Feature

Losing PINterest: Visa picks up speed in its plot to bridge the gap between brands and fintech

From IoT to voice controlled payments, VR and connected automobiles: We take a look at Visa’s new Innovation Centre.

In a corner of London’s Paddington, Visa is uncoupling itself from its plastic heritage and embracing the world of high-speed, human-centric fintech.

Watch a video of the space below

The change is happening at its new Innovation Centre at Sheldon Square – a hub which, along with its sister stations in the likes of Berlin, Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo, has been designed as an immersive environment for the company and its partners to experiment in the realm of fintech.

The space currently features zeitgeisty tech adorned with a payment mechanism, a connected Bentley car that can pay for parking, an Amazon Alexa that can transfer cash with a simple voice control command and a VR headset app that lets the user experience an empty stadium, pick out their preferred seat and purchase a ticket.

There are desks and meeting rooms among the demos where collaborations between Visa and its partners will take place. A business development team and a venture programme source out potential collaborators in both startups making their name in the fintech world and what Jim McCarthy, executive vice president for innovation and strategic partnerships, calls the “grandfathers of the space” – Google, Facebook and Apple.

“We always talk about it like a three legged tool of Visa, bank clients and startups or developers,” he said. “Where it gets really interesting is the fintech community is rethinking a lot of the [consumer] experiences and journeys, our bank clients –especially in Europe with PSD2 and [other] regulatory pressures – are going to have to open up, and we bring some unique assets.”

Visa itself also needs to think about new regulatory procedures, and just like everyone else, the forthcoming GDPR is back of mind, particularly as its consumer’s financial information will be travelling through what it estimates to be 20 billion connected devices by 2020, as part of its Visa Token roll-out. Open-sourcing is also cited as one of the key pillars in its Innovation Centre network, which extends beyond physical spaces into the newly-launched European Visa Developer Platform.

The brand is now offering merchants, financial institutions, technology companies and startups an initial sets of APIs, software development kits and documentation, in the hope they will ‘create the next generation of commerce applications’.

Yet as a company that has made its fortune handling data, it feels more prepared than most.

“We live and lie on the basis of the security of our data and providing anonymity of consumer data,” said Kevin Jenkins, managing director of Visa UK and Ireland. “A lot of the investments we’ve been making in the last 24 months have been around making that data even more secure.

“GDPR is going to have another lens [to examine data with] but ultimately it’s about driving new capabilities for the consumer and making commerce frictionless.”

Visa also hopes for a lack of friction within its own innovation development, emphasising the importance of speed as it explores new tech – in fact McCarthy reckons a rapid pace is “probably the most important factor at this point”.

Yet with its biggest ever Innovation Centre being located in London, the road block to Visa’s alacrity could come in the form of Brexit, namely the potential talent issues the term has come to be laden with. For Jenkins, the real problem is broader than geography, and he believes attracting millennials into a workforce –particularly that of a heritage company – is where Visa has and should be thinking strategically.

He added: “We’ve been in London as long as Visa’s been in Europe, we were in the EU, we’re out of the EU in the sense of our Turkish and Israeli businesses... there are always different things going on geopolitically around the world and our footprint is in 200 countries.

“Commerce is still and will continue to be strong, and consumers have and will continue to have strong confidence in the UK post-referendum. We don’t know what the full outcome is going to be put I predict if we’re sitting here in five years’ time we’ll be having a conversation around how much further fintech is developing in the UK.”

“Brexit has had no impact to date on our thinking,” stated McCarthy. “This is our European headquarters for 16 years and the Innovation Centre is a really important fulfilment of a promise to the clients here in Europe.”

THE PIPELINED PROTOTYPES OF THE INNOVATION CENTRE by Robyn Darbyshire

Amazon Alexa

The centre showcases how personal assistant Alexa can be used in the home when connected to payment applications. On-demand services such as Uber can be requested just by letting Alexa know where you want to go, and banking customers can check their balance and transfer to other accounts through conversation with the bot. Visa said the next step will be working with more sophisticated voice activation technology to differentiate between users to better guarantee security.

The VR stadium

Visa demonstrates how virtual reality can be used to enhance customer journey for big events like music festivals and sports matches. Via a VR headset guests can choose their preferred seats in a stadium, previewing exactly what the view from their spot will look like. Merchandise and food can also be ordered and paid for ahead of time within the app, so queues can be skipped on the day.

Bentley

The enormous Bentley parked in the middle of the room arguably steals the show. The car has payments technology embedded within it, so congestion charges, parking fees and petrol and food orders can be made on the move.

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Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter for creative and video, based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as Anatomy of an Ad, Creative Pursuits and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing.

All by Katie