Imagine a payments industry that listens before it builds, where every market has its unique payment needs met. Laura Shelton, senior manager of commercial travel products at Discover® Global Network, unveiled this visionary approach during our recent conversation at the Commercial Payments International Global Summit in New York.
In an era of constant innovation, Shelton shone a spotlight on the power of tailored solutions, challenging the status quo of one-size-fits-all in the digital payment space amid concern that networks and issuing banks make decisions without first listening to their customers’ needs.
“It’s almost a field of dreams approach,” Shelton explained, the belief of “if I build it, they will come”.
She continued: “Instead, what we’re finding is that we really need to meet our customers where they are and what are the problems that they’re trying to solve for, instead of making decisions beforehand.”
A particular area that Shelton believes requires focus is around digital payments but ensuring that you are catering to the needs of individual markets rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
She said: “Let’s take the example of a travel account. The travel account is a ghost card or lodge card and could be considered one of the very first forms of digital payment. That’s a fantastic solution that will serve us in many markets, but in other markets, we need to be a little more sophisticated around those solutions..
“Rather than assuming that every market needs a sophisticated approach to those payment channels… we can think about what’s unique for that market. It might still be a card transaction, or it could be settlement with virtual card numbers, but [you have to] realise that every market might have a unique approach.”
A powerful tool
When it comes to the digital space, a form of payment that Shelton believes is particularly valuable, as well as having a great passion for, is virtual card numbers (VCNs). These were originally introduced into the market to help consumers protect their card numbers during online transactions when e-commerce was growing in popularity.
“Commercial transactions actually followed fairly quickly after that,” Shelton explained.
“We saw corporations finding the need for virtual card numbers to protect from hotel billbacks where they wanted to move away from using invoices around their traveller’s stay. Supporting those corporations, they saw the value benefit associated with the security around a virtual card number.
“VCNs can be created for a very specific day of use, associated with a merchant category code, or associated with a specific spend, allowing for the rule around the VCN to be very constrained. And if it’s broken, the authorisation will not take place.”
Eighty-one per cent of large businesses believe that virtual card numbers will be very important to their business over the next 12 months according to research commissioned by Discover Global Network and Euromonitor International, with the security and ability to manage spend being the key drivers for this technology.
Another advantage of VCNs is reconciliation.
“We know that the travel account or the ghost card has been a powerful payment tool for corporations for years. But it can create a headache in the spirit that it’s a single line of credit, managing thousands of travellers and sometimes millions of spend. A virtual card number creates the opportunity of a card number for the traveller [to purchase] their airfare, hotel, ground transportation, all rolling up to that real card number making the reconciliation near seamless.”
A focus on gender
Finally, the conversation turned to diversity and inclusion in the payments industry and how there is still much work to be done to see more women join the fintech industry. As Shelton points out, during the pandemic there were around two million women who retreated to their homes to care for their families, with their jobs falling to the wayside.
However, “Women are coming back in power,” she said. “They’re coming into the workforce and they’re finding a seat at the table where they’re being welcomed to share their views and their opinions as well as the expertise that they have around their capabilities.”
Shelton also discussed the importance of mentorship programmes and initiatives for women looking to foster their careers in the industry.
“For my own development growth, it’s been exciting that Discover Global Network has associated me with an external mentor to help me with my growth, my leadership and what I can bring back to the organisation.
“Professionally, there’s a lot of groups that we’re seeing evolve out there, whether it’s Women in Product or Women and Fintech, so there’s always something there that we can tap into.”