SAN FRANCISCO–Sometimes Jack Dorsey doesn't even have to show up to be the guest of honor.
The Twitter co-founder and chairman was the undisputed star of the Underbanked Financial Services Forum earlier this month, and he wasn't even there. From the conference's first sessions to its last day, bankers and financial executives sang the praises of Dorsey and his latest venture, the payments company Square.
"I'm obsessed with Jack Dorsey," Citigroup's Deborah Hopkins told an audience, brandishing a smartphone with a Square plug-in.
The small, white piece of plastic lets anyone process credit card payments on a smartphone or an iPad, and its fans range from coffee shops and flea market vendors to Apple stores. Square devices were visible in their hometown of San Francisco from the moment this reporter stepped off a plane, as her taxi driver ignored his bulkier, more traditional credit card reader and swiped her card through his Square instead. He said he cuts down on costs that way, paying a 3% (actually 2.75%) transaction fee instead of a 6% fee with the other reader.
Square got its share of free publicity at the conference, which was sponsored by American Banker and the nonprofit Center for Financial Services Innovation. In her opening remarks, Center head Jennifer Tescher compared Dorsey to the San Francisco banking pioneer A.P. Giannini, who founded Bank of America Corp.
"In the same way that Giannini democratized access to banking, Dorsey democratized access to payments," Tescher told the audience of 750 bankers, consumer advocates, tech executives and other industry members gathered at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco's Union Square.
"People are really taken with what [Dorsey's] accomplished. He's a good example of being a disrupter and using technology to do it," she added in an interview near the end of the three-day conference. "It's so clear what [Square] does–it doesn't try to do 10 other things; it's simple, it's transparent. In many ways, it's what we'd like to see everyone do" to create better financial products for low-income and other underbanked consumers.
Dorsey spoke at the conference in 2010, but he did not attend this year's event as far as Tescher was aware. He and a Square publicist did not respond to an email seeking comment.