A company-wide commitment to adaptation has transformed Visa from a tradition-bound payment and financial giant to an agile technology company processing 56,000 transactions per second.

Visa was once all about plastic cards, but those cards (while still vital) are now merely one small element in the wide array of connectivity offered by this digital powerhouse. After realizing the organization was moving too slowly in launching digital products, Visa began making extensive company-wide changes. Today, the organization is ranked 27th on Forbes’ Most Innovative Companies list (up from 32nd last year), and it also scores the label of “top payment technology company” in the Software and Services category.

Paradigm Shift

Visa’s digital transformation started with a paradigm shift inside the company’s workforce culture and organizational structure. Lara Hood Balazs, Visa’s Head of North American Marketing, said their organization entered the digital age with too many individual silos. Information filtered through the organization in fragments, resulting in duplication and confusion for customers. Balazs came in and began instituting a “human Swiss Army knife” approach, encouraging Visa’s workforce to look at the world through the eyes of the consumer. Awareness of customer experience is essential in any digital transformation, because consumers arrive at a system naively, and they aren’t aware of internal corporate divisions and definitions. Instead, they’re simply focused on their own needs, and they want to know how to easily conduct their transactions.

Breaking Down Internal Barriers

When Balazs tackled the project of establishing a digital strategy, she “took out two to three layers” in the Visa organization and started to blend teams together that had previously worked on separate product lines. Making the work and information flow horizontally instead of digitally had the effect of spurring creativity. Employees were empowered to take on a diversified portfolio of responsibilities, working on multiple products through newly formed channels of collaboration. Everyone in the organization was given a voice, and their ideas suddenly had a platform for immediate presentation. The new power was so evident that the staff was ready to embrace the cultural disruption, and the natural discomfort with “removing the guardrails from the day” was offset by the benefits of expanding opportunities.

Employee engagement is always nurtured when staff members have the freedom to think creatively, and to come up with solutions regardless of their official function. Balazs comments in Marketing Land that employee retention has increased as a result of the disruption, creating a new way for the company to save money. Workers also report a greater sense of feeling supported by colleagues, which has led to a mentoring culture and stronger gender equality throughout the organization.

New Digital Products From the “Human Swiss Army Knife” Approach

The radical culture change throughout Visa resulted in a renaissance, a true cross-pollination of creative ideas with a flowering of innovative outcomes. Here is a partial list of Visa’s new suite of digital products that have resulted from this fertile transformation:

  • Visa’s Digital Commerce App: Working much like Bitcoin, the Digital Commerce App integrates with Visa Token Service, a technology that replaces sensitive cardholder information with a unique digital identifier. This app allows banks to engage in cardholder management services with their own branding attached, creating a seamless experience for customers.
  • Payment Ring: Currently still in its prototype phase, the Payment Ring was taken out for a test drive during the RIO Olympics. Actually a wearable device in the form of a ring, a bracelet or a watch, the Payment Ring makes use of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, allowing users to simply tap the device on any NFC-enabled payment terminal. Athletes profiled the convenience of a payment technology that doesn’t require carrying any sort of wallet or hand-held device.
  • Visa’s Innovation Centers: These centers have been established in San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Dubai, Singapore and Miami to engage with the full range of stakeholders in search of the next big payment technology breakthrough.
  • Digital Swipe Button on Visa Checkout: First launched in 2014, Visa Checkout found wide popularity, and is now embraced by 11 million users in 16 countries. By the end of 2016, it’s slated to be introduced in India and in five new European nations as well. Visa’s latest refinement of customer experience is an interactive “swipe” button, which provides shoppers with a virtual image of their credit or debit card. This is an example of digital reaching out and connecting with the familiar visual cues of the physical world, letting customers “see” the card they are using to pay. Interestingly, this small enhancement of visual confidence stimulates significant changes in consumer behavior: Visa’s pilot testing found that seeing their card image resulted in a doubling of customer conversion rate. Swiping the button to the right allows users to enter their password and easily complete the transaction.
  • Tap to Pay: Visa has been investing heavily over the past two years in a range of customized NFC “tap-to-pay” technologies, and companies like Capital One are starting to implement the technology for their customers.
  • Event Partnerships: Visa partnered with the NFL to create 600 new Point of Sale locations for Super Bowl 50. Drinks and food could be ordered by mobile phone and delivered to individual seats in the arena, while special offers were made for fans traveling by Uber. In addition, Visa added to the atmosphere by sponsoring a digital light show — visible from Levi’s Stadium on the San Francisco’s skyline.
  • New Forms of Customer Education: Innovations are only useful if customers understand them, so the rollout of digital innovation also needs to include a steady stream of customer education. The digital age moves rapidly, and even millennial users need to be updated on what new powers are contained within their devices. Visa’s pilot program at Chevron stations includes a video created by soccer champion Carli Loyd, teaching consumers how easily they can use their devices for mobile payment at the gas pump.

Changes in the Banking and Finance Industry

With changing technologies in the payment sector comes innovation in banking and finance as well. This highly tradition-bound industry has learned a new responsiveness, making tremendous leaps in adopting mobile solutions for consumers. Visa’s winning digital strategy now works in sync with some of the top banks and financial institutions.

Treating the Issuer as an Important Consumer

The Digital Commerce App is a premier example of the way in which Visa focuses on B2B customer experience; its partner banks are able to put their own branding onto consumers’ mobile screens, leveraging the power of the Commerce App as a representation of the bank’s own brand identity. However, this issuer-branding flexibility goes beyond mere naming. For instance, individual banks can decide on how they want to configure the app’s functions, choosing which elements will be most important to their customers. These functions include various alerts and notifications, as well as token services and real-time account access. Advanced security and fraud services based on mobile location are also part of the package, which continues to evolve with each season’s developments.

App to App Linking Opens New Partnership Style

Visa’s support of its issuers continues to take new forms. In addition to the individual configuration options mentioned above, Visa is facilitating a multi-app strategy. Individual banks can link their own in-house apps with the Visa digital commerce app, to provide a seamless customer experience. Cardholders with Android devices can take advantage of Visa’s NFC contactless payment system at the increasing number of stores that support the technology. This transaction will appear to the customer with only their own bank’s branding, letting Visa do the “heavy lifting” technologically. This flexibility allows the app to be rolled out as a true issuer solution. Todd Brockman, Visa’s SVP of Issuer Processing describes Visa’s role as being an “app factory.”

Reaching Out to Developers

Visa’s approach to living within the digital ecosystem is not limited to expanding its seamless connections with employees, issuers and cardholders. In addition to these stakeholders, Visa doesn’t overlook the population of developers that continue moving the leading edge of technology. Through its Developer Center, Visa provides ready access to its APIs and SDKs. This access is provided in a climate of maximum openness, so that developers are not required to sign any contracts in order to get started on a new project. The rich offerings of documentation, sample code and sandbox testing environments empower developers with the chance to freely experiment, even adding third-party APIs to their projects.

Furthermore, Visa facilitates the growth of a worldwide community of developers, providing an online forum with peer-to-peer support. Additionally, the Visa Development Team offers direct assistance and support with products, and sponsors an annual opportunity for developers to become part of its Development Squad at the Money 20/20 Hackathon competition. The final cherry on the top of the developer goodies is a marketplace, in which individuals are encouraged to showcase their completed creations to potential partner organizations.

Re-Envisioning Visa as a Technology Company

Again and again, it’s evident that a truly pervasive digital transformation extends far beyond mere technological innovation. Instead, a deep transformation must take place throughout an entire organization, as it shifts its understanding of where it fits in the marketplace. Visa’s enormous and successful evolution includes a new conception of themselves as a technology company instead of a financial company.

A company-wide commitment to adaptation has transformed Visa from a tradition-bound payment and financial giant to an agile technology company processing 56,000 transactions per second. Visa is just one example of how digital is taking consumers everywhere they want to be.