3 min

Why your business needs a Chief Payments Officer

There’s an empty seat in the boardroom

Link to the author's page
Adel Naamneh
July 11, 2024
Link to the author's page
Why your business needs a Chief Payments Officer

Ten years ago, most businesses didn't have designated payments roles. As one payments professional at a leading retail brand told me, “Payments wasn’t ‘a thing’ when I started my career, but one day, the need for an expert arose, and that was my calling. I learned on the job and never looked back”. Two days ago I gave a guest lecture on payments and its career path to a group of ambitious and highly engaged students from the prestigious Paris Dauphine University. How times have changed.

Of course, payments have always existed - the exchange of value is as old as time. What we really mean is that digital payments were not yet dominant. But as digital payments proliferated and e-commerce went mainstream, businesses needed experts who could deal with its complexities, fix problems fast and crucially, and harness the growth opportunities that come with the intelligent deployment of digital payments strategies. 

Businesses have payments ambition…but not enough

When we think of some of the world’s leading brands today, frequently those born as apps in our pockets, payments tech is at the heart of their model and ubiquitous reach.  And yet, all too often, the notion that payments are little more than a hasslesome cost center persists in other businesses. While it's positive news that a recent survey of senior executives reveals that 61% believe payments leadership roles are of growing relevance in their business, I don’t think it’s anywhere near ambitious enough. Instead, I’d argue that within another ten years, we should expect to see a Chief Payments Officer taking a seat in most C-suites. 

Custodians of your customer relationship 

Let me distill the crux of the matter: Payments are the moment and the touchpoint that binds the customer with your tech stack, your product suite, your finance flows, your compliance, and your operations. The many marketing dollars you pour into customer acquisition are make or break at the digital checkout. 

That renders it an incredibly important moment. And it renders your payments leader an incredibly informed, wide-ranging expert and dot-joiner. She works with the COO, she works with the CTO, she works with the CFO… with the CCO, CMO…and the CPO. She understands what all of you do through the eyes of what your customer wants and needs at that pivotal touchpoint. She should be informing you of your strategy alongside you. Her remit is twofold: she sits on the frontline and drives customer conversion and loyalty. She also interrogates the bottom line, constantly chasing basis points to drive revenue capture and cut costs. She flies at altitude and always looks at the bigger picture. But she also obsesses about the details because, in payments, the minor details make the most significant difference. Indeed, she should be sitting with you in the boardroom today; you just haven’t realised it yet.

Drivers of your growth strategy

Planning an expansion into a new geography? I’ve heard stories of companies depriving themselves of billions in revenue simply because nobody in the steering seat knew about payments and what it takes to unlock revenue when selling into new markets and across borders. 

Integrating new tech solutions or building a new product suite? Does your executive team know how these iterations will impact your money rails and all the touchpoints for value entering and leaving the business digitally? Are you maximizing the opportunities to embed payments exactly where and how your customer wants them today and tomorrow? Are you ensuring seamless integration of transaction data to inform your commercial strategy and financial management? Or are you about to seal off your data into an unintended black box? Are you looking at the ever-evolving stream of financial and digital markets regulations and wondering how to comply while still delighting your customers and driving up revenue? 

Unlocker of new sales channels, business models and revenue streams

The truth is that whether you’re a B2C or a B2B company, as the nature of your business becomes ever more digitized and global, payments inevitably sit at the heart of more and more of what you do and how you do it. Consider the vast number of brands that have built a subscription model into their offering in recent years, developed an app, activated social sales channels,  or built a marketplace platform to foster and ‘own’ a community of buyers and sellers. All are possible only thanks to payments technology. The full potential for payments to fundamentally improve and modernize business models is only beginning to be explored. 

Having a digital payments strategy led from the top will also allow you to build out further financial products such as loyalty schemes, customer credit, and even card issuing - all of which can unlock new revenue streams whatever your traditional Line of Business. But that demands having somebody who knows enough about the complex and fast-paced field of payments to imagine new possibilities that make sense for your business. 

Connector of your end-to-end financial flows

Digital payments infrastructure also means gone are the days when money in and money out were entirely operationally distinct  - handled by siloed departments at either end of your business. Today’s payments leader can unlock value and efficiency by overseeing every touchpoint as money enters and leaves your business. 

Connecting the end-to-end movement of money on the digital rails that power local and international payments means your payments chief can improve your cash visibility, liquidity, and control, they can help you secure optimal FX rates for pay-ins and payouts, they can bring new, fast and competitive solutions for delivering disbursements to your customers and suppliers - such as real-time pay to card offerings. 

A steady hand on the tiller

But here’s the flip side of all this vast opportunity: Digital payments and fintech is a wildly fast-paced space. Innovation is everywhere. Sometimes there’s hype. Some things will win and stick. Others will drop away. Some hot new innovations will make sense for your business. Others really won’t.  It takes remarkable knowledge, leadership and insight to steer the ship and ensure that your company adopts the correct payments strategy and sees through a long-term plan. In this space, the winds of change make it too easy to be sent off course. 

This leadership will also take the form of holding ecosystem players to account. When Chief Payments Officers reach a critical mass, they will form a collective voice, which will put ever more tremendous pressure on schemes and regulators to deliver a fairer and better landscape for merchants when it comes to fees, rules and so on. How do I know? Because it is already happening to an extent among payments professionals. They’re forming communities to ensure fee transparency and to align on lobbying positions; they understand that their power is multiplied when they join forces and that, in doing so, all of their businesses stand to benefit. 

Identifying your CPAYO talent

So what does it take? Who is she? This is a person who understands your customers, understands finance and compliance, understands technology at its most sophisticated, and understands products. Tomorrow's Chief Payments Officers are already in the making today. They are problem solvers and inquisitive minds who are unpicking payments complexity like detectives. Their intellectual curiosity and determination take them on a daily journey around the business and well beyond as they follow every lead to its source so that they really understand how each piece of the payments puzzle fits together. 

They are planning for the post-cash world, where traditional POS terminals are replaced with new digital devices. And they’re planning for a world where ever tighter margins will be mitigated by payments tech, improving revenue and slashing costs. 

A career in payments has already transitioned from an ‘accidental profession’ to a highly competitive and intentional one. Its sheer range and complexity draw top-tier talent. There is a gap, therefore, in terms of professional bodies and qualifications to support what is clearly a career path that is more than worthy of its own dedicated communities and education. I anticipate a lot of activity in this domain within the next few years.

Payments are a serious matter for serious minds, and businesses need a strong and flowing talent pool armed to the hilt with a range of knowledge and skills. Yes, it’s excellent that payments people are busy educating themselves on the job. Still, when you have your Chief Payments Officer at the table, she and her team will need all the time she has to drive your company’s growth and resilience. That’s why at Checkout.com we are not only partnering with universities but also with leading industry bodies such as the Merchant Risk Council. Our latest partnership with the MRC unlocks access to The Payments Essentials course to members from around the globe.

Acceptance rate playbook
Downland guideDownland guide
Stay up-to-date

Get Checkout.com news in your inbox.

Back to top button
July 11, 2024 18:03
July 11, 2024 18:03