The Payments Iceberg: Innovation and Realities

In the 1970s, anthropologist Edward Hall developed the iceberg model of culture to express how visible aspects like fine arts are dwarfed by what is hidden below the surface (e.g., relationships, attitudes, approaches). The concept could be applied to the payments industry as well. This month, while at the Cards and Payments on Campus Conference by PDG, I attended sessions about emerging technology that dazzle the mind and represent the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of great things happening. Yet, I also encountered—as I do every time I am at an event—challenges that have plagued end-user organizations for decades. It’s the reality that sits solidly under water. As a result, I have formed three conclusions, as outlined below. Take a look and see what you think. I welcome comments and always enjoy hearing different perspectives.

Three Conclusions

  1. Innovation has multiple personalities.  
  2. Gaps between different entities keep getting bigger.
  3. Payments do not always make the priority list. 

The Multiple Personalities of Innovation

At the conference, Matt Dill of Visa addressed the future of payments. Some advancements, like Amazon Go (“a new kind of store with no checkout required”), perfectly illustrate how innovation can be baffling, appealing, and necessary all at once. We may not always understand how something works, but we think it is cool. The practical, necessary side of innovation include factors like payment convenience and security. Payments have to seamlessly mesh with our ever-expanding, technology-driven world. Innovation will continue. It’s exciting.

Widening Gaps

I heard attendees ooh and aah over what Matt showed. Then, during Q&A at the end, some questions pertained to longstanding struggles end-user organizations have (e.g., trying to pay remotely for the hotel stay of a traveling employee and hotels requiring a copy/photo of the card). Throughout the conference, end-users shared the same types of challenges that I heard 15 years ago.

On one hand, technology is soaring. On the other hand, some organizations have not changed anything about their payment strategy in decades. Providers have solutions for common challenges, but some organizations are not pursuing them. The gaps are widening, which leads to the last point.

Payments Do Not Always Make the Priority List

In many cases, executives within end-user organizations have too many initiatives to manage and sales goals to meet. No one has time to address something if it is not absolutely broken, so B2B checks remain. Checks are costly and inefficient, but, as some execs would argue, they get the job done. 

Real, across-the-board change will not occur within the end-user community until there is an overhaul of decision makers. We need more leaders who: 1) embrace payments innovation at a consumer level, and 2) see the value in similarly aligning B2B payments. Finally, the decision makers need to be at industry conferences to see what is possible. 

See more about payment strategies.

About the Author

Blog post author Lynn Larson, CPCP, is the founder of Recharged Education. With 20 years of Commercial Card experience, her mission is to make industry education readily accessible to all. Learn more

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