Darren Hutchinson, Head of Sales for World First USA, Inc. reflects on the recent PYMNTS.com conference, Innovation Project 2016.

I was excited to attend the recent Innovation Project 2016 at Harvard University, where more than a hundred great minds and leaders came together to discuss the payments industry, its beginnings and transformations, and its future direction. We collectively recognized that the payments sector is at a crossroads and has to answer the question, “How do we take things to the edge?”

CEO of PYMNTS.com, Karen Webster, kicked off the event. “We are seeing a proliferation of connected devices, software, the cloud, ever faster and more ubiquitous broadband, new technologies and the great imaginations of innovators everywhere who see a future that most can’t yet comprehend but work tirelessly to make our reality,” she said, setting the tone of the conference.


From day one, the theme each keynote and panelist discussed was security, fraud, authentication and the very real threat of cyber breaches. Whether it was Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal, declaring that it made him sleep uneasily, or Ex-NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander hitting home with hard facts and stating, “We are way behind,” and “We have to up our game,” security was a key trend at the conference.

It was good to hear that this is at the top of so many CEOs’ agendas, as this is of paramount importance to World First USA, Inc. Looking from a regulatory perspective while making sure that customer data is protected, we understand the importance of security. It is the very foundation of consumer trust and sets the tone for excellent service and consumer experience.


As we moved to day 2 of the conference, the direction changed and focused on AML (Anti-Money Laundering), the regulatory landscape, and new payment rails. The first panel of the day included Hannah Nixon, UK’s Payment System Regulator, who spoke of how the UK moved to Faster Payments back in 2008 and the resulting successes.

The discussion on real-time payments in the American market, in contrast, was very eye-opening. One panelist estimated that it would cost between $6 billion and $8 billion to implement and would require the 10,000 banks in the US to be on board to succeed. At World First USA, Inc. we operate in the American jurisdiction but take advantage of the faster payment system in the UK for about 10% of our global transactions, making the client experience more efficient and empowering customers with the benefits of fast transfers.

Innovation and FinTech

Something that hit home for me was the current regulatory and AML landscape in which all financial institutions must function. At Harvard, we were asked, “Is regulation too strong, is it being misinterpreted, and is it hindering innovation?” The dominant response was that “overregulation undermines security.” My thoughts during this discussion were similar to those of many other panelists.

I feel there needs to be a level playing field to enable innovators and start-ups an opportunity to grow, innovate and enhance the industry.  Rather than fight disruption in the financial services space, there needs to be a collaborative effort and increased levels of communication and understanding between all parties. Technology should be embraced and encouraged. Just take the KYC (Know Your Customer) consent and identification process. Developments in digital identification would not only improve account profitability, security, and client experience, they would ultimately enhance regulations on monitorization. The outcome would reduce a lot of the friction from a consumer onboarding and transaction perspective.

The bottom line: the customer

Thinking about what’s hot and what’s not in the dynamic world of payments, I still can’t draw myself away from one underlying thought. We have all these amazing technologies and services in payments, such as mobile device payments and new payment rails like blockchain. But technology by itself is not the sole driver of innovation. It is still what the consumer wants that leads to change.

As the payments industry looks forward to faster and more secure payment services, it’s clear we all need to push the edge and challenge the status quo.