The Pace of Technological Progress
CIOREVIEW >> Africa Tech Africa

The Pace of Technological Progress

David Talach, Payments Product Lead, Square

1. In the light of your experience as a senior leader in payments arena what are the technological trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening in the space?

I think it’s important to remember that technological advancements on their own shouldn’t be the focal point when determining trends. Rather, they provide us (Square) with an improved set of tools to help our sellers accomplish the fundamental tasks of being a small business owner. Our technology decisions are rooted in the human aspects of running a business like providing for your family and pursuing your passion. As we evaluate the current wave of technological advancements we see an opportunity to better leverage data in creating dynamic, context aware experience that meets our sellers where they are to provide the insight they need at the right time. Far too many product experiences within financial technology are monolithic and static, failing to recognize the uniqueness of each customer.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are interesting developments that can provide the ability to better understand the real needs of our sellers and respond appropriately with the right decisions, insights and experiences they expect. This in itself supports a larger landscape shift of economic inclusion and de-centralization of power (i.e. blockchain). Situationally unaware product experiences have excluded key contributors of the economy. Through leveraging data and machine learning we seek to assemble a picture of the seller's situation. By doing so, we are able to provide product experiences that are incredibly relevant, frictionless, and on point with what the seller is seeking to accomplish at that moment. The real challenge here is how can we bring more individuals into the economic fold, how technology can solve income equality, and provide any individual the opportunity to participate.

  Innovation doesn't belong to the smart creatives, but to those that deeply care to serve the customer 

2. How has the advent of Blockchain and crypto currencies impacted the payment space? In your opinion, how would it reshape the landscape?

The first task is to separate out the noise from the signal, and be disciplined in ensuring we do not prematurely discount an incredible game changing technology as a result of tremendous hype, noise, & speculation. The surge of Bitcoin and the barrage of Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) must not prevent companies from deeply understanding the fundamental technology it’s built upon. The reality is that Blockchain, Smart-Contracts, and decentralized applications (dApps) represent not simply a transformational agent for payments; but rather whole industries. While it’s still early days, I'd venture to state that these technologies hold the promise in the next phase of cloud computing (i.e. decentralized computing). I'd urge everyone to learn more, as a means to avoid being stuck in the equivalent of Token Ring technology of Payments. Said concisely, one must have the courage to acknowledge what you don't know, but the curiosity to seek understanding.

3. Could you talk about your approach to identify the right partnership/ solutions provider from the lot?

All decisions start from the needs of our customers, and what they seek to achieve. We deeply understand the progress our sellers are trying to achieve and align our organization, products, and partners all around the collective tasks our seller seek to accomplish. While we pride ourselves on building incredible first-party experiences, we also believe we cannot be everything to everyone. As a result, we have opened up our platform and seek partnerships that are logical extensions of things our sellers are trying to do, and are incredibly complimentary to the things that we do well, while putting the customer-experience first.

4. Could you elaborate on some interesting and impactful project/initiatives that you’re currently overseeing?

At a high-level, some of our most interesting and impactful initiatives ultimately stem not from not innovating in isolation, or brainstorming on a clean whiteboard. To the casual observer they may seem innovative, but ultimately they stem from understanding the jobs of our sellers, and then helping them do a better job, or an adjacent job. Innovation doesn't belong to the smart creatives, but to those that deeply care to serve the customer.

5. How would you see the evolution a few years from now with regard to disruptions and transformations within the arena?

It’s all about perspective. Disruption and transformation are exciting words from the point of view of the company, corporation, or fintech provider. In reality, it’s the customers who see a better experience or product that fundamentally fuels these two words. My take is to not focus on disruption, or potential transformation; but rather what obstacles does your customer continue to live with. How can we be of service to them, and how we can leverage new technology to eliminate the unneeded friction or down-right exclusion they are experiencing? I'd venture to not predict the future a few years out, but rather focus immediately on the jobs of our sellers are performing. By doing so, we quickly build the empathy and understanding on how to transform their lives, not yours. This said, I must share that I hope many years from now we find ourselves in a world where small business is on equal footing with big business. With more individuals able to pursue their dreams, seek their own empowerment, and participate in the economy.

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