As Mobile Payment Options Proliferate, Teams Grapple With Complexity To Deliver Smooth And Secure Customer Experiences
BY SARAH FISTER GALE
PORTRAITS BY TAI POWER SEEFF
Cash is no longer king.
With smartphones everywhere, consumers' increasing comfort with mobile wallets has caused digital payments to soar for virtually every kind of financial transaction and on every type of device. In the banking sector and beyond, organizations are under increasing pressure to ensure tech-savvy customers everywhere can pay the way they want. That's spurring a rise in mobile payment projects that require rapid innovation and strong collaboration between tech firms and financial organizations. Throughout planning and execution, security risks need to be recognized.
The payment landscape has reached a global tipping point. The total value of noncash transactions overtook that of cash payments for the first time ever in 2016. The volume of digital payments is projected to grow an average of 10.9 percent annually through 2020, according to a 2017 Capgemini report—and this growth rate will be nearly twice that in emerging economies. In countries like China and India, tens of millions of people are leapfrogging traditional banks and credit cards in favor of mobile payment platforms such as Paytm, PhonePe, Alipay and WeChat Pay.
The mainstreaming of mobile payments is spurring new generations of projects. The shift goes beyond brick-and-mortar retail stores seeking compatibility with new payment platforms. Tech companies, including game developers, want to support transactions within their own user environments. As the mobile banking field grows more crowded, project teams face pressure to deliver new innovations in less time and often with more stakeholders setting demands, according to Braden More, head of partnerships and industry relations, Wells Fargo, San Francisco, California, USA.
“As complexity increases, you see more moving parts, a greater number of integration points and more players on the field,” he says.
—Braden More, Wells Fargo, San Francisco, California, USA
The number of stakeholders is expanding because these projects often involve collaborations among app developers, tech firms and financial institutions. “The velocity of change in this industry is enormous. Having a talented project team, a common framework, good communication and clear goals are even more important.”
PAY TO PLAY
The pressure to make mobile payments part of virtually every consumer experience is driving new collaborations among finance, retail and tech firms. And it's pushing developers to design new ways to connect disparate systems while still protecting customer data at every touchpoint, says Mr. More. His teams have in recent years partnered with companies including Apple, Google, Samsung, Garmin and Fitbit on projects to link Wells Fargo's payment system to their respective mobile environments. “It's about allowing customers to make payments where they want and when they want,” Mr. More says.
Customer convenience is driving competition—and sparking new kinds of partnerships. For example, after a regulatory shift last year allowed Samsung Pay and Apple Pay to move into Europe, banks in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland rolled out plans for a joint project to build a regionalized payment system that would allow them to compete at a larger scale. In India, where digital payments are expected to balloon from US$50 billion in 2016 to US$500 billion in 2020, startups such as Paytm, PhonePe and MobiKwik are now competing with global players like Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Google Tez and Amazon Pay.
The average annual growth rate for volume of digital payments projected through 2020.
“In this environment, being small can be a real challenge,” says Prantik Ray, professor of finance, Xavier School of Management, Jharkhand, India. He notes that the regulatory environment in India takes a one-size-fits-all approach to banks and mobile lending services. The regulations can be costly and time-consuming, which—coupled with the cost of securing talent and technology to execute projects—can price small startups out of the market, he says. At the same time, smaller banks might be less inclined to back mobile payment projects in the increasingly commoditized environment, where little differentiates product offerings beyond cost, he says.
Some banks in India have solved this by partnering with telecommunication companies that aren't authorized to collect money but have the resources and interest to build mobile payment systems. “It's a promising development that could help overcome some of the barriers to these projects,” Mr. Ray says.
Such partnerships can deliver real benefits—but they also create risks for project delivery, says Leonid Goriev, CEO of software development company Alty, Kiev, Ukraine. Mr. Goriev's team has worked with several global banks on mobile payment projects. Each organization has its own delivery expectations, timelines, regulatory issues and project collaboration styles.
One of the biggest challenges his team faces is getting fast feedback to keep projects moving, he says. For example, when his team was building a mobile payment solution for the National Bank of the Ukraine, the original user interface they designed showed the customer's full credit card number, but regulations required only the last four digits be displayed unless a user requests all digits appear. The design had to be changed, but the team had to wait until multiple executives on the client side had provided their input. “They talked about it for a week before we had an answer,” Mr. Goriev says.
It Pays to Innovate
From the beginning of his career at Wells Fargo 18 years ago, Braden More has carved out time and resources for his developers to follow trends, brainstorm new project ideas and teach themselves the latest payment-related technologies.
When big tech firms came to the bank to deliver payment solutions for Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, his team was ready. For example, “they already understood how to leverage near-field communication (NFC) technologies in a financial environment,” says Mr. More, head of partnerships and industry relations, Wells Fargo, San Francisco, California, USA. (NFC enables devices to read and send information via radio waves.) “They had the skills and knowledge base to execute the project quickly so we could meet customers' needs.”
He offers these tips for how project managers can drive innovative thinking on payment projects.
1. Stay focused on customers. “Customers rely on us to translate the intricacies and rules of our payment systems into simple, convenient solutions,” he says. “That's what they want from us.”
2. Link company and customer goals. “The team needs to understand what matters to customers, and they need a set of guiding principles from management that allow team members to quickly make decisions within a common framework.”
3. Define a path for problem-solving. “With clear strategies for problem-solving, fewer items will be escalated over time,” Mr. More says.
4. Value quality over speed. Project leaders should build with components that are reusable to gain long-term efficiencies, rather than just pushing something into the market as fast as possible, he says. “Building quick but brittle systems that are not durable in the long run creates a higher long-term cost of ownership.”
PHOTO BY MIKHAIL JAPARIDZE\TASS VIA GETTY IMAGES
PHOTO BY SAIKAT PAUL/PACIFIC PRESS/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES
Such delays can put app development projects behind schedule because clients rarely factor their own feedback cycles into the delivery timeline, he says. Mr. Goriev mitigates this risk by starting every project with a meeting between his design and development team and the client team. This early connection helps his developers build relationships with the client that can be valuable for resolving problems later on, he says. Once the project starts, his team hosts daily meetings with the client project leader to transmit knowledge and weekly meetings to discuss progress and establish next steps. “This is the best way to resolve issues quickly. It makes my team more productive,” Mr. Goriev says.
Even the best communication strategies can create bottlenecks, however—especially when multiple stakeholders need to weigh in on big decisions. To avoid delays, Alty teams take an agile approach, breaking scopes into sprints, each with its own plan. They then define how each sprint is linked to progress on other pieces of the project, which helps to clarify when various pieces can be completed.
For example, on the National Bank of Ukraine mobile app project, the user interface involved different “tabs” for deposits and financial management. The Alty team decided to treat the tabs as two separate projects so that when delays occurred on one, developers could switch to working on the other while waiting for feedback. “It means that no one blocks anyone else's progress,” Mr. Goriev says.
SECURITY IN THE SCRUM
Whether at a startup or a banking giant, the top-of-mind risk for mobile payment project teams is data breaches. Ensuring data security isn't just a matter of designing interfaces that protect customer data at every touchpoint. Team members also must follow strict protocols for capturing and sharing data during the project execution.
Some security practices required in these projects have become standard. These include tokenization, which uses a code to obscure credit card numbers, and encryption of personal information. “We've been doing this for a long time,” Mr. More says.
Creating a secure project management process can be more challenging—particularly when project teams are working across borders and companies. On Mr. Goriev's team, for example, developers are not allowed to share any screenshots of any element of a design internally or with a client via publicly accessible platforms such as Dropbox. Instead, all of the project data they capture on any device also must be encrypted and stored behind a separate firewall that can be wiped remotely if the device is stolen. “You need to be sure you set clear rules for security on these projects,” he says.
Such steps can minimize security risks, but developers and project leaders must remain vigilant, Mr. More says. Risks constantly change, and every new project might have new vulnerabilities. To ensure his projects meet leading-edge security requirements, he regularly meets with regulators to discuss what his teams are working on. “We may be excited about a new solution, but we want their perspective on the safety and security behind it,” Mr. More says.
When projects involve global payment systems or international clients, Wells Fargo often brings in a subject matter expert who understands global financial regulations, regional payment systems and local languages. Having this specialist on board helps avoid unknown risks and reduce uncertainty, he says. “The hardest thing to factor into a well-oiled team and timeline is uncertainty.”
Following strict data safety protocols, working collaboratively with stakeholders and gathering feedback throughout execution can ensure mobile payment projects meet ease-of-use and security requirements while staying on schedule, Mr. Goriev says. If problems arise, a proactive project leader is crucial for getting the team back on track and showing the client proof of progress, he says.
“For these kinds of projects, it is important to have a very involved project manager who both lives the project day to day and can interface with the client at a high level.” PM
—Leonid Goriev, Alty, Kiev, Ukraine