How Georgia became responsible for 70% of the world’s financial transactions

By Alex Hammond | 21 June 2017

It is undeniable that the world is more connected than ever. While language, culture, history, and many other factors still separate people, the tightly interwoven economies of nearly every nation on Earth has created an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and international interest that is unprecedented in the history of humankind.

A huge part of that international economic reality is due to the use of technology to facilitate financial transactions and investments in near-real time, no matter where on the globe the money originates or ends up. To illustrate, consider one powerful case study that could only be observed in the hyper-connected 21st century:

The rise of fintech

“Finance is technology,” writes Sadheer Chava, Professor of Finance at Scheller College of Business in the State of Georgia’s FinTech Ecosystem - 2016 report. After describing the inherent need for technology designed to serve as an intermediary between the average consumer and the complexities of a global economy, Chava goes on to explain the vital role FinTech (financial technology) innovation plays in that economy:

“Digital innovation is disrupting traditional financial intermediation and is changing every function and service that financial intermediaries provide right from lending to payment services to wealth management. Technological changes driven by big data, better analytics and algorithms, and cheaper cloud processing are reducing the cost of offering these intermediation services and lowering the entry barriers.”

This level of innovation depends on “all of the software tools that financial service organizations use to process and facilitate transactions,” says Glen Whitley, director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Information Technology, “and the skilled workforce that develop and support those tools.” The Center serves as the state’s key liaison connecting FinTech companies with state resources, research support, and workforce development.

70 percent of all transactions on a global scale pass through Georgia

Georgia - well known for peaches and peanuts - may surprise you as a world leader in fintech innovation, but an unprecedented number of world leaders in the financial industry have chosen to set up headquarters or major operations in the Peach State.

“New York and London may be global financial services leaders, but Atlanta is the unsung — so far — leader in financial technology,” writes Tom Groenfeldt for Forbes magazine, noting that, “70 percent of all transactions on a global scale pass through companies headquartered in metro Atlanta. City promoters have dubbed it Transaction Alley in reference to payment processing leaders like First Data, WorldPay, Global Payments and TSYS.” Other international fintech leaders like FIS and Fiserv, while not headquartered in Georgia, maintain large operations there due to easy access to a skilled and experienced workforce, and consistently favorable infrastructure.

These optimal conditions benefit established international fintech leaders as well as disruptive new startups looking to innovate and grow.

For example, the huge Atlanta-based credit reporting corporation Equifax recently developed a new data analytics environment called Cambrian that uses big data to deliver actionable insights that used to take weeks to obtain in mere minutes. Other smaller startups disrupting fintech from their Georgia bases include: Groundfloor (crowdfunding real estate and investing), Kabbage (small business finance), Prime Revenue (financial supply chain optimization), and BitPay (Bitcoin payment processing).

Consider:

1) Georgia places third in the USA for annual fintech company revenues with more than $72 billion despite being 8th in population (first and second place are held by New York and California).

2) Six of the ten largest US payment processing firms are headquartered in the state.

3) More than 30,000 professionals in Georgia (and over 130,000 globally) are employed by Georgia-based fintech firms.

4) These companies process over 118 billion transactions (over $2 trillion) per year supporting nearly four million merchants.

Why Georgia? 

“Smart regulation and civic partnership between industry and government has benefited the business environment in Georgia,” Professor Chava concludes, “and can be a bigger catalyst going forward.”

Additionally, the broader benefits of living and working in Georgia continue to attract top talent from across the country and the world. The low cost of living, the largest, busiest airport in the world (Hartsfield-Jackson International which puts 80% of the US population within two hours of Atlanta), old-fashioned southern hospitality, and a excellent quality of life are among the benefits allowing the more than 100 Georgia-based fintech firms to build thriving workforces that can continue fueling growth.

FinTech Atlanta - a nonprofit organization formed in 2015 to promote Atlanta globally as a fintrech pioneer and made up of fintech business leaders throughout the city - works with the state to make Georgia friendly to financial technology companies, partners with universities to help develop fintech talent through education, and encourages more venture capital resources for Georgia-based startups.

With much the same mission, the Georgia Center of Innovation for Information Technology approaches creating beneficial connections for fintech firms from the state perspective, working with an extensive and tech-heavy university system, lawmakers, government agencies, and other businesses within the state.

“We are connectors,” Whitley explains. “Anything a company needs to grow and thrive, we can work to make the necessary connections so that can take place smoothly. Georgia is unique in that regard; I don’t see any other states doing this the way we do.”

Due in no small part to these organized efforts, the fintech industry continues to grow and thrive in Georgia.

In the words of Barry McCarthy, chair of fintech Atlanta, “I am confident Atlanta will become the recognized global home of FinTech by 2020, just as New York and London are the recognized headquarters of finance.”

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