‘The payments sector is undergoing a period of rapid change’

23 Dec 2019

Philip Konopik. Image: Visa

Visa’s Philip Konopik discusses opportunities for digital payments solutions, what he learned about leadership from the company’s global CEO, and why his smartphone is his key tool.

Philip Konopik is the Ireland country manager at Visa, a position he has held since January 2016. He is responsible for Visa’s operations in Ireland, driving growth and development across the market.

Konopik has a background in strategy and innovation, having advised and developed new propositions across the financial services industry, including new current account and SME banking propositions, contactless strategies and consumer credit propositions.

‘There are now many more players in the industry, opening up new payment experiences that were not there before’

Describe your role and what you do.

Future Human

As Visa’s country manager for Ireland, I am driving the growth of Visa’s business and digital payments in Ireland. To date, we have achieved this through the roll-out of Visa cards and contactless payments, but now thanks to the era of open banking, fintech and Big Tech, we are working with a range of partners and stakeholders to develop innovative new payment solutions.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

My role is complex as I have to deal with a diverse range of stakeholders such as our client banks, retailers, industry bodies, transport operators and government departments. We have different workstreams with all of them, such as our new campaign with our partner banks to encourage the public to shop with their local retailer in the run-up to Christmas and the roll-out of contactless charity donation terminals with a number of retailers through a partnership with Dublin Town.

Given all of these competing workstreams, I ensure that we have clear priorities and deadlines to guarantee that our efforts are focused optimally. Key to this is team empowerment, so my management style is focused on ensuring that my team feels they have autonomy to do their job and are empowered to make decisions.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The payments sector is undergoing a period of rapid change due to the evolution of technology, regulation and the new era of open banking. While some see it as a challenge, it is actually a massive opportunity as there are now many more players in the industry, opening up new payment experiences that were not there before.

Apps to order a taxi or a takeaway are already taken for granted and show how services that previously would have been paid for with cash are now fully digital. Anything which was previously the sole preserve of cash or cheques now represents an opportunity for a digital payment solution.

While some may think of Visa as a traditional player in the payments industry, we are actively working with new players to leverage our and our partner’s capabilities to offer the best customer-focused experiences.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The original payment card schemes were primarily consumer-to-business focused. From an Irish perspective, this would essentially have limited our commercial opportunity significantly.

When you look at business to business (B2B) payments, card transactions make up a small percentage of the market, leaving a gap of opportunity that extends far beyond the reach of traditional payment schemes. Similarly, billions are paid out in government to consumer (G2C) payments such as social welfare, or business to consumer (B2C) payments like insurance payouts.

Whether it’s B2B, G2C or B2C, we have a wealth of opportunity before us.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

After completing my MSc, I entered the world of consulting, which gave me an insight into a number of different industries. My role was very focused on strategy, customer experience and proposition development, particularly for sectors being disrupted by regulation, technology and consumer expectations.

Payments was an area that stood out because of the speed and breadth of disruption, which naturally led me to be more interested in it. When the role with Visa came about, it was the perfect opportunity for me to pursue.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Starting my career in consulting meant that I was immersed in a hectic pace of disrupted industries, with competing priorities, huge uncertainties and a need to change and evolve at pace. It can be grinding in that it is a relentless line of work, so what I gleaned was the importance of having a strategic vision and purpose to rally your team around.

It is very difficult to motivate your colleagues unless there is a clear, tangible goal that they buy into. That clarity helps you take a step back from the fast lane to see the bigger picture and the progress the team is making as a whole towards achieving a joint vision and goal that is bigger than a number.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Some leaders feel that they have to have full control over their team, moving them around like pieces on a chessboard. The problem with that approach is that you spend most of your time in an administrative role, instead of focusing on higher-level work while your colleagues take care of business.

My preference is to give people ownership of their job, where they have the freedom and responsibility to make decisions themselves because they clearly understand the company’s strategic vision and how their work fits into that. Having that confidence and ability to delegate decision making speeds up delivery and makes the team more able to more actively contribute towards the joint team goal and vision. My role is to enable and empower my team.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

By the very nature of what Visa does, enabling payments in over 200 countries around the world, we have to have a team that is as diverse as our customers across the globe. Given the pace of change of the payments sector and how our company is evolving also, we also recognise that achieving true diversity will always be an ongoing process.

The financial services landscape has been heavily male dominated in the past, but I think this has been recognised for a number of years now as I have seen a huge focus on diversity, with a lot of positive progress being made to date. As I said though, it will always be a continuous process so it has to be part of everything you do.

What that means is you not only have to look at how you recruit, you have to look at how you manage your team, whether our work environment is inclusive and ensures that everyone feels they belong, or if we have the right supports in place for people as they go through different life stages. Ultimately, we want to foster a culture where everyone feels accepted and knows they can do their best every day.

Who is your role model and why?

Honestly, I would have to say Visa’s global CEO Al Kelly and it’s because of his view of what good looks like in terms of leadership. His point of view is that leadership is not an entitlement and he wants people to have balance in their lives.

His point on work-life balance is something that should be a priority for all leaders, as we run the risk of burning out otherwise. Getting the chance to take a step back to gain perspective is huge in terms of realising what is really important. He’s a very authentic and inspiring leader.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I would highly recommend the Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters. Peters came to prominence primarily for his mental coaching of Olympic athletes, which led to the book that sets out his mind management techniques. In a nutshell, he points out that we have an emotional and logical brain, and if we recognise that it helps explain why we make some decisions.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

As you would probably expect, my professional life is pretty much cashless and paperless so my smartphone is my key tool. I am mobile by nature as work takes me out of my office a lot, whether it’s to meetings with a client bank or a trip to the US to our head office.

So, dependent on what part of the world I find myself, I will have multiple apps for transport whether it’s for a taxi or airline. And there’s no need to take out my card when I’m picking up my morning cup of coffee, I simply tap to pay with my smartphone.

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