George Zirkel is Senior Vice President and Head of Global Payments Strategy at Transaction Network Services, a worldwide provider of solutions for the payments, financial and telecommunications services. He has a wealth of experience in the payments industry, and has held senior leadership roles across several businesses to lead the development strategy and growth.
bobsguide spoke to George Zirkel on his career in payments, how innovation is reshaping the payments industry and why omnichannel is the buzzword of the year
How did you get started in the payments industry?
My career in the industry began with a cards company that I was with for two years before it was acquired by First Data. I continued with First Data, and held a variety of management and senior roles within the business and was with the company for around 20 years.
I then left First Data and worked for a start-up for two years. I decided to leave a very big organisation with around 30,000 employees and try the start-up life. We were focused around mobile payments and how to modernise hospitability – to basically automate bar and restaurant payment mechanics between the consumer and a merchant. However, the product ran its course over the years, and, whilst the idea was interesting, we couldn’t find merchants or consumers willing to pay for that level of automation.
I then got back in touch with some colleagues from First Data who worked at TNS, there was a good opportunity for me to re-flex my skills around innovation, product development and M&A activity. It’s exceptionally fun to be in a company when they’re in growth mode.
What does your role at Transaction Network Services entail?
I’m the head of strategy for the payments service division, so I sit on the payments side and oversee our strategy. My day-to-day role varies from working out the more complicated business development deals, such as working out collaborations when we get approached by new payments entrants, and creating a possibility of working together with both our products and the services of others.
I also manage where the strategy for where the PSD division needs to be heading in a three, five, and 10-year strategy. Even though the payments sector seems as though it’s a well-established industry that doesn’t move particularly quickly, there’s a myriad of innovation and change happening in payments.
Having someone on board who’s looking for out for where the industry is heading and how TNS needs to position itself in order to capitalise on the industry in the upcoming years is part of the wider role that I play.
What are your biggest growing markets? How do you target the different geographies?
The biggest growth market for us for the next couple of years is Asia. This is especially due to the fact that we’re relatively new at emerging into the geography.
Electronic payments are on a huge upswing, and I think developing markets are looking especially closely at how they can modernise their payments community.
They’re also the ones that are most segmented and so they benefit from the services that TNS has to offer. Ultimately, the payment service division at TNS have a community of acquirers and processors that sit on our private network. As developing countries are looking at advancing their payments spectrum, we’ve got a great way of help them join that community of interest and easily connect to either their peers or customers across our private network – and do so in a very efficient, safe and compliant manner.
How can providers secure their platforms and data to protect themselves against cyber-attacks?
Our general advice to our customers is to leave it with the experts. We think that for our customers, it’s better to outsource to a specialist. Merchant acquirers and processors should be thinking about how they can create the next best experience for the merchant, or how to create a great, user-friendly mobile application for the consumer, and not have the worry about whether their network will be secure, or whether they have gone through all the testing and so forth. If you take away that time and allow a specialist or expert to take care of the service, you can focus on creating experiences that are extremely beneficial to the customer.
Are you watching any technologies or innovations closely?
Yes. The buzzword of the year is ‘omnichannel’ – it’s been interesting to see e-commerce sky rocket, and omnichannel is the technology and terminology that people have been all over. More than ever before we’re seeing consumers request an experience that intersects over all of the different forms of how they might pay. This could be in-store, mobile, on your laptop, or it could be a combination of all three, so it’s important to spend time looking at this trend and the omnichannel commerce.
There’s also a big evolution around alternative payment mechanisms – whether this is Amazon Pay, WePay, Alipay, PayPal or Venmo – there’s a tremendous amount of innovation around alternative payment mechanisms and alternative currencies. These are all interesting areas to watch.
The industry is no longer dominated by the big four card brands- Mastercard, Visa, Amex and Discover. It’s interesting to watch other players come into the market and try to create a brand with alternatives and payments mechanisms. It’s not easy, but it’s extremely profitable if you’re successful.
Finally, what will be the main trends of 2017?
I think we’re going to see advances from the alternative payment players. AliPay and WePay have been mentioned at many of the payment conferences this year, and the competition from Chinese companies that are moving abroad and looking to bring their payment mechanisms with them.
I also think there will be a lot of changes in the US market around what we see on the countertop vs payment experiences, as merchants continue their upgrade their EMV. It’s an interesting time where merchants can completely transform how payments occur, both in-store and online. I think the US market around the EMV and the marginable targeted payment players across the globe will be our big themes for 2017.