No One’s Splitting the Bill, But Venmo Is Surging

How Venmo has become PayPal’s pandemic secret weapon

Byrne Hobart
Published in
7 min readSep 9, 2020


Venmo logo displayed on a smartphone.
Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The Covid-19 crisis shifted a large portion of American retail online virtually overnight, but the gradual post-pandemic reopening has led to an interesting second shift: Online payment companies have started moving offline. Last month, CVS Pharmacy announced plans to add PayPal and Venmo QR code payments in its 8,200 stores during the fourth quarter, taking a mobile-first brand right into the checkout line. The national retailer, which will be the first to accept PayPal and Venmo, said its goal with the multiyear deal was to keep consumers safe and encourage them to adopt touch-free payment. This follows a broader trend of platforms, including Amazon Pay and WhatsApp, offering up QR codes for merchants as an alternative form of going contactless.

As we’ve witnessed over the past six months, the pandemic didn’t just move more of the economy online — it forced the online and offline economies to blend together in unprecedented ways: Paper menus are out; QR code menus are in. Curbside pickup means that even offline commerce starts with an online order. Tens of thousands of small retailers that never before sold a single thing online found an e-commerce lifeline through Shopify.

With unemployment still at an all-time high, Venmo has been a way for consumers to avoid in-person banking and allow friends and family to support one another through accessible money transfers.

Many fintech companies that power e-commerce, like Square and Stripe and Ant Financial in China, are currently thriving, expanding their user base as more transactions start online or move online entirely. Then there’s PayPal, which posted its best quarter ever last month with a quarterly revenue of $5.3 billion, and its shares are up 90% in 2020. For perspective, in the second quarter of 2019, PayPal added 9 million active accounts. In the second quarter of 2020, it added 19 million, bringing its total active accounts to nearly 350 million users. That’s a 21% year-on-year growth.

Venmo, which PayPal acquired in 2013 as part of its $800 million purchase of…