As Payments Evolve, So Must Payments Executives

Marked by rapid shifts in technology, user behavior, international expansion – basically everything – the payments industry is never static, and neither is the life of a payments executive. Christopher Uriarte, CNP player Vesta’s chief payments officer, gave PYMNTS a glimpse into the daily challenges he faces amid a shifting industry landscape.

Vesta’s Christopher Uriarte Talks Payments Fraud

As chief payments officer with Vesta, a global leader in the field of card-not-present transactions, Christopher Uriarte has spent more than a decade in the ever-evolving payments industry. Here, he weighs in on leading payments trends, the EMV transition and the industry challenges that keep him up at night.


PYMNTS: What does a day in the life of a Chief Strategy & Payments Officer look like?

CU: Payments is at the core of everything we do, so my focus within our company is fairly broad. I spend a lot of time trying to understand the needs of the market and our customers, optimizing our in-house payments operation, speaking with our third-party banking partners. I’m also keeping up with industry changes and connecting with others in our industry. I guess, in a nutshell, my job is to make sure that we’re meeting our customers’ needs by safely and securely processing more than $12 billion worth of payments a year.


PYMNTS: What keeps you up at night? What concerns you most this industry?

CU: The potential for change in the payments world certainly keeps me on my toes. Commerce and society are evolving rapidly, and fraud is always a problem. Our business model effectively requires us to underwrite billions of dollars’ worth of payments every year, so our fraud detection capabilities need to be exceptional. Payment methods are changing, and consumers are shifting toward mobile commerce, digital downloads and a whole host of innovative services. We’re seeing payments technologies expand into markets that were immature just a few years ago. Being able to keep up with this constant evolution keeps us busy.


PYMNTS: What do you wish you had more time to do?

CU: If it was up to me, I’d spend every day meeting with customers, prospects and thought leaders in our space. You don’t learn much just by sitting in your office, and you get tremendous insight from understanding real-world problems, as well as insight from people who are smarter and more experienced than you. There’s also been an explosion of data that’s been made available to us in the last decade, as payments and fraud detection technologies become significantly more advanced. There’s a lot to be learned from this data and I could spend hours a day trying to get my head around it, if time permitted. Alas, there are only so many hours during the day.


PYMNTS: What is the biggest misperception about your role?

CU: Vesta runs a fairly serious, mature and complex payments business, and externally, people always just assume that I’m the “man behind the curtain” due to my title. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In order to make a payments business of this magnitude work, you need a lot of people who are true subject matter experts and incredibly bright. I’m fortunate to have a very talented team of payments professionals who actually run the operation on a daily basis. Our colleagues in other key peripheral functions, such as risk and finance, are great at what they do, as well.


PYMNTS: What’s the most innovative thing you’ve ever done?

CU: Well, I’ve worked in a lot of up-and-coming industries and have always been fortunate enough to work with people who are motivated to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. With Vesta, in the late 1990s, online credit card fraud started to run rampant, and we developed the first viable, scalable way for large e-retailers to stop it. It was only a matter of years before the largest retailers used our service, and we continued to grow that company over the next decade. It was the result of some great ideas, some good timing and some just good ol’ dumb luck.


PYMNTS: What trends and changes are you watching that are affecting the industry and your role?

CU: There are always a hundred new payments trends going on at any one time. The trick is to understand what is important and what is just noise. In the United States, this is a big year with the shift to chip-enabled EMV cards, so merchants who accept cards in-store are battling to get the infrastructure in place, while merchants who accept payments online are waiting to see how much of that in-store fraud is going to be re-directed their way.

We are also hitting a critical tipping point with mobile-enabled payments. Apple Pay initially set the table for a viable NFC-driven mobile payments framework, but Google and Samsung have just this month formally introduced their own technologies. The way in which consumers will potentially shift from a card-based payment instrument to a phone-based instrument is something I’m keeping a close eye on.


PYMNTS: What product has had the most impact on payments in the last five years and why?

CU: I’m not sure there is a single product or technology that has had an outstanding impact on payments, but as a whole, I think fraud-related technologies have evolved the most and done the most to help enable commerce across the industry. Fraud is such a rampant problem throughout the world, and without the fraud protection measures that take place at card issuers and online merchants, most merchants would simply be out of business. Fraud will always be a threat; it will always make headlines. But the industry these days really does a pretty good job of keeping fraud at an acceptable level while enabling consumer confidence.

Chris Uriarte

Chief Strategy & Payments Officer, Vesta Corporation

Christopher Uriarte is the Chief Strategy & Payments Officer at Vesta Corporation, a global leader of revenue-generating payment solutions for enterprise partners in the telecommunications, media, financial and digital sectors. At Vesta, he oversees the company’s payments strategy and operations, as well as its product management functions. Founded in 1995 and headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Vesta’s operations span the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Prior to joining Vesta, Chris served as Vice President and Head of International Operations & Implementations at American Express (NYSE: AXP) where he oversaw the company’s efforts to deploy new products and services into global markets, with a particular focus on emerging markets and payment types.

Chris is based in New York City.


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To get a glimpse into the minds of other C-suite players and get a sense of their roles, click here.

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