Fast-moving Musk makes very slow progress turning Twitter into "everything app"

Fast-moving Musk makes very slow progress turning Twitter into
Mar 2023

"Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app," Twitter CEO Elon Musk said last October, just weeks before assuming control of the platform.

In tweets, Musk mused that he "could be wrong," but he expected that his purchase of Twitter would provide the infrastructure to launch his own super app within the next three to five years. Whether Twitter would become an arm of X or vice versa, Musk planned to leverage Twitter's millions of daily active US users to launch an irresistibly convenient platform where Americans could go to text, call, pay, shop, bank, and post online.

To some experts, what Musk suggested sounds too ambitious--or even impossible. United States regulators have begun more carefully scrutinizing both antitrust concerns at tech companies and rapid tech developments in the financial industry. More oversight in these sectors has made it increasingly difficult for Big Tech companies to attempt to launch their own super apps as they chase the success of China's widely used WeChat. But as Musk told an audience at the Baron Investment Conference last year, he has been dreaming about creating an app that reimagines the digital payments industry since 2000--more than a decade before WeChat launched--and he said that buying Twitter was his first step toward rapidly realizing that dream.

Some experts think it's possible that if Musk moves quickly enough, regulators may not be prepared to keep up. And if he succeeds in racing ahead of regulators, Musk predicts that Twitter will go from a struggling platform that only recently averted bankruptcy to an explosively popular, "extremely valuable" product. So while his Twitter purchase appeared impulsive to many, Musk says he has long been calculating his next moves.

"There's a product plan I wrote... in July of 2000, where I thought it would be possible to make the most valuable financial institution in the world," Musk said at the November conference. "That's part of why I think Twitter will be ultimately extremely valuable, because I'm going to execute the X.com game plan from 22 years ago--with some improvements."

The question for anyone pondering Twitter's future remains: Can he do it?

Musk and Twitter did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Ars. But it's safe to say that Musk seems committed to his idea. In November, he started filing paperwork and preparing Twitter staff to execute his most radical ideas. First, Twitter registered Twitter Payments LLC with the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. That's a necessary step for Twitter to start transmitting money between users in all states and US territories. A week later, Musk confirmed at a Twitter staff meeting that his plan to turn Twitter into a digital payments platform was "definitely happening."

"That's definitely a direction we're going to go in, enabling people on Twitter to be able to send money anywhere in the world instantly and in real time," Musk told Twitter staff, while prompting them to share ideas to work toward building that vision.

Musk said the plan wasn't just to link Twitter to users' preferred financial institutions but to make Twitter itself a sort of online bank. That means Twitter users could link their debit cards to the platform, issue checks from their Twitter accounts, and even take out loans from Twitter. Musk confirmed to staff that turning Twitter into a top financial institution was among his top priorities.

Immediately, media outlets and trade magazines began speculating about whether Musk's plan could keep Twitter afloat. Building a sophisticated payments system into Twitter could generate revenue, The New York Times reported. But persuading users to buy into the payments system would be a challenge, American Banker noted, because Twitter would face "a crowded market that is rarely friendly to payment products from social networks."

Experts say there is no guarantee that anyone will switch to Twitter as a default payment method, but some could see it happening. Daniela Hawkins, who advises on digital transformation in the financial industry at consultancy firm Capco, told American Banker that if Musk can build a user-friendly interface and win trust from users who have grown leery of security and privacy risks associated with social media apps, it could be a winning strategy.