Visa Goes Outside the Organization for Its New Head of Mobile

The fact that Visa Inc. went outside the organization, and outside the bank-payments industry entirely, for its new head of mobile says much about the scant progress Visa has made in its mobile initiative the past couple of years, according to observers.

The card network today named mobile-industry veteran Bill Gajda to the post, recruiting him from the GSM Association, the largest trade group worldwide representing mobile operators.

As chief commercial officer, Gajda, among other things, oversaw the association’s Mobile Money Transfer program, which helps telcos enable subscribers to send money from their mobile phones to family and friends domestically and abroad.

Mobile-money transfer is a key initiative for Visa but one for which it has shown disappointing results, say observers.

Gajda, it is assumed, could plug Visa into important mobile operators who want to partner on mobile-money transfer projects. Visa, for example, could process the remittances and also provide card accounts for senders and recipients of the money, though most recipients live in poor countries with little card or banking infrastructure. A year ago, the GSM Association endorsed Visa as a supplier of mobile-money transfer infrastructure.

Gajda will also oversee Visa Inc.’s mobile-payment products, including those involving NFC phones and other contactless-mobile devices. A U.S. banker recently told me Visa just wasn’t making much happen in this area, either. But Visa is not alone in muffing the mobile-payment opportunity.

Visa did announce last week it would introduce a contactless microSD card with its payWave application onboard to meet growing demand from banks for media on which to launch mobile payment while they wait for NFC phones. The microSD cards would give customers a more complete mobile-payment experience than passive contactless stickers, while still allowing the banks to avoid working directly with mobile operators, if they so choose.

It might also pay for Visa to have someone onboard with a mobile mindset like Gajda in case the payment-card network has to go head-to-head against U.S. mobile operators. NFC Times has reported the big U.S. telcos might launch their own mobile-payment services. Besides his seven years with the GSM Association, Gajda worked a couple of stints with Canadian mobile operators, as well as with a telecoms equipment supplier.

Visa apparently wanted someone with a mobile-industry background and outside of the Visa corporate culture. The card network was looking outside the organization for at least a couple of months, NFC Times has learned. And it passed over such able hands as Dave Wentker, a 14-year Visa veteran who had served in various positions in mobile and contactless payments for the company. He will work under Gajda as head of mobile contactless.

Gajda himself will report to Elizabeth Buse, global head of product, and not to Tim Attinger, who has served as global head of product innovation and development for more than two years. It is unclear Attinger’s role now, though a spokeswoman told NFC Times last week there was no shakeup taking place in the innovation unit. Pam Zuercher had headed Visa Inc.’s mobile initiative until last year. She has moved to a sales post, sources said.  

Visa is not the only card network making changes in its mobile and emerging payments units. Rival MasterCard Worldwide has shifted personnel, as well. For example, Simon Pugh, head of mobile, left around the end of last year. And NFC Times has learned a top PayPass executive is on the way out. The leader of the division, Joshua Peirez, group executive, innovative platforms, has been in the role for only about a year.

It remains to be seen whether Gajda will be able to move from the mobile to the banking industry without too much trouble. But with its unexpected move to recruit from outside the bank-payments world, Visa apparently believes any problems Gajda has adjusting will be worth it if he can help the card network finally capitalize on the promise of mobile payments.

Dan Balaban is editor of NFC Times.

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