New Ventures in Financial Services

Focus on Payments and Mobile

Wanted: Payment Leaders

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16 February 2010

This blog will be rather short, but wanted to share a few thoughts. As background.. my related Blogs:

MNOs will Rule in Emerging Markets

Investors Guide to Mobile Money

Cash Replacement – Part 2

As an investor and banker attempting to connect capital to innovation I see great prospects for the mobile phone as a tool for commerce.. both physical and remote. The mobile phone has the unique “opportunity” to connect multiple networks (financial, telecommunication, social, commerce, ..) with a trusted handset that provides: convenience, security, identification and authorization. CEO’s know that much of the economic potential of mobile commerce is locked within a the complex web of business relationships in existing networks (See NFC example).   Small companies must take a “dynamic view” on strategy as significant investments are made by established companies in this field. For example, Visa/MA no longer view themselves as constrained “bank only” card networks, but as Payment Service Providers.

The trends of note (this week) are:

  1. Established companies are having a tough time structuring payment spin offs and acquisitions
  2. Strong business leadership at the top of any small company is the key for success.

Bank Led Spin Offs

This is good news for entrepreneurs. For big banks and payment networks the top problems effecting “Payment innovation” are:

  1. Poor continuity in leadership (with the exception of Chase and Wells Fargo).
  2. “Payback”. Investment horizon for FSIs creating new products/alternative networks.
  3. Structural. Model for folding in or spinning out investments and incentive compensation for key executives
  4. Leadership/Talent. Established FSI stars with a $200MM+ may not be capable of transitioning to a “start up”
  5. Marketing expense in changing consumer behavior

The war stories here are too numerous, but a few should certainly elicit a chuckle.  “A top bank” has taken the approach of acting like a VC. The Bank is both making investments in existing ventures, as well as creating new ventures (50% or more of invested capital). The leaders of the new ventures are internal “innovation executives” with little to no operational experience (read strategy types) and no previous P&L experience. Internal HR (of the “top bank”) has determined that NewCo compensation and health plans should precisely mirror those within the bank, and executives within NewCo will receive NO Equity in the new business (but retain their bank incentive options). I refer to this as the “dingy” spin out (a reference to a small water craft lowered by a larger ship). The NewCo (aka Dingy) goes about building a product that was derived from the mother ship, looking for new business, … or even for business from its investors. Obtaining business from the sponsoring bank is problematic as they have only taken a “product” that already existed so the NewCo effort is mainly marketing releases concerning areas where their product is used (which they had nothing to do with). To further create “buzz” NewCo creates and iPhone app.. not that anyone will use it.. but it was relatively cheap and showed some progress.

Structurally, NewCo has difficulty selling products externally as they have no “sales skills” in the executive team and no other bank is interested in doing business with an entity owned by a competitor. Further the NewCo executives would like for NewCo to be successful, however they are much more cautious in aligning to their parent organization as all of their compensation remains tied there.

Lets extend this story to look at this NewCo from the perspective of the Bank’s head of payments (lets call him Paul). Paul has 50 initiatives that could drive 20% returns in current FY, but needs investment for each, his top 3 require only $10MM. He gets a call from NewCo’s CEO asking him to for assistance in implementing their product in one of his countries. The investment has no return and will cost him 20-30% of his discretionary IT budget to get in place (in reality no one has any discretionary IT this year). He further looks at the NewCo CEO and sees that NewCo received $20M in funding.. funding which he would have jumped through hoops to get. You get the picture…

What could the bank have done? Get some serious R&D types with international operations experience together to look at “sustaining” and “replicatable” innovation to gain internal credibility. Right now you have a completely discoupled Innovation team that only looks for the sexy customer facing “quick hits”.  The innovation team needs to fill itself with business experts and get out of the .com strategists and deal makers. Global banks need to realize that most innovation should be led within countries. A key example: at Citi Japan the team there built an application that takes control over the phones camera and provides an agent interface for remote acceptance of terms and conditions (contract) this video acceptance is stored in the banks KYC.

Acquisitions.. I’m cutting this short, but integrating any business is challenging. Bank/Network success in M&A takes strong business leadership AFTER the acquisition. The tendency of most companies after the acquisition tends to be product integration (capability) vs the value proposition. As a bank, you need in house leaders that can drive this value. Lets see how AMEX/Revolution Money turns out.

Business Leadership

This is my quickest litmus test for dealing with any new payment company: Get into detailed payment operations discussions with the CEO and look for a history in running a payments business. How do they deliver value today (in 30 seconds)? What markets do they operate and what are recent/impending regulations that will effect their business? What are their war stories? What is their knowledge of past events and failures?

Given that there is so much economic potential in mobile, where are the leaders that can unlock it and what are their skills? If we take a look historical look at any networked business we see that they start out as a private closed network that evolves and opens (either for regulatory or market reasons). We see this same trend today in MPESA, Octopus, payforit, GCash, … Closed networks start as a mechanism delivering focused value. Adding payment capabilities to existing non financial networks (read MNOs) enhances the value they can provide. Moving money on someone else’s network is easy.. getting permission from the networks/regulators and changing consumer behavior: “hard”.

Key Skills

  1. Define and evolve a core value proposition
  2. Ability to define regulatory risks and operational approaches to address
  3. Attract and retain start talent
  4. Ability to manage a P&L
  5. GLOBAL Payment Operations experience (the regulators are shutting us down)
  6. Sales skills (direct to consumer and/or business sales)
  7. Network within the Industry (what is everyone else doing)
  8. Manage a BOD
  9. Ability to listen to the customer and adapt
  10. Historical knowledge of payment initiatives
  11. Ability to drive complex technical initiatives
  12. Understanding of competing networks and value propositions
  13. Comfortable in the details and the strategy
  14. Can coach a people and build a team

Summary

As an ex Gartner guy (don’t hold it against me) the hype cycle in mobile payment is in full swing. There are significant challenges to raising money in this environment with the exception of the big banks. The number of mobile payment transactions in the US is almost non existent… and VCs do know the truth.  If I had a dime for every time a CEO was telling me of their new iPhone application… I’m much more impressed with initiatives driven outside of SiliconValley …

Within mobile money, there are a handful of successes (MPESA, Octopus, payforit, GCash, ..).. In NorthAmerica my top “small” payments companies are: CashEdge, BlingNation and HyperWallet… each have CEOs with over 20 years of payments background.

For entrepreneurs in mobile money my message is: focus outside of North America and add value to someone else’s network.. creating your own is a 20 year project.

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Written by tomnoyes

February 16, 2010 at 4:29 pm

One Response

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  1. […] luck with that  (See my previous blog for lessons learned on bank spin […]


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