Cash App: your favorite bank & crypto wallet
014. On cultural relevancy & crypto dreams
Hey, friends—welcome back to online/offline, a weekly newsletter about technology, culture, and the future. This week, I share an essay three years in the making. This newsletter is meant to be a conversation, so do reply/DM me with your thoughts/questions. And if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe below.
If you’ve followed me over the years on the bird app, then you know there are three companies that I really care about: Snap, Block (Square & Cash App creator), and Twitter (it’s complicated). To me, these three epitomize what consumer software should look and feel like.
It’s finally time for me to obsess over Cash App!!
There are a million reasons (probably) to love Cash App, but today we’ll talk about three key ones that make it the best consumer (and crypto) wallet out today: consumer appreciation, cultural relevancy, and crypto dreams. Are you sick of me saying consumer, yet? Because ...
1. CONSUMER appreciation
A study conducted in 2020 by the Federal Reserve showed that 18% of US adults remain un- or underbanked. This means that millions of people may have access to banking services, but they are insufficient to meet their financial service needs. Notably, the study found that “unbanked and underbanked rates were higher among adults with lower income, adults with less education, and Black and Hispanic adults. The largest differences were by education and income level.”1
These findings are not shocking at all. Fortunately, none of these people have to open bank accounts, which can charge unknown fees and give limited access to funds due to a limited density of ATMs and physical locations. Instead, people can download Cash App ... and they have been for years. Cash App got its early traction in the mid-2010s from young un- and underbanked users in the southeast US. Since then, it has amassed almost as many users as Venmo and continues to grow its suite of products. The Google Trends below give a look into Cash App’s reach historically and today.
What started as a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app now allows users to send, spend, bank, and invest.
Send: you can send and receive fiat and crypto (more on this soon). If you choose, you can hold these funds in your Cash App, which allows you to ...
Spend by designing your own debit card to pay for goods and services via the pool of funds in your account. This basically makes Cash App your ...
Bank since you can also set up direct deposit for a gig you have and, if you have more than $300 coming in each month, you can use ATMs for free. Need to pay taxes on your earnings? No problem, you can file for free using Cash App Taxes. If you want to diversify your Cash App holdings and make those taxes a little more complicated, you can also ...
Invest in stocks and bitcoin with as little as $1.
In addition to these features, Cash App began testing short-term loans of up to $200 in 2020. It remains to be seen what comes out of the limited beta test. Despite these features, Cash App still calls itself a financial platform, not a bank; services provided and debit cards are issued by Cash's bank partners.
Cash App has the most consumer-friendly financial management products—an ecosystem that could only rival Apple. The only reason we care, though, is because Cash App has managed to be part of the culture.
2. Cultural relevancy
By now, we can agree that black culture eventually becomes mainstream culture. Cash App’s popularity began in the south and in Atlanta in particular—hip-hop’s center of gravity according to The New York Times. Not that we care what NYT says, but this was eloquently put.
It’s no surprise how prevalent Cash App is in hip-hop culture given its place in people’s lives. “Cash App is just such a big app at this point, it’s utilized by so many people, that it was always going to make its way into lyrics,” rapper Guapdad 4000 told GQ last year. Over 200 artists have mentioned Cash App in their lyrics. The Cash App team took notice and began partnering with iconic artists to reach existing users and, more importantly, acquire new ones.
A brief timeline: Travis Scott gave away $100k in 2018, Megan Thee Stallion gave away $1m in bitcoin in 2020 followed by another $1m in stock in 2021, and Lil Nas X gave away $1m (to anyone over 13 years old!) in 2021.
That’s a lot of money (to me, a human and not Block Incorporated). And, it should’ve indicated how seriously Cash App takes its role as an active supporter of the culture. Last year, the team decided to double down by launching Cash App Studios to help fund projects by independent creatives, including artists, musicians, directors, and designers. Let’s not even get into Square's (or, Block’s) acquisition of Tidal. That’s an essay in itself.
Beyond hip-hop, Cash App listens to its community. After Cash App launched $Cashtag, Twitter users started asking their followers to send them money for things like grooming. The community created #CashAppFriday before it was adopted by the company in late 2017 and become one of their best marketing tools. The first time Cash App stated $10k was the amount of the weekly giveaways, their Twitter engagement and followers spiked. The network effects pay way more dividends than the thousands invested in the weekly campaigns; Cash App’s customer acquisition cost is $5. In comparison, some traditional banks spend hundreds to acquire a single customer.
But, wait, there’s more—you can find Cash App on Roblox, sponsoring the Bitcoin 2022 conference, collaborating with lifestyle brand and gaming organization 100 Thieves, doing money affirmations on TikTok, and much more.
Cash App’s active role and investment in their existing community and their partners’ communities (eg. Lil Nas X fans) is a master class in propagating network effects that create organic flywheels both online and offline.
3. Crypto dreams
“I used to think the public activity page on Venmo was so stupid, because it’s like a fake Blockchain ledger. It updates with all the transactions of people using the app, but not to make anything actually verifiable or to encrypt anything.” — Guapdad 4000, GQ 2021.
I’ll keep this one short. I’ve been waiting to see crypto payments go mainstream and Cash App is doing it. In 2018, the company added support for bitcoin trading. Last month, they integrated Lightning Network technology, meaning US users can now send bitcoin quickly and for free to:
Friends and family in the US, except for regulated states like NY because I guess I can’t have nice things
International family and friends who use other crypto wallets like Muun
Businesses that support Lightning Network. Again, with ZERO FEES—take that, Visa and Mastercard
When I finally become a travel influencer, I can travel the world without caring about exchange rates because all the shops will accept a global currency called bitcoin (and maybe eth if/when the team adds support for it).
Cash App online and offline
How did we get here? This tweet. Apparently, people aren’t talking about fintech anymore because of web3? BOO, 🍅🍅. These are exciting times.2 Contactless payments have been around for decades, but COVID-19 led to widespread adoption beyond Europe and Asia. Consumers are now comfortable with the idea and retailers have contactless devices in-store. In the US, nearly 20% of all in-person credit or debit card transactions are now contactless; the UK is at ~50% adoption, which translates to 9.6 billion transactions.3
With this in mind, it’s a huge deal that Cash App launched contactless using Square terminals. I tried it this week and it was so quick and easy that I thought I did something wrong. For the millions of people who use Cash App as a bank already, being able to use the app for IRL transactions is a game-changer.
Cash App doesn’t consider itself a bank. But, in my very professional opinion, Cash App is better than a bank. As of Fall 2021, teenagers as young as 13 can use Cash App with parental oversight. These teens get access to P2P payments and the debit card, which they don’t even need if they’re visiting their favorite coffee shop and it has a Square terminal. These days, you simply need to scan the QR code with your phone’s camera and tap two buttons to check out with your $Cashtag/account. Considering there are over 2 million businesses that use Square, that’s a big deal.
But, why stop there?
Cash App has the same utility as Apple Wallet, but can be used on both iPhones and Androids ... In the near future, kids as young as 13 could use Cash App to transact. When they turn 18, they’ll access the full suite of products from check deposits to tax filing to stocks to cross-border payments to bitcoin. Will Cash App users pay for coffee using bitcoin? Yes.
Honestly, I was hoping the coffee shop I visited would let me pay using the bitcoin Megan Thee Stallion sent me, but I’m in NYC and, again, have accepted that regulation won’t let me have nice things. For now! I’m optimistic that things there’s a future where card processing fees and exchange rates and such are a thing of the past. It’s not #CashAppFriday yet but feel free to send bitcoin to $[redacted] so I can be fully prepared and capitalized when this future is realized.
Thank you for reading and special thanks to Tammy Winter for her feedback on this piece. If you’re new to online/offline, make sure to subscribe to join the conversation.
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