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The Biggest Stories of 2021


When John and I sat down to discuss the top stories impacting the fintech and credit union landscape during 2021, it quickly became clear how fast our world has been spinning. Major headlines like the market hysteria over meme stocks like GameStop and the sudden influence of Reddit groups like WallStreetBets already seem like ancient history- yet they were front-page news as recently as February.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the stories that consumed an unhealthy amount of headspace over the past year. Because we at BIG live and breathe this stuff, we’ve included links to our deeper dives on several of the topics. And if you’d prefer an audio version, check out our year-end BIGCast where John and I dissect these and other topics.

Google Backs off Checking (for now)- Google is notoriously tight-lipped about its new product initiatives. It also has a long track record of cutting the cord on projects at risk of going astray. So perhaps it should be no shock that the much ballyhooed (by others) Google Plex checking account offering was shelved before ever being launched, leaving a dozen or so partner FIs (including two credit unions) at the altar. Google has been down this banking path before, so don’t be surprised if they resurface with yet another model.   

NFTs Pave a Road for DeFi- Bitcoin’s price took another wild ride, and decentralized finance became something approaching a household word- at least if you consider Fortune magazine a mass-market bellwether. But non-fungible tokens (NFTs) made perhaps the biggest breakthrough, not only in the art world but in sports memorabilia. As John explains on our podcast, these types of non-financial use cases help demystify the technology for Main Street, greasing the wheels for mass adoption.

Ransomware Flexes its Muscle- Late last year we were talking about the Solar Winds vulnerability. Naturally, things didn’t improve, as emboldened hackers became more aggressive in shutting down systems in pursuit of payoffs. Check out our fascinating CU Town Hall with security expert Roger Grimes on the future of data security, including the international intrigue surrounding an apparent vulnerability in PAX payment terminals

Buy Now Pay Later Becomes the “It” Payment Tool- Innovations don’t have to be earth shattering- in fact, many of the most successful offer minor spins on existing technology. As I pointed out in this article for CUNA, Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) basically places a fresh wrapper on features long available to consumers. Yet in 2021 BNPL emerged as the driver of significant valuation for companies like Afterpay and Klarna, and struck fear in the hearts of credit card issuers. Breaking News- Equifax just announced plans to add BNPL activity to its credit reports, upping the ante as the CFPB sniffs around the solution. There’s plenty more to come on this front.   

Inflation, Resignation, Supply Chains, and the Fed- The attention paid to price hikes, empty store shelves and worker shortages could fill multiple blogs. Suffice to say this led to more Main Street interest in the Federal Reserve’s actions since at any time since the Paul Volcker era.

SPACs Keep Spinning- Early 2021’s excitement around SPACs seemed to have waned, as many of these “back-door IPOs” proved to be market laggards once publicly traded. Then came a certain ex-President to rekindle the hype….

As the ancient Chinese proverb says, “May you live in interesting times.” Come to think of it, China hit the headlines occasionally as well… it speaks volumes that it didn’t make the cut for our list. Hopefully, the pace will slow a bit in 2022, but I wouldn’t count on it.


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