told Moneyconf change is afoot with start-ups leading the way

Sarah Friar, chief financial officer at Square, speaking at MoneyConf, in the RDS Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

There may be plenty of hype around financial technology but the reality is that most people still make payments offline.

That is according to Sarah Friar, the Tyrone-born chief financial officer at Square, the payments firm established by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

“Today, 20 million small businesses in the US don’t accept electronics payments. In the UK, which is beginning to be a burgeoning market for us, 50 per cent of small companies don’t accept them,” she told attendees at MoneyConf in Dublin.

Founded in 2009, Square now handles more than $50 billion in transactions annually.


Ms Friar said banking had not been as disrupted as other industry sectors by digital transformation. However, she added that change is afoot with start-ups leading the way.

“It is always harder for the incumbents to truly disrupt. They tend to come from tech stacks that are older so it is much harder for them to be nimble and quick-footed, she said.

“When we work with the banks it is slow-going. Even getting a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed can be a three-month extravaganza, which bodes well for the pace at which the sector is going to innovate,” Ms Friar added.

The tech executive said she could envisage a time where there is a global currency “that doesn’t have the downside of fiat currency.”

“There is a lot of friction as you go from country to country and make exchanges happen and a lot of value is lost in the system. What I get hot and bothered about is that the very people who can’t afford to pay transaction fees are the ones who pay a lot of money to send money back home. Yet we live in a world of real-time systems where that shouldn’t be the case,” said Ms Friar.

Square’s management team is 50 per cent women and Ms Friar said it is obvious that companies across all sectors need to do more in terms of diversity.

“It isn’t just about diversity, it is also about inclusion. You can do all you want to hire people in but if they arrive and it isn’t an inclusive environment and they don’t feel like it is the place for them…they ain’t staying. It is just a great big leaky bucket of energy,” said Ms Friar.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist