How I learned to stop hating “frictionless”

If you’re packing your bags for Money 2020 in Las Vegas, chances are you’re familiar with the word “frictionless.” At the event, it pops up in a few places on the agenda. This reflects the broader industry, where the desire for an absence of friction is a constant, and has been for years.

I have a deep, shameful confession to make: I used to hate the word. I just didn’t see much friction when I swiped my credit card in an ipad to buy my overpriced coffee. "Frictionless" seemed pretty unambitious - removing minor obstacles in a quick and easy process. Plus, any term that was everywhere was probably overworked.

Then I met Venmo.

When I first used Venmo to repay a coworker for lunch in a few minutes, from install to funds received, I got what the term should mean. It wasn’t about making an existing process or transaction easier. It was about using frictionless technology to do something I wouldn’t otherwise have done. The fact that Venmo is the brainchild of PayPal (original IPO 2002) was further proof of how existing tech companies could open new doors through the right combination of tech, insight and branding.

In that sense, frictionless can actually be a pretty ambitious term. At Money 2020, the discussion around frictionless is coming in the space of e-commerce (including a speaker from Adidas) and virtual reality - a far cry from my quick and easy plastic and iPad cappuccino purchase.

Technology, and particularly mobile technology, has shown it can permeate any segment of everyday life. If the barriers to mobile money can continue to fall at the current rate, the scope of what fintech can achieve is almost boundless. Attacking friction is the first point in that process - but by no means the last.