Visa’s Paul Walsh: ‘We are processing north of 65,000 transactions a second’

9 Feb 2018

Image: Waraphot/Shutterstock

Irishman Paul Walsh, former global CIO at Dell, is driving Visa’s platform strategy to transform banking and fintech experiences across the world.

Paul J Walsh is the senior vice-president of platform strategy and innovation for Visa Inc, responsible for leading Visa’s open platform initiative which was launched in 2016.

Walsh oversees the platform that provides open access to Visa technology, products and services and allows developers at merchants, financial institutions, technology companies and start-ups to build unique commerce experiences.

‘You have to remove the friction from the customer’s experience. If you don’t address the gap between today and tomorrow, your loyal customer today is going to be your former customer tomorrow’

Prior to joining Visa, Walsh was co-founder and CEO of Omniscient Technology Group where he provided leadership and guidance to Fortune 1000 companies enabling them to transform business and consumer experiences to become relationship-focused digital organisations.

Before Omniscient, Walsh served as the global CIO at Dell where he was responsible for leading a team of 10,000 people and stewarding a budget of $1.2bn.

Walsh also held leadership roles at Microsoft, Sears and at Amazon where he helped define and deliver e-commerce platforms.

Visa’s Paul Walsh: ‘We are processing north of 65,000 transactions a second’

Paul J Walsh, senior vice-president of platform strategy and innovation for Visa Inc. Image: Visa

How does one go from working in tech support in Bray to becoming the global CIO at Dell and now head of platform strategy worldwide at Visa?

When I first left school, I started with Dell in the Boghall Road operation in Bray. I worked as a supervisor in the tech support team. If you remember back when Dell made a big investment in a number of areas in Ireland, including operations and manufacturing in Limerick and in tech support at Boghall Road, I was part of the first wave.

I left there in 2001 to join Microsoft and I said I to myself I was going to go to the US just for a year. And 17 years later, I’m still here. I keep telling my mum I’m only half way through the first year.

After Microsoft, I joined Amazon, helping it to define its global e-commerce platform. Then I got a call from Dell asking for my return to run their whole e-commerce platform. When I started, Dell were probably number eight on the Internet Retailer 500 list and my team and I ended up getting them to number three. That made Dell the third-largest e-commerce platform on the planet in terms of web sales.

Soon after, Michael [Dell] asked me to lead the global CIO group and transform how they did business. As part of that, I established a digital services operation in Cherrywood, [Dublin] and grew again our base down in Limerick with more IT and engineering. I worked really closely with the IDA on this and it was absolutely fantastic.

I had an opportunity to work with a great team and transform how we did IT in Dell and then got a chance to now work with Visa and think about how we transform the payments industry.

More than anything in my career, I was lucky in being in the right places at the right time.

The entire financial world is being transformed by technology. How would you sum up the impact fintech is having on the traditional financial models?

There is a digital transformation that is happening across all industries. The pace of innovation, the clock speed in which it is happening is just getting faster and the reason is all the advancements in cloud, mobile etc. and that allows us to do a lot more than we could in the past at a faster speed.

Realistically, when you think about the financial industries and what we are doing, Visa is moving from a proprietary to a much more open and collaborative model by enabling capabilities, or decoupling our capabilities to enable traditional partners like merchants and financial institutions, and non-traditional partners like fintechs, to utilise those capabilities in ways they couldn’t before.

We want to ensure that we enable these traditional partners and fintechs. According to McKinsey, there are 12,000 fintechs globally attracting $36bn in investment and 23pc of those are active in the payments world. We feel their natural goal to enable this digital transformation.

In terms of Visa, after 60 years we have 3.4bn cards and we’re processing north of 65,000 transactions a second.

How do you see the internet of things world colliding with payments?

Think about the explosion of connected devices that we will see by 2020. It’s forecast that there will be 20bn connected devices. What would the world be like if we could make each of those connected devices a way to pay? Think about being able to pay on your smartphone – we are there. Think about being able to pay with a wristband or smartwatch – we are there. But think about your car being connected and being a way to pay for gas. If that is the world we are heading toward, we are building the Visa platform in a way that can enable that.

Today, we have 90 or so APIs across 40 different product sets that will enable that. We have been working with companies like Honda, for example, where you could actually use your car as a payment instrument.

Honda had two cases they wanted to look at: how do we help our driver to find parking and pay for it, and how do we help the driver to get to the petrol pump and use their car as a payment instrument. We have built out some of those use cases for them.

Do you think we are hurtling towards a Star Trek world where money doesn’t seem to exist?

We are probably not too far away from that. The first Amazon Go store that recently opened in Seattle is enabling some of that.

In 2008, myself and two colleagues put a patent together for the completion of a transaction based on your geo-location. In essence, based on me being here, this would mean I can complete a transaction without having to do anything. We are now seeing more of that happening.

It is going full circle in some ways. In the past you would go to a local store and the shopkeeper would know who you are and you would pick up your things and settle a while later. Isn’t that the experience people are looking for, to walk into physical store and have a personalised experience? We need to think about how do we enable our fintech partners, financial institutions and merchants to be actually able to deliver some of those experiences.

Tell us about Visa’s open platform initiative. How do you work with partners?

We have more than 90 APIs and they cover many different areas, such as risk and fraud, data and analytics, special offers, etc.

A good example of how a bank has used our platform is PNC in Pittsburgh. If you are travelling to another city and forget to tell the issuer of your card that you are travelling, then you are out buying dinner and all of a sudden your card is declined because you are in a different city, well, that happens to people a lot.

PNC wanted to help them with that scenario. So, with them, we rebuilt the traveller experience whereby all the user has to do is check in via their app, which lets the transactions happen.

The benefit for PNC is that they saw customer satisfaction and net promoter score go up because clients were really excited and happy. A second benefit they were not expecting was that 46pc of their call centre call volumes reduced because people didn’t have to ring up any more

This new capability is delighting customers and driving down cost. There are benefits to the client as well as operational cost reduction to the business too.

From an R&D perspective, where is Visa at in terms of defining the future of money?

‘Horizon zero’ is where we are today in terms of how we can satisfy needs that clients and customer have today.

Jyske Bank in Denmark wanted to satisfy a need today around foreign exchange (FX) and being able to tell clients what rates are to make sure they have a better experience. They also wanted to be able to tell cardholders where ATMs were and so we built a solution for them. These are available as APIs on our developer portal. We worked with them and delivered those and they are starting to work on new capabilities.

‘Horizon one’, then, is probably a year out, looking at newer offerings that we have the ingredients to build today but which need more work. ‘Horizon two’ is about looking three or four years out, when we are starting to think about new and innovative ways to carry out an activity and reduce the friction. We are working on ‘horizon three’ which is even further out and thinking about real innovative areas that will change everything.

We work very closely with our partners, both providers of technology as well as clients. We bring them into our innovation centres – we have nine dotted around the planet – and we do a lot of co-creating with them. We white board the areas they want to work on and start co-creating with them and start to think about piloting and production.

On top of that, we have a programme called Visa Ready, which is really about how you can on-board with Visa. If you have a new offering, it is about utilising our capabilities and making sure it meets the certification model.

Finally ,we run a lot of hackathons. We had some in the UK recently and my plan is to have some in the Irish market as well. Dublin is going to be a big hub for fintech and one of the areas we want to focus on is driving that fintech hub in Dublin.

Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) has just become law in Europe. How open do you think banks are to embracing open banking and fintech models?

More than you would think. I think there is a maturity cycle that is happening. Banks are realising the power of data and using that data better. Finding the right patterns in data allows you to best service your customer.

A recent Forrester report showed that 71pc of banks know that data is part of their strategy and will be able to deliver data-driven customer experiences. It is all about understanding the amount of data you have and looking for patterns within that data to drive a great experience.

There is currently about four zettabytes of data on the planet today. One zettabyte is equal to 250bn DVDs. By 2020, there will be 44 zettabytes of data, which is amazing. 44 zettabytes of data is equivalent to 100m printed copies of the entire US Library of Congress.

So it is not just the amount of data, it is actually about understanding the patterns within that data to best serve the client and drive that experience.

The second area is really about making technology invisible. You have to remove the friction from the customer’s experience. If you don’t address the gap between today and tomorrow, your loyal customer today is going to be your former customer tomorrow.

We want to help banks and fintechs to remove the friction and we are giving them these capabilities so that they can innovate at scale.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years