Fintech Innovation Meets Cards Convenience

Feb  16 
Brenda Waggoner  Senior Writer, Fiserv 

How Cascade's partnership with Fiserv launches payments services for other fintechs 

When Cascade set out to find a program manager for its prepaid card business, the fintech quickly became dissatisfied with existing technologies and the time it took to implement its first program. That's when Cascade decided to become its own program management company.

Now, Cascade helps other fintechs offer innovative card, payment and network services through its banking-as-a-service (BAAS) platform and services. Those include open APIs, mobile-first web designs and native smartphone applications. By tailoring debit payment network solutions to fintech startups, Cascade helps them stand up new debit and prepaid programs and grow existing operations.

But not all issuers and processors offer the flexibility and responsiveness a fintech needs. When Cascade decided to become its own card processor, it partnered with Fiserv for its scalability, experience and technology. With the launch of a dedicated fintech segment in 2021, Fiserv is accelerating initiatives across the company to deliver financial products and services at the speed fintechs require.

Spencer Schmerling, Cascade CEO, said that by leveraging Fiserv as its partner and gateway, the company was able to reduce the difficulty and time involved in becoming a card processor.

"Leveraging Fiserv as our gateway cut down on the time it took to connect to the networks," Schmerling said. "We were able to hit the ground running and let Fiserv handle some of the nontransactional activities, such as network settlements."

As part of an ongoing series of fintech profiles, we spoke to Schmerling to understand today's fintech landscape as it relates to cards and payments and what's next for Cascade.

Our focus is helping fintechs set priorities, cut down overhead and complete necessary steps in the fastest possible order.

– Spencer Schmerling, CEO, Cascade

How does Cascade help other fintechs?

We make it easier for fintechs to create, design and sponsor their own card programs. Compared to debit cards paired with checking accounts, our fintech clients are often looking to offer disruptive, leading-edge features to traditional and nontraditional cardholders.

There are a lot of moving parts to starting a new card program. It seems simple: Here's my card art, logo and fee schedule. Now, go. But it doesn't work that way. Even with the infrastructure we've built, there are more than a thousand items in our project plans for launching a new card program for a fintech. We provide a program implementation manager to hold a client's hand, walk through the process and prioritize next steps.

There's still a bank involved with every card we manage. Our focus is helping fintechs set priorities, cut down overhead and complete necessary steps in the fastest possible order.

Why are fintech-sponsored cards appealing to some consumers?

We work with fintechs to make life easier, faster and cheaper. For example, we have a program that enables a cardholder to receive their direct deposit up to two days early, and through a mobile app, send money next door, across the country or internationally. In many cases, the money is available almost immediately for the receiver. Compare that to many consumers' current experience of going to an ATM or check casher and then standing in line at a bodega or money transfer agent to send money to someone. Not only are we offering a lower cost service, but we are giving our cardholders back time by providing efficient features and services at their fingertips.

Other consumers may want features that are not yet available from traditional card programs or acceptable forms of payment at a local or national merchant. For example, let's say you're completing your weekly grocery shopping or maybe you want to buy that big screen TV you've been eyeing with bitcoin. But the store doesn't take bitcoin. Using our solution, you can send crypto to our mobile wallet where we convert it to U.S. dollars and load the funds to your card. In just a few minutes, you're walking out of the store with your groceries or new TV.

How does added speed and flexibility benefit the companies you work with?

We help fintechs roll out new features and functionality in days and weeks instead of months and years. Speed and flexibility directly correlate with the costs of every project implementation. Cascade is outfitted with internal resources and strong, developed partnerships. That's resulted in the timely execution of complex projects. As an example, a fintech we work with offers a ring that enables contactless payments. There's a lot to learn for that to work well, including the seemingly simple coordination between all vendors and testing to get the read range correct between the device and the terminal. However, with our expertise in wearable implementations, our client was able to go to market faster with their innovative contactless payments solution.  

Another client designed a screen and chip that can be placed on a watchband clasp. That enables the wearer to use the watch of their choice and complete contactless payments without using a pay wallet such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. Our clients are the innovators – they build the devices. We simply power what these fintech innovators imagine.

Partnering with Fiserv and relying on their expertise helps us innovate with the speed and flexibility the marketplace requires.  

– Spencer Schmerling, CEO, Cascade

What's next for Cascade?

In 2022, we're enhancing our services so we can take them to the next level. For example, we have the ability for you to push crypto to us. We convert it to U.S. dollars so cardholders can spend those funds with their cards. But what if you don't want to push it to us? Maybe you want to leave your funds in crypto and have them automatically converted to U.S. dollars at the moment you insert, swipe or dip your card. We call this just-in-time funding. Our cardholders don't have to think about moving crypto to their cards. It occurs at the time of transaction and any remaining crypto is left for later.

We're also extending our remittance service. When we're done, Cascade will have remittance to over 110 countries with cash pickup available in more than 30 of those locations. We'll have the ability to offer sister card programs in eight countries. So, you'll be able to get, let's say, an Acme-branded card in the U.S. and Acme-branded cards in Mexico and Guatemala. Transfers between sister cards will be faster and cheaper.

The killer functionality for this year is going to be push provisioning. Think about this: You just spent a bunch of money to attract and acquire a new cardholder who just successfully completed enrollment for your card program. What happens next? They wait for a card to show up in the mail? Maybe they have access to a virtual card for online? Maybe they can add this virtual card to their pay wallet by following six or seven more steps? You've lost a lot of momentum during that time.

Instead, we're working with Fiserv to offer push provisioning so the moment an enrollment is successfully completed, the cardholder can access and use their card in Apple Pay or Google Pay, or one of many other pay wallet providers. Every cardholder can be empowered to start using their new card right away.  

And in 2023, we're looking at offering credit cards. Fiserv has processed credit transactions for decades, so we'll once again leverage their expertise as we set up our own credit processing. 

How is Cascade keeping pace with growth in the marketplace?

Becoming a processor was a monumental undertaking. The hardest, most time-consuming steps were connecting to a network and network settlements. Having Fiserv advise us and handle some of this heavy lifting has been a tremendous help.

Partnering with Fiserv and relying on their expertise helps us innovate with the speed and flexibility the marketplace requires.