Not that long ago, payments ran in the background—consumers didn’t think about the complex system behind their financial transactions and businesses didn’t worry as long as cash found its way into their accounts securely. But over the last decade, payment companies have become household names— no longer behind-the-scenes infrastructure firms. And the payment itself has become table stakes for merchants who now want to offer their customers an omni-channel experience in a secure environment wrapped with loyalty offers and rewards. Payments companies need to innovate, communicate with customers, and keep ahead of a fast changing sector, which is rapidly evolving from online to mobile. That all means the need for leadership at those companies is also very different, and the most successful executives in payments need to balance technical ability with traditional management skills and vision, but also a deep understanding of the end user.
The payments industry has a high-learning curve. Figuring out the intricacies of the payments ecosystem is not something an executive can cram for overnight. Even more difficult to master is the penny splitting and infrastructure sharing that is common in the payments world. That’s why domain expertise is often essential when recruiting talent. But that’s not enough. Learning agility and flexibility are key traits in an industry where talent is faced with a constant flow of new technologies and competitors.
Most of the innovation in online payments is happening at startup companies. The problem is, while they may have great ideas, startup executives are rarely seasoned leaders who can scale an organization and who have proven experience dealing with security, fraud, and regulations. Traditional companies that want to innovate or compete in this dynamic and highly competitive environment partner with or acquire startups rather than pursue their own systems. That means forward-thinking leadership in payments needs a strong grasp of the industry and the innovations taking place, and an understanding of the opportunities new startups and technologies present.
A shallow pool.
Online payments are hot, and many banking and financial services executives are excited to leave their highly-regulated industry and get into payments. The number of candidates, however, who understand the payments industry and have the flexibility to adapt to this fast-paced environment is limited.
A deep bench.
Given the limited talent pool, a successful search often requires looking beyond the payments ecosystem and pulling together a team that can span other technology sectors, infrastructure firms, consumer services, and financial services.