Tell us about your background.
My payments journey began in Southern California as a merchant level salesperson (MLS) for Brown-Forman Enterprises. I followed the job East, opening Tucson and Denver markets and moving to New Jersey to manage major accounts when NaBANCO acquired Brown-Forman and a Northeast territory when First Data acquired NaBANCO.
In 1996, I transitioned to manufacturing, directing sales at Thales and Hypercom, an ISO sales team at Verifone and channel partner development at Castles Technology. I became an independent consultant in 2007, where I have focused on content development and strategy.
What prompted your career move from sales to journalism?
The funny thing is I've always been a writer. What began as a day job with Brown-Forman, to support my writing, became a lifelong passion. Today, I write about payments evolution, blending personal experience with a variety of perspectives from across the commerce ecosystem.
What have been some of the biggest opportunities and challenges in your career?
My biggest opportunities have been getting to know the movers and shakers in the global payments ecosystem. As a payments industry journalist, there is nothing more rewarding than chatting with them about their technology, early days and near-term product roadmaps. These discussions highlight technology's role in our businesses, personal lives and global economy.
My biggest challenges have been trying to alter traditional modes of thinking. When I worked as a "combo rep," my employer thought people had to be long-time residents in remote territories to successfully sell and install POS systems. I disproved this theory by parachuting into markets where I didn't know anyone and taking share away from incumbent competitors. Overcoming people's resistance to change and convincing them to let go of antiquated systems has also been a challenge. As a former sales manager used to say, if this stuff were easy, anybody could do it. We know it's not and that's why we hired you.
You have been in the payments industry for decades, when did you see the transition to what we now call “FinTech”, happen?
By 2014, widespread use of advanced automation, machine learning, AI and sense-making technologies began to challenge traditional assumptions about the customer experience. Around that time, these technologies reached an inflection point in the United States with alt lending, ride-hailing apps, instant enrollment, real-time authentication and personalization at scale.
Like other payments industry veterans, I believe fintech has been with us for a long time and has only recently been thrust into the spotlight. I recall when George Wallner launched the Interactive Consumer Environment (ICE) in 1998. The Hypercom platform supported third-party apps; merchants and processors could use its graphical tools to personalize their display screens. Hypercom used specially designed high-speed modems to support these early prototypes.
Over time, advancements in Broadband, WiFi and mobile communications methods, combined with an increasingly interoperable payments industry, have accelerated the pace of innovation, making solutions like these more accessible to merchants and service providers.
There has been a lot of consolidation in the industry, especially in payments and lending, what are your thoughts on that?
I feel fortunate that I experienced consolidation early in my career. When my company was acquired, I went through a universal rite of passage, navigating the first year of business as usual, followed by the second year of rapid-fire changes. Two years later, when the cycle repeated itself, I knew what to expect and was more relaxed about exploring my options.
I see consolidation as a natural part of our industry's evolution that goes hand-in-hand with our collaborative efforts to drive value and seamless connected commerce. As companies compete, they may find it more expeditious to acquire a company or partner with a company than to try to build capabilities or grow organically. Many acquisitions begin as partnerships. It's only natural for big players to want to work with enterprises of similar scale. Small, nimble players keep the ecosystem vibrant by disrupting bigger players and forcing them to stay flexible.
In the past year, what news came as a surprise to you within the FinTech industry?
My big aha moment was our industry's immediate and forceful response to the coronavirus pandemic. Service providers, processors, merchants and individual agents worked together across departments, companies and continents to help merchants keep their businesses open and stay connected and engaged with their customers. Overnight, technologies that had been designed to drive convenience and fun became lifelines that helped people safely transact in stores, in apps, and online. These efforts have played a pivotal role in global economic recovery.
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