So says Bill Gajda, Executive Vice President Innovation and Strategic Partners in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Visa, in an interview during the Money 20/20 conference, where the company held an innovation contest in which many of the participants, including two of the three grand prize winners, were Israeli
“Visa realized it has to work with the most innovative companies and therefore it has opened its APIs, enabling access for technology companies.” So says Bill Gajda, Executive Vice President Innovation and Strategic Partners in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Visa in an interview held during the Money 20/20 conference, which ended recently in Copenhagen.
One of the high points of the conference was the finals and the announcement of the winners in Visa’s Everywhere Initiative, an innovation contest designed to connect Visa with start-ups around the world. This year, the programme was expanded to Europe and featured challenges in three categories: local community, regional travel and international travel. More than 190 companies from 19 countries submitted proposals, of which 89 were from Israel. 15 companies made it to the finals, more than half of them Israeli
Most importantly, Israeli companies FlyMoney and bitemojo were the category winners for international travel and local community,winning €25,000 each
What kind of technologies being developed interest Visa in particular?
Gajda: “We are interested in technologies in several important areas – first of all information security, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and also how machines will be able to communicate with one another for commerce. This is a broad range of Fintech solutions we are looking for. In places like Tel Aviv, Berlin and London there are lots of companies working in these fields. ”
What are the outstanding strengths of the Fintech companies in Israel specifically?
“There are many examples of technologies in which Israel is particularly strong. Of course in anything related to security, Israel is emerging as a world leader in biometrics and now a vibrant bitcoin community is also forming there. And even generally speaking there are lots of good Israeli Fintech companies we would like to work with and accelerate their development”.
Why did you open up your APIs?
“We saw that over 60 years Visa has been successful thanks to its direct communication with the banks and through its allowing of concessions for its ‘traditional costumers’. Lately we have been seeing commerce developing between non-bank entities but they are unable to be Visa friends or concessionaires. Large players like and many small players like so many of the Israeli start-ups are introducing new technologies, and completely new user experiences, and we realized we had to open up the Visa network and work better with the partners – large and small. When we sought to work with them, one of the first things they asked was – where is the API?”
“Now the environment is opening up. We realized 3-4 years ago that we had to take the Visa network, add an innovative dimension to it to enable developers to access it and this is done via the APIs, a development environment (“sandboxes”), good documentation and reference design. Initially we allowed our developers in places like Israel to make use of them. Now we have published the first APIs, a “sandboxes” environment and of course the support necessary for enabling the Fintech companies to work the way they are used to working – a quick prototype, OPEN DESIGN and APIs”.
What do you think of the competition between Fintech companies seeking to help the financial corporations advance into the digital world and those Fintech companies that wish to supplant the banks and the other original financial institutions?
“At the time there was plenty of buzz around Bitcoin and the blockchain capabilities. People were sure it would replace the existing system and that customers would adopt it in masse. This did not happen. Bitcoin, despite all of its efforts, failed to become a regular, reliable currency. Using it is complicated, its exchange rates are highly volatile, even its regulatory status varies from one market to another. It is really intended for sophisticated users. At the same time, blockchain in its second and third generation has turned into something that enables B2B banking. This area has a lot of potential, we regard blockchain a complementary technology for the regular financial system rather than a competitor”.
“When I assumed my current position about five years ago, claims were being made by the cellular service operators that they would be replacing the credit companies thanks to the technology of their mobile devices and their contacts with their customers but that hasn’t happened either. Most of the start-ups I have spoken to realize they have to work with Visa thanks to the ecosystem Visa has built, and I’m not referring only to technology but also to the 26 thousand banks, 50 million merchants and 3 billion card-holding consumers. This is a hard act to duplicate, while on the other hand the start-ups ought to take advantage of it to reach a large scale. Even the big players have entered our ecosystem and they are working with Visa, and it is thanks to Visa they have achieved such a huge mass of payment capabilities. It will always be that “next technology” that might surprise and therefore we are concerned about the ‘next thing’. At the same time, most of the companies I am talking about see the value in being part of the Visa ecosystem”.
To contact Visa’s Innovation division in Israel, please click here.