Edward Weniger is the Founder of Alpha Bitcoin, which helps Omaha-area businesses accept?BitCoin payments. He is also the organizer for this year’s Digital Economy Conference on October 2nd.?SPN sat down with Weniger on Friday at The Exchange Building in downtown Omaha to talk about what’s hot in digital payments and why he’s putting on the region’s first FinTech conference.
SPN: What are you following right now that you find most interesting in the payment processing / digital currency space?
EW: NASDAQ tweeted out this morning about public and private blockchains. That kind of stuff is the most interesting thing to me right now – the disruption, the stuff that is happening that changes the way we think about money. APIs would be another example of this, in the way they level?the playing field.
Juxtapose that to something like the EMV deadline October 1st. ?I’m excited to watch what happens with major sea changes in financial services. After watching IPv6 take 5 years to even be considered a realistic alternative to IPv4, watching the EMV rollout is exciting.
SPN: Where do you see all this heading in the next year?
EW: The stuff that stands on its own–the ApplePays, the AndroidPays–those things are obviously going to gain more traction.
I think one thing that isn’t getting talked about enough is the problem of battery life. How do you use ApplePay if you’re phone’s dead? The assumption is that iPhones just have enough battery life. That’s a pretty big assumption when you’re in the heat of a transaction. So what’s the alternative? There’s some interesting developments into how quickly you can recharge a device. That may not seem directly related, but it directly affects mobile payments.
SPN: So is the idea that my wallet won’t die, but my phone can? If we’re planning on going to a totally digital platform, that really matters.
EW: Yep. Stuff like, how long does it take you to replace your phone? If you lose your phone, you can’t buy a candy bar. So how long does it take you to go to the Sprint store and get a new phone? It’s faster than trying to get a debit card reissued, but there’s still a burden there.
SPN: Who are you paying attention to in the region that you think people should be watching?
EW: The one that’s been on my radar the longest is Gyft. They have a very strong BitCoin focus, so I’ve watched them the longest in their attempt to democratize gift card purchasing.
First Data just acquired?[Correction: has recently teamed up with]?TruBeacon. In terms of what’s going on regionally, I really like what’s going on there.
There’s a company called ValidVoice here in Omaha. It’s EyeVerify for your voice, essentially. They’re working on voice verification for when you call your bank. There’s some crazy high success rate for identification via voice and that adds another layer of security for your account.
Dwolla has also been having some interesting conversations alongside the government.
SPN: What made you decide to put on the Digital Economy Conference?
EW: Two things. One, the cost of going to conferences is exorbitant. If you want to go to Las Vegas, [with travel] it’s a few thousand dollars to get in the door. For the Midwest, for Omaha, we want to make it more accessible to people who are in this space but don’t have the time or financial resources to go.
Two, there isn’t anything in our region like this. The closest is either Las Vegas or Chicago. There seems to be a pretty big area here that has a lot of stuff going on, like EyeVerify in Kansas City or Recurrency out of Wichita. We want to give them some exposure, have a regional conversation, and ultimately put ourselves on equal footing with the Silicon Valleys, Silicon Alleys and Chicagos. If we band together, we can potentially get more coverage, more exposure, more venture capital.
SPN: Which speaker are you most excited about so far?
EW: I would have to say Erik Voorhees, out of Colorado. He’s with ShapeShift. It lets you take any digital currency and convert it into any other digital currency. Being able to do that without having to signup for different accounts is advantageous for anyone wanting to use digital currency.
I’d say the other one is Pascal Bouvier out of Virginia. He’s involved in two FinTech incubators in Singapore and London, which is really interesting to me to get his international perspective.
SPN: Anything else you want to add?
EW: When you first think of a financial technology conference, it sounds kind of dry. I’m hoping for a more technical conversation, but something that is motivating and exciting. We picked the Holland Center for a reason. You see pictures of some of these conferences, and it’s this bland hotel conference room. We want this to be a space where people can enjoy networking, making new connections, even network between cities.
SPN: Sometimes people in Omaha think, “What are we really good at? Well, payment processing. That’s kind of boring.” But innovation in payment processing is really hot right now. We don’t want to miss the boat on that.
EW: Talking to the Chamber about it, there’s definitely that concern. The reality is that things are changing, so what are companies in the region doing in that regard? We’ve got D3 Banking, for example, who is a sponsor of the Digital Economy Conference. They’re thinking through these things and addressing the future.
Early bird tickets for the Digital Economy Conference end on Friday. Use the coupon code “SPN15” to receive a 15% discount on your ticket.
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