Singapore: Visa is hoping to tap into the emerging technologies and innovations being developed in Asia-Pacific to enhance the payment provider's ability to solve some of the industry's most pressing challenges.
Joe Cunningham, global head of technology strategy and innovation at Visa, said the company is seeing many opportunities in Asia, what with "leading edge" innovation being developed by tech companies in the region that have helped solve industry problems. This is especially so in emerging markets such as China and India, he noted.
This is why Visa decided to set up VisaLabs--its research and innovation center--in Singapore, and it is the first in Asia and outside of the United States for the company, Cunningham explained. VisaLabs is in charge of spotting business opportunities, identifying emerging tech and forging partnerships with other companies. The center was launched earlier in January this year, but it had already commenced operations in 2012, he said at a press briefing held here Tuesday.
"Good ideas come from anywhere around the globe and the next Apple or Google could come from Asia, so it is important to have our eyes open," he said.
One instance of partnership is with Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*Star). Cunningham said Visa has been working with the local agency for the past 18 months in the field of data analytics, specifically to understand transactional patterns and identify merchant fraud more easily.
He added that the company is still trying to understand Singapore's payment ecosystem, and to aid this, it is in discussions with startups and venture capitalists to form "mutually beneficial" partnerships.
Incubators and academic institutions in Singapore and other Asian markets are also on VisaLabs' list of possible partners for the year ahead, he said.
The payment ecosystem is made up of many players and they need to work together to innovate in order to move ahead as an ecosystem, Cunningham said, stressing the importance of such partnerships.
NFC another key thrust
Another area of focus for Visa within Asia is the development of near-field communication (NFC), noted Niki Manby, Visa's head of emerging products, who was also present at the briefing Tuesday.
She explained that there is a convergence in the payment ecosystem currently, with the move from card-based form factors to devices, and many consumers expecting convenience by conducting financial transactions from a single device.
The opportunity in Asia is "especially large" because of the large penetration of smartphones, and more users adopting NFC-enabled phones, Manby said.
NFC is also in line with Visa's vision of adding value to transactions made by consumers, she added. Mobile apps, for instance, can issue loyalty points when users make transactions on their handsets, she explained.
Visa had collaborated with telco Vodafone, for example, to offer contactless payments using NFC smartphones last November. Consumers will be able to pay for purchases using Visa's PayWave system from early 2013, the company announced.
However, Manby acknowledged that more effort needs to be put in to promote NFC in Asia's emerging markets, where not many consumers own NFC-enabled smartphones. Industry stakeholders need to educate and forge partnerships with other ecosystem vendors in these markets, she said.