By Tom Groenfeldt

London and Atlanta are rarely mentioned in the same paragraph when it comes to financial services centers, but this autumn they will launch an annual payments conference, the P20, that will shift between London and Atlanta.

Organizers said they are calling it the P20 because it will bring together 20 of the most influential leaders in the payment industry, although that seems a fairly contrived explanation for the name. The actual program will  involve about 120 bankers, political leaders and regulators to discuss payments and fintech, and their role in the world economy. Given the backlash against globalization, the organizers are rethinking their initial plans to call the conference the “Davos of Payments.”

Home to the largest concentration of payments companies in the country, Atlanta began to look around for partners that would complement its cluster of payments companies.  Silicon Valley firms were intent on disruption, and New York was mostly a center for trading.

“London is the world’s financial capital, and you can argue that Atlanta is the world’s payments capital,” said H. West Richards, executive director of the American Transaction Processors Coalition, the city’s trade association. “Tying payments with financial services may make sense, and London is the center of gravity for both payments and fintech.”

The British consul in Atlanta liked the idea and invited some industry reps to come over and talk and Richards went to meet bankers in Canary Wharf. He was impressed by the concentration of finance and assorted services in London. The conference concept has been well received in the UK, he said.

“Gathering together the top global payments companies with regulators and legislators from the UK and the US, the P20 will be a valuable forum for payments executives to discuss the biggest issues facing the industry,” said Mark Garnier MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK Department for International Trade. “With over 20 British companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, our two nations share a strong business bond and this kind of collaboration in key sectors will help further strengthen these ties.”

Finance and fintech are scattered across the U.S., Richards. said.  Silicon Valley has innovative technology, Texas is a leader in energy, New York in stocks and bonds and Chicago in commodities.

“London has all that in five square miles, including the regulatory piece.”

He said that the P20 program will include discussion of regulatory frameworks and how to improve them around the world. Countries where payments are developing rapidly are often turning to the British for advice on how to best regulate the systems.

“One of our goals is to expose our U.S. regulators to some of the thought leadership coming out of the UK,” he added. The Financial Conduct Authority in the UK is much more proactive than American regulators.

While the U.S. has 19 government agencies that touch payments in one way or another, the UK has just one, he added.

“Malaysia, India and Kenya aren’t calling Brussels for regulatory thought leadership; they are calling London and Washington, D.C. for ideas,” he added.

As payments grow increasingly digital, they can promote greater financial inclusion. The P20 announcement said that payments processors on both sides of the Atlantic have grown 10X over the last 15 years. Expanding digital payments to other regions could lead to growth of 20X to 30X.

“Collaborating will promote policies and economic development opportunities that provide honest, secure and reliable payments to the rest of the world – a vital step in helping to lift many places in the world out of poverty,” the group added.

Richards is looking forward to 2018 when Atlanta will host the meeting.

Atlanta will suddenly be on the world financial stage in a way it hasn’t been in the past, he said.

This conference arose from a plan to develop a lobbying organization for payments. Although Atlanta had been promoting itself as the leading payments technology center in the world, it lacked any lobbying presence in Washington said Richards. A former financial service lobbyist himself, he worked with the Holland & Knight, LLP law office in Atlanta to develop a government relations body for the industry. The only existing lobbying group in the payments space was rather diffuse since it included firms from telecommunications to Visa, Google and Amazon, many with competing agendas.

“It was important for Georgia to have a voice in D.C. that warrants its size. Many of our companies don’t have internal government relations offices and the industry had lost some battles against other groups like the National Retail Federation.” Even the state’s congressmen and senators had at best a vague idea of the payment industry’s size and importance.

FinTech and payments employ 30,000 to 40,000 people directly in Georgia and support another 70,000 to 80,000 jobs, said Richards. The industry says 60 percent of $7.4 trillion in transactions flow through the Atlanta companies.

The association had expanded into economic development, helping to keep existing payments employers in the state and luring some others from California, he added. The economic development has been handed off to a new organization, FinTech Atlanta, chaired by Barry McCarthy, executive vice president at First Data.

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