Payments Views

Allen Weinberg

Reflections: Back to the Future

Today, Glenbrook celebrates its 15th birthday. It’s been quite a journey – an amazing one in so many ways – yet it also sometimes feels like we’re still on Day One! There’s so much happening in payments – and, more broadly, in commerce, financial inclusion, and crypto currencies!

I was very fortunate to make a career change thirty years ago which took me out of the world of big iron mainframe computers and into the world of consumer payments. I left IBM to join Visa in 1985 – and the last 30+ years have been a splendid experience. As I look back, I wouldn’t want to change a thing!

For my first fifteen years in payments I enjoyed some great work experiences at both Visa and, later, at First Data Corp.

At Visa, we were changing the world of consumer payments – moving from paper-based card acceptance to electronic POS acceptance – striving to be faster and better than cash. Success with credit card electronic acceptance was soon followed by success with debit – or, as we called them back then, check cards. Within a few years, debit cards became our favorite way to pay.

At First Data, we were present at the start of commerce – working to enable the use of cards at online merchants. We also saw an opportunity to work with major US acquirers as joint venture partners, creating a number of merchant bank alliances that enabled the FDC platforms to deliver scale economies and, along the way, to create the electronic replacement for the gift certificate, with the first widely available gift cards.

Then, fifteen years ago, three of us somewhat coincidentally decided to leave the life of corporate executives to become entrepreneurs – and we started Glenbrook.

Allen, Carol and I had all had successful careers working for major players in payments. But together we opted to shed the burdens of being corporate executives – with all of those big company responsibilities – to focus instead on the most rewarding opportunities we could find to be involved and collaborate in the evolution of electronic payments. We wanted to share what we’d learned while continuing to explore and learn even more from our work with a series of clients who challenged and stimulated us.

Our “why” at Glenbrook has been a belief in the ability of electronic payments to help accelerate economic – and social – progress. We sought out opportunities to get involved in client projects where we could help accelerate that progress. We now look back with fondness at many very satisfying client engagements which provided us with both great work and new learnings. We’ve been humbled by the opportunities that have come our way.

Along our journey, we wanted to share our excitement about electronic payments with others. We were very early bloggers – starting our PaymentsNews and PaymentsViews blogs over ten years ago. We sought to provide a curated “read over our shoulder” look at what we found interesting in payments each business day – and, periodically, our rants and opinions about industry trends. We continue doing both today and are often surprised at the serendipity that results.

Ten years ago we began exploring how we might share our knowledge more broadly, not just through client-specific engagements but by establishing a payments-centric education curriculum. This effort proved very successful – with over 10,000 payments professionals having participated – but also, importantly, it has helped keep us sharp and excited as we needed to stay on the cusp of the payments evolution, initially in the US but increasingly in countries around the world.

After having a few years of teaching experience, we thought it might be useful to further share some of our knowledge and experience in book form so we wrote and self-published our book “Payments Systems in the U.S.” Once again, we were delighted with the response, as our book has been read far and wide and continues to be a source of delight as we meet new payments professionals who have been able to benefit from it.

So, on Glenbrook’s fifteenth birthday, it’s with that combination of pride and humility that I reflect back on those years and what we’ve experienced together. But I’m even more convinced that we’re still on Day One – as the years ahead look even more exciting that those wonderful years gone by. Glenbrook is perfectly positioned to continue to play a vital role in this on-going evolution of electronic payments. That’s what we love – and why we get excited about what we get up to do every morning.

As I close, let me share my quick take on that future. In another post a few months ago I mentioned how we’re now hurtling toward a new world of payments and commerce – being closer to 2030 now than to 2000 – which feels like just a few years ago, at least to an old guy like me! In 2030, Glenbrook will be almost 25 years old, our silver anniversary How fitting that it’s a monetary metal!

As we move toward that future, the trends which seem significant to me are the increasing importance of faster payments, the emergence of global currencies, and the opportunity for new forms of value exchange between and among smart devices over the Internet of Things.

Mobile payments feels like a solved problem – after years of “science fair” experiments – but we may see some new surprises there as well. Expanded use of biometric authentication, artificial intelligence and voice applications are also like to be important steps into that future. And the protection of our personal information will be fundamental to a future where we can be confident about our rights and liberties.

March 1, 2030 will be the 10,592th day since we founded Glenbrook back in 2001. So far, the journey has indeed been the reward. As we look to forward to that milestone, I’m confident that reward will continue to be why we do what we do every day at Glenbrook.

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