This article is part of CMO.com’s March/April series about emerging technology. Click here for more.
In many respects, financial powerhouse Visa is one of the original fintech companies: Amazingly, its electronic payments system goes back over 60 years. And according to the brand’s SVP of global products and solutions, that type of first-mover innovation is fundamental to Visa’s DNA.
“Today, we are [innovating] in areas such as biometric authentication standards, a wide range of IoT-enabled solutions, and harnessing AI across a range of purposes,” Mark Jamison told CMO.com in an exclusive interview. “Visa’s role as the steward of the global payments ecosystem is more important than ever, having become the connective tissue enabling new payment and commerce experiences with the likes of Apple, Fitbit, Honda, Samsung, Uber, and beyond.”
To what does Visa owe its innovation success? According to Jamison, the driving forces include its Visa Everywhere Initiative, Visa Innovation Centers and Studios, and the Visa Developer Program. Below, we take a look at all three programs and how they are helping to foster innovation at Visa.
Visa Everywhere Initiative
The Visa Everywhere Initiative (VEI), which began as a one-time competition in 2015, was turned into a global program that encourages startups to pitch ideas to Visa on how they can solve key industry problems and opportunities, with the intent of bringing innovation to market.
Winning startups are awarded a monetary prize to help them bring their pitches to reality. Visa mentors them as well, in addition to giving them greater media exposure.
One 2016 winner, LISNR, for example, is exploring ways to transfer payments through sound with Visa and its partners in Asia-Pacific. Some other notable winners have included IncreaseCard (Latin America), QPal (Middle East), EasyShare (Asia-Pacific), HopOn (Europe), and Losant (North America).
In all, VEI has awarded over $1 million and provided mentorship to more than 130 finalists. The program has also expanded to 40 countries across five continents and has become one of the most recognized and sought-after awards in the payments industry.
“Visa’s Everywhere Initiative allows us to expand our scope of knowledge of emerging technology to discover the best startups, while also driving co-development, innovation, and strategic collaborations,” Jamison explained. “We recognize that no single company can have all the answers, and it is important to identify emerging digital partners working to address business challenges in the commerce industry together. Our clients are always looking to better understand what’s on the forefront of payments, and this is an important part of how we curate and expose our clients to the best emerging trends and capabilities.”
Visa Innovation Centers And Studios
Visa also has invested heavily in building 10 physical innovation centers, or studios, that provide applied, creative environments and a methodology for clients and partners to co-develop new products quickly alongside Visa experts. These centers can be found in Visa’s most important markets, including Dubai, London, Singapore, New York, Miami, and of course, its global headquarters in San Francisco.
Visa’s innovation center in Singapore.
“[These centers allow us to] actively collaborate with a broad range of partners, leveraging the agility of fintechs and the scale of big banks and merchants to benefit the entire payments ecosystem,” Jamison said. “Our innovation efforts focus on solving real-world challenges, whether it’s pushing for interoperable standards or building out a new product capability.”
The centers are staffed with digital payment product managers, designers, and engineers who are passionate about helping clients go from idea to prototype. Each center is tailored to serve the needs of the partners in the geographic region it serves.
Many innovations have come from these centers: In the Middle East, for example, Visa has collaborated closely with the city of Dubai on its Smart Cities payment initiative. In India, Visa has worked closely with the government and fintechs such as PayTM to standardize and scale QR codes for payments. In Nigeria, Visa has worked on new forms of lending through mobile devices for small-business market traders. And in North America, the company is working with clients on next-generation retail experiences where payments are frictionless, as well as on how artificial intelligence can be harnessed to deliver completely new experiences.
Visa Developer Platform
The walled garden vs. open ecosystem approach to business has been an ongoing topic of conversation in the financial services industry. Granted, companies have their reasons for keeping their platforms closed, but there’s no question that when a platform becomes open, innovation happens. The main benefits of an open ecosystem is that it spurs collaboration, builds trust, offers developers flexibility, and promises to uphold industry standards.
That’s why just over two years ago, Visa opened up its global payments platform, VisaNet, via The Visa Developer Platform (VDP). VDP’s simple user interface provides simplified access to many of Visa’s most in-demand products and services via APIs and SDKs, allowing anyone to transform great ideas into new digital commerce experiences.
These days, VDP is recognized as the world’s largest open commerce platform, with hundreds of APIs and year-over-year growth in the number of API calls, Jamison said.
“There is no silver bullet [for innovation], but rather the best model is a multifaceted open approach to the entire ecosystem of innovation,” Jamison said. “... We have a ‘big tent’ philosophy and collaborate with clients, academics, VCs, industry analysts, fintechs, and big techs. ... When it comes to innovation specifically, collaborating with diverse groups allows us to solve for problems we may not have known existed, in creative ways we may not have otherwise thought of.”