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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit against Visa is important, not just for the outcome of a $5 billion fintech acquisition, but for the whole future of the industry.

Why it matters: While there are a lot of financial startups, very few of them are genuinely disruptive. In fact, many of them implicitly rely upon the Visa and Mastercard duopoly. The DOJ wants to ensure that there's still a chance that duopoly could face real competition.

How it works: Visa has a monopoly on debit purchases, and especially online debit purchases, where it has 70% of the market and earns $2 billion per year.

  • Plaid is one of the few companies in a position to develop a rival product — one where consumers could pay for purchases directly out of their bank account, much as they do when they use Venmo.
  • Visa decided to buy Plaid as an "insurance policy to protect our debit biz in the U.S.," in the words of Visa's CEO. That's pretty clearly anticompetitive behavior.

The big picture: It's not just Visa that relies on revenue from debit-card purchases; it's also all the neobanks, such as Chime, Varo, Aspiration, and N26.

  • Chime's CEO, Chris Britt, likes to tell people that he's not a bank, he's a payments company.
  • That means he's fully invested alongside Visa in having access to a continued stream of payments on Visa's rails, where Chime gets a cut of every transaction in a way that might not be the case with a rival product.

The bottom line: Payments tend by their nature to be monopolies. If there's hope for a competitor to Visa, it's good that the DOJ is keeping that hope alive. Even if that threatens the main income stream for other fintechs.

Go deeper

What COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to do

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speed, but some experts fear the accelerated regulatory process could interfere with ongoing research about the vaccines.

Why it matters: Even after the first COVID-19 vaccines are deployed, scientific questions will remain about how they are working and how to improve them.

1 hour ago - Podcasts

Faces of COVID creator on telling the stories of those we've lost

America yesterday lost 2,762 people to COVID-19, per the CDC, bringing the total pandemic toll to 272,525. That's more than the population of Des Moines, Iowa. Or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Or Toledo, Ohio.

Axios Re:Cap speaks with Alex Goldstein, creator of the @FacesofCOVID Twitter account, about sharing the stories behind the statistics.

1 hour ago - Health

WSJ: Pfizer expects to ship half as many COVID vaccines as planned in 2020

A Pfizer factory in Puurs, Belgiam on Dec. 3. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech have halved their original estimates for how many coronavirus vaccines would be shipped globally by the end of this year, citing supply-chain issues, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Why it matters: The U.K. government has ordered 40 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine — enough to inoculate some 20 million people. The companies now expect to ship 50 million vaccines by the end of 2020, per WSJ.