In Depth

Payments And Commerce: A Year In Quotes

This week marked the 181th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Langhorne Clemens — or, as he he is better known to his many generations of fans, Mark Twain.

Mark Twain is a particular favorite at payments, as he is easily the most quotable writer in American history.

From the importance of truth in journalism …

 “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

And reading …

 “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

And government …

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

… And even the importance of being a snappy dresser

 “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

There is a Mark Twain quote for just about any occasion, and so we, like most journalists, love to quote him.

And Mr. Twain has largely remained unrivaled in the field of quotability. (If we are being honest, we deal with all sorts of quotable characters, as payments and commerce is a space surprisingly given to dramatic pronouncements and fantastic sound bites.)

Don’t believe us? That’s okay — we made a list of some of the best things we heard all year, who we heard them from and why they said them.

“If we don’t continue to evolve our network into something that adds value to the experience that an innovator or any third party wants to deliver to an issuer, a merchant or a consumer, then of course they’ll find something else that will.”

— Charlie Scharf, CEO of Visa

That quote came up during Scharf’s Innovation Project fireside chat with Karen Webster on the future of digital payments innovation, Visa’s role in it and why competition really, really is a very good thing — as long as one knows who their actual competitors are. We wonder if perhaps that quote was part of the letter left in Scharf’s desk drawer and found by his successor, Al Kelly, on Thursday when he took the helm at Visa.

“In today’s heated public dialogue, people want to frame issues as a winner-takes-all fight between opposing interests — big versus small, Main Street versus Wall Street — but the U.S. financial services industry does not conform to simple narratives. It is a complex ecosystem that depends on diverse business models coexisting because there is no other way to effectively serve America’s vast array of customers and clients. I do not want any American to look back in 20 years and try to figure out how and why America’s banks lost the leadership position in financial services. If not us, it will be someone else and, likely, a Chinese bank.”

— Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase

Dimon’s annual letter to stockholders usually has something eye-catching to offer, and 2016 was no exception. This year Dimon was warning against a desire to use regulations as a punitive measure against banks that are increasingly unfairly demonized.

“While the financial impact of this $22 million in loan sales was minor, a violation of the company’s business practices along with a lack of full disclosure during the review was unacceptable to the board. Accordingly, the board took swift and decisive action, and authorized additional remedial steps to rectify these issues.”

— Hans Morris, executive chairman of LendingClub

Lending Club found itself the center of attention for all the wrong reasons in May of this year when it was discovered the firm had fraudulently altered some $22 million in loans to a client to make it appear as though the loans were up to the client’s specifications. The same audit that turned that data up also demonstrated that CEO Renaud LaPlanche had failed to disclose an investment stake in a firm in which Lending Club had invested. LaPlanche resigned — more or less at his board’s insistence — and Lending Club has been trying to build itself back ever since. In a recent twist, LaPlanche has set up shop with a new lending startup literally right down the road.

Speaking of former CEOs who come back to haunt the firms they founded:

“Downtown L.A., I made it cool. The problem is, I can’t go back there. I can’t afford it. The next place I intend to make cool is south of the 10 freeway, right on the banks of downtown. I have a vision. My business model works.”

— Dov Charney, former CEO of American Apparel

After being ousted from the fashion firm he founded in connection to a variety of sexual harassment claims, Dov Charney tried to buy back his old firm when it went into bankruptcy earlier this year. That didn’t pan out — so Charney decided that if he couldn’t have his old business back, he’d start a new one. Now Charney is back in the T-shirt business, working out of South Central Los Angeles and preparing to jump from selling to retailers to selling to consumers as well.

“We have to give fraudsters credit for creativity and skill, not so much on morals.

— Michael Reitblat, CEO of Forter 

Though it likely seems like an eternity ago now, it was actually only a few weeks ago that the world was concerned as some very popular sites like Netflix were down for the count. The culprit? A bunch of internet-connected devices gone bad and loaded up with bot armies that started attacking those beloved consumer sites. This was one of many data breaches this year that was eye-catching, as hackers managed to implant malware, spearfish their way into systems and make off with all kinds of consumer data. The secret? There is none — just acceptance that fraudsters will show up, sales will always equal more than thefts and the goal is to preserve commerce, not simply lock down systems.

“The very face of money is changing. I think we are going to see more change in the financial services industry in the next three to five years than we have seen in the last 30. It’s going to be that drastic. Mobile is changing the face of commerce. I would argue that mobile is taking away the distinctions of what were previously separate categories …. It’s blurring the distinction between online and offline.”

— Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal

PayPal has had a good year— it managed to beat analysts’ expectations every quarter, OneTouch is expanding rapidly and it finally managed to bury the hatchet with the card networks this year and in so doing cleared itself a path to in-store use and acceptance. Not bad for a year’s work, and according to Dan Schulman, we’re still watching the pregame show.

“Have you returned one nickel of the money that you earned while this scandal was going on? Have you fired any senior management, the people who actually oversaw this fraud? Your definition of accountability is to push this on your low-level employees. This is gutless leadership.”

— Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Given that he was on capitol hill to answer for a fraud that saw the creation of millions of fake accounts by employees responding to a sales culture that some have accused as being almost designed to reward bad behavior, former Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf could have expected he was in for a bad day. Still, being called publicly gutless by Senator Warren even outstripped his imagination. After doing a few more rounds of public penance, Stumpf resigned as CEO.

A colorful year has made for colorful quotes — and 2016 has been nothing if not full of surprises and even more innovative ideas whose future is yet to be written.

But there is no reason to be alarmed, for as the late, great Mark Twain noted, truth usually is stranger than fiction.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

Cheers to more impossibilities that actually happened in 2017.

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Featured PYMNTS Study: 

With eyes on lowering costs to improving cash flow, 85 percent of U.S. firms plan to make real-time payments integral to their operations within three years. However, some firms still feel technical barriers stand in the way. In the January 2020 Making Real-Time Payments A Reality Study, PYMNTS surveyed more than 500 financial executives to examine what it will take to channel RTP interest into real-world adoption. Here’s what we learned.

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