Square (SQ 0.71%) came back from an underwhelming first half of 2020 with big increases in revenue and gross payment volume in the fourth quarter. But the bigger story is that the fintech company's long-term potential became more apparent as the year went on, and the market rewarded shareholders with roughly 350% gains over the course of the year. ARK Invest chief Cathie Wood, whose investment decisions are watched by growth investors everywhere, has made Square one of her largest holdings. Is it the right long-term stock for you?

The cashless society is coming

Square operates two ecosystems: one for sellers, which caters to the small and medium-sized business clients that use its fintech solutions, and Cash App, which individuals use to send payments and related functions. In many ways, it's similar to fintech leader PayPal, which offers similar products and services. 

A woman using a Square seller stand at her business.

Image source: Square.

As would be expected, the seller division was mixed during the pandemic. Physical small businesses suffered during lockdowns, but many with digital capabilities flourished. Square sees a $100 billion addressable market, of which it has less than 3%.

Cash App, though, was a high performer during the pandemic as people stayed home and relied on mobile wallets to send and receive money. The company also expanded features for Cash App, such as stock and Bitcoin trading, as well as Cash Card and a rewards program. More than a million Cash App users bought Bitcoin for the first time in Q4, and the cryptocurrency was traded two and a half times more than in Q4 2019. Square itself bought $230 million of Bitcoin recently as it steers itself toward an expanded digital payment ecosystem. 

CashApp users increased 50% over the prior year in the fourth quarter to 36 million, and Cash App revenue increased more than 500%. A little bit of context is necessary here: Square records Bitcoin volume as revenue, and Bitcoin accounted for 80% of Cash App revenue in the fourth quarter and more than half of total revenue. Without Bitcoin, though, Cash App still grew 137%.

According to a McKinsey survey, digital penetration reached 78% in 2020, and that includes 93% for ages 13-34. People using more than one type of digital payment increased to 58%. More than half of survey respondents said they shifted to online shopping during the pandemic, and more than a third said they would increase that. The pandemic accelerated what was already a shift to digital payments, and that's good news for Square.

The power of the mobile wallet

Square is poised to benefit from the move to digital wallets, and that means increased revenue from a growing and engaged user base. A Cash App account is simpler to use than a bank account, and the "ecosystem" aspect of Cash App as a peer-to-peer payments account and trading account is a very attractive feature. As we become more cashless, Square's investments in its platform are likely to yield more customers, higher engagement, and increased revenue.

Cash App is also becoming more profitable, with gross profit per user up 70% year over year in Q4. Square became profitable for the first time in 2018, and it's been posting more consistent profits over the past two years. Q4 earnings of $294 million were a 24% decrease year over year, but as the seller business gets back up to speed, that should increase. 

Square sees a more than $60 billion addressable market for Cash App, of which it has less than 2%. In the near term, it's planning to gain market share by expanding the Cash App product line and improving customer service. But it has strong tailwinds that will continue to accelerate digital payment adoption as we move away from the pandemic.

If you're looking for a growth stock that offers potential in the short and long term, Square is a candidate for you. Square stock has gained more than 1,500% over the past five years, but there is much more opportunity ahead, and the company is making moves to harness its potential.