Visa’s next CEO sees a world of growth

Ryan McInerney, who will become CEO of the card network juggernaut next year, recently detailed the areas where he sees opportunities for the company

Visa President Ryan McInerney will not be short on growth goals when he takes over as CEO of the global card network giant Visa next year.

When McInerney spoke at a recent bank conference he uttered the word “opportunity” more than 32 times in about as many minutes. When McInerney takes over next February, as Al Kelly moves to an executive chairman role, he’s sure to target some of the areas he’s been citing as prime areas for expansion.

From diving deeper into other countries’ domestic payment systems to business-to-business (B2B) plays and crypto investments, McInerney, 47, has an ambitious agenda that stems from years of globe-trotting in his current job.

“There's an enormous opportunity, enormous runway in our consumer payments franchise globally,” McInerney said of the company’s mainstay card business during the presentation at Citi bank’s 2022 financial technology conference on Nov. 15.

He explained that the San Francisco-based company now has about 4 billion credit and debit cards floating around the world. “Historically, that number had grown kind of in the 5% annual growth rate. More recently, in several quarters, it's been growing at 10%,” he said.

That growth extends to the sellers on Visa’s system, too. The company has quadrupled the number of sellers to 100 million, from about 25 million 10 years ago, he said. Part of that growth has come in working with burgeoning fintech players such as Stripe and Square, he noted. While those companies can be seen as rivals, too, many of them use Visa payment rails.

“We've leaned into these types of partners all around the world,” McInerney noted in his remarks at the conference. “We've made good progress with many of them, both issuing Visa credentials and turning some of these closed networks into acceptance points.”

On the B2B front, where the company already has $1.5 trillion in payment flows, McInerney cited three areas where the company has focused its expansion efforts. First, he noted corporate and small business card use, with virtual as an attractive extension of that business. Second, he cited Visa’s cross-border B2B Connect service aimed at stepping beyond the existing Swift system to make those payments faster and cheaper. Finally, he noted the disbursements business where Visa smooths the way for payments in the gig economy.

Aside from international opportunities, McInerney expects Visa to dig deeper into the domestic payment systems of more countries outside the U.S. This week, the company is showcasing some of its payment technology in Qatar as the official payments sponsor of soccer’s biggest event, the World Cup. 

“Domestically, in many markets around the world, the commercial card product, the small business product, both credit and debit, is still very under-penetrated,” McInerney said. 

That’s very evident in Africa, he explained, describing the many countries on that continent where Visa is targeting business expansion. He noted the company has been operating offices in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya for years, but explained how it’s building a new presence in other countries now, too, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Sudan.

“There's about 800 million people in Africa, about 500 million of them are yet to be banked,” McInerney explained. “I'd like to think of them as yet to be banked, as opposed to unbanked.”

Visa is also eyeing more nascent payments spheres for building its business, too, the soon-to-be CEO noted. That includes the earned wage access arena where employees can use cards to get their compensation before the usual payday cycle ends and in remittances, where it’s partnering with other companies, including Western Union and Remitly, to provide services. 

Finally, despite its recent move to break off ties with the crypto exchange FTX, which collapsed into bankruptcy this month, Visa is still targeting crypto, too, the Visa president said. “We'll continue to invest responsibly in the space with an eye to the very long term,” McInerney said.

And if Visa can’t build its own business in a given area, the company has shown it’s ready to invest in others, or buy them outright, as it did when it acquired the Swedish open banking company Tink this year. That will be especially true in the current economic environment, McInerney said. With interest rates and inflation moving higher, valuations have come down.

“We think right now, and especially over the next six, 12, 18 months, there should be a lot of opportunities,” McInerney said. “We are spending a lot of time understanding a lot of the different companies around the planet that play in all the areas of our value-added services business and beyond.”

By Lynne Marek on Nov 21, 2022
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