Brian Green knows that staying ahead is just keeping up

In tech, every success is hard-fought but short-lived. Here, the president of e-commerce company First Data shares five keys to staying ambitious in a competitive arena.

Grab ahold of opportunity—and learn everything

I have a management consulting background, but I wanted to try my hand in an industry that looked like it was going to grow. I had done a lot of restructuring projects for the banks to address borrowers who were in violation of their borrowing covenants. The bank had a right to investigate and we would go into a borrower company and do a “look-see.” We’d go through the books, interview management, conduct industry research, and a present a “get-well” plan. The key theme became “business sustainability.” What led the company to such a vulnerable state? It was great exposure to a wide range of business models and an immersion course in business sustainability.

Challenge your abilities

I joined the Bank of Montréal in their merchant-services unit with a mandate in marketing and planning. Merchant services, which provides payment-card-acceptance solutions for businesses, was still at a very early stage of development, and there were some structural inefficiencies within the industry. We realized that scale would be a key competitive attribute as large US players were entering the Canadian market. We recommended a joint venture with Royal Bank of Canada and I had the privilege of leading the deal team for BMO in the creation of Moneris. The initial stage of the joint venture was a challenging enterprise development undertaking and it truly was the most rewarding. We had to take two competing bank units and create one tech-savvy business with its own unique culture. There’s a lot of good in legacy, but we had to create something unique. Moneris became the first in Canada to create a “one-stop shop” for end-to-end card payment solutions, and a mandate to innovate.

“Customer-in-control is the next frontier for card-program differentiation.”

Find a role that makes you “totally amped” to go to work

When First Data offered me the Canadian leadership opportunity I jumped at the chance. I saw an opportunity to transform a business and an industry. Nobody has greater scale than First Data, nor a more exciting product roadmap, and it gave me a broader mandate in electronic payments that includes both credit card issuing solutions for financial institutions and merchant services.  Today, the leadership challenge in electronic payments industry is “totally amped,” as my millennial employees would say. The barriers to entry have been diminished by the reliability and bandwidth of mobile networks and the power of software-as-a-service delivered to smart devices. The reliance on the stand-alone card-reading machine is dying as tablets and phones can fulfill the same function. Ultimately, all of the innovators need to connect to a payment processor like First Data to complete a transaction and move the money.

Focus on innovation, but only when it makes sense

Weekly, I get a few calls from people in various stages of developing the next great way for consumers to have an exciting and convenient buying experience. First Data needs to have very close proximity to our clients to ensure that we only focus on the innovations that really add value to their business. Financial institutions that issue credit cards will always have to keep an eye on the basics like risk management and rewards but increasingly customer-in-control is the next frontier for card-program differentiation. Essentially, consumers want their mobile phone to interact with them about all aspects of their spending activity. Payments are going to be an increasingly integrated experience in our daily lives, and it will look less like today’s manual exercise that starts with pulling a piece of plastic out of your wallet.

Train your team to excite your customers

When we speak to businesses about payment acceptance my leadership challenge is to ensure that my team is trained and equipped to communicate in a way that is relevant to the client’s business. I believe we can truly help merchants to merchandize payments and unlock the spending power of their consumers. It’s putting together a team of talented, engaged people. We’re resourceful and creative. As such, our solution set has greatly expanded over the years, and our selling approach has become more listening-based and consultative. We have to implement increasingly complex solutions with excellence. Your local retailer does not get excited about “secure electronic messaging;” rather, they get excited about extending what they are great at—merchandising— to other aspects of their business such as payments.