Manish Kumar has his finger on the pulse of financial technology — or fintech — innovation.
An MBA in the UK gave him the tools to launch a new wearable payment product into the British banking market.
Three years after graduating from Lancaster University Management School, he led digital program delivery for bPay, the contactless payments offering of Barclays, the UK’s second biggest bank, which lets consumers pay for goods by waving a wristband, contactless card, or keyring over a terminal.
BPay, a rival to Apple Pay, is used in 300,000 locations including stores owned by McDonalds, Starbucks and Pret, as well as London’s transport network TFL.
The product is part of a wave of innovation around mobile, contactless and wearable payments, as consumers warm to digital banking services. According to the UK Cards Association, contactless payments rose 331% year-on-year in 2014, with transactions hitting £2.3 billion.
Manish, a former principal banking consultant at consultancy firm Capco, scooped up four awards for the project, including innovation of the year for the Payments Awards 2014.
The MBA program was instrumental in developing his ability to tackle business scenarios and manage teams.
Previously, he worked as a strategy consultant at Legal & General, the UK insurer. Before that, he was a business analyst at VISA Europe.
How has your MBA been of value working at Barclaycard?
My MBA at Lancaster University was quite instrumental in ramping up my ability to tackle vague business scenarios and to manage people.
It gave me the right tools to deal with some of the key strategic issues on the wearable payments program at Barclaycard. Modules such as the Consultancy Challenge, working with real corporate clients, provided that hands-on experience with senior stakeholder management.
Most modules involved team-oriented tasks with peers, which allowed me to play around with my people management skills. The strategy courses provided a systematic approach to discussing and developing a vision and goals.
Overall, a holistic understanding of business from my MBA helped me to launch a new wearable product in the market, and manage it.
Will mobile banking at some point become the dominant way we access our accounts?
Mobile is already one of the largest banking channels for the majority of banks by volume of transactions, and expected to have 1.8 billion users by 2019.
While the mobile banking adoption rates in developed countries like the US and UK are around 35%-40%, the developing nations in Asia and Africa have already exceeded 60%-70% of their user base.
The integration of mobile phones in our daily lives will definitely push it as the dominant channel to access banking accounts. Mobile capability is already a key factor in the selection of a new bank by switchers, thus pushing almost all the consumer banks to enable digital and mobile banking.
The commercialization of mobile in-app payments and digital checkout payment options has made payments seamless for everyone.
What impact have wearables had on the adoption of mobile payments?
The wearables market is yet to be mature, since the industry is still fragmented. The key opportunity for most payment players is in big data, and the capability to capture, analyze and inform through connected wearable devices.
With Apple Pay, Apple has clearly set the path of wearable and mobile payments.
In future, people are likely to carry multiple mobile wallets and wearables, similar to how they have multiple credit and loyalty cards.
What impact are start-ups and in particular tech groups having on incumbent payments providers?
The fintech start-ups in payments have been quite disruptive in recent years, especially since the recent financial crisis, which led to the 'customer trust' issue with the big banks — creating an opportunity for innovation.
With their legacy ICT infrastructure, most banks have been slow to respond to the digital needs of the modern customer, who wants to fulfil their banking needs on the go. Banks also operate under heavy regulation and are threatened by fines and reputational damage.
Most start-ups target specific niches within the financial value chain and resolve a friction, leading to better banking solutions and customer experience. Examples include Transferwise and Dwolla in money transfers; Poynt and Wallaby in payments.
More recently, almost all consumer payment companies and banks have embarked on digitizing their business models to keep up with the disruptive innovators of the digital era.
Some traditional payment players have chosen to integrate or buyout such fintech start-ups — and some even have invested in their own incubators to nurture future ideas.
What were your three key takeaways from the Strategy, Business Consultancy, International Business and Mergers & Acquisitions specializations?
Strategic frameworks are not just diagrams for jazzy PowerPoints, but help in systematic thinking, especially when playing with large amounts of data.
People management via empathy and mutual respect are generally successful. However, one has to abide by some stringent principles to avoid pitfalls.
There is not always a known right answer, but it is the right line of investigation, attitude and structured approach that puts you in the right direction.