Innovation happens when you least expect it. As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Those we call “innovators” are simply the ones who endeavor to solve the problems in front of them by any means necessary. Only later do others look at them and call them “innovators.” Like artists, they are often misunderstood in their time, or at least underestimated.
That’s how things began for Douglas Miraglia, president of MoneyPass. You may have heard of it. If not, you probably will soon, since it just teamed up with 7-Eleven to bring surcharge-free ATM access to 8,000 of the convenience chain’s retail locations.
MoneyPass, a network of Elan Financial Services, provides ATM and debit card processing solutions for financial institutions, Independent Sales Organizations (ISOs) and retailers. But its innovation legacy is ATM access without the fees — a concept Miraglia came up with, never expecting it to grow as big as it did. But really, is it any surprise that not paying an extra fee to access their money while at work or traveling was an idea consumers could get behind?
PYMNTS caught up with Douglas Miraglia to find out how he got his inspiration, where he thinks the payments industry is headed and what advice he has to offer young innovators. The conversation is excerpted below.
PYMNTS: Where do you look for innovative ideas, and why?
DM: Ideas come from an array of sources. We listen to our customers, we watch consumer trends and we observe what FinTech companies are working on. I also listen very attentively to the sales and relationship management folks. They have the ear of the customer. To me, all ideas are great, but the winners are the ones that improve people’s lives through better service or increased convenience.
PYMNTS: What is the most innovative thing you’ve ever done?
DM: In 2003, I pushed the organization I was with to launch a surcharge-free network in Tennessee. This was an idea born out of just listening to customers who had a market need and solving what we thought was a local problem. We originally thought it would be a statewide program to link together about 200 financial institutions who had a common interest to share their ATMs.
Now, 14 years later, the MoneyPass Surcharge-Free Network has over 1,600 participants and is on the brink of becoming the largest surcharge-free network in the country, with more than 90 million cardholders who have access to [fee]-free ATMs in all 50 states.
PYMNTS: What do you wish you had more time to do?
DM: I have been working for nearly 47 years, and the one thing I miss is downtime to just think things through. Today, with PCs, cell phones, mobile applications, constant texting and social media bombardment, all we seem to do is react. All timeframes are tight, resources are maximized and development funds are in short supply.
I know help isn’t coming and things are going faster not slower, but some days I just want to turn off the phones and think about what I want to accomplish, what is the best future direction, where can I anticipate competitive threats, etc. If we spent more time thinking about solutions, we just might come up with even more great ideas.
PYMNTS: What keeps you up at night? What concerns you most in the payment solutions space?
DM: Two things keep me up at night. First, sometimes there are requests, desires or needs that come up during a contract negotiation with a client and I know I can’t say yes. Of course, there are always the unreasonable requests that make compromise impossible and that is just part of business. That doesn’t bother me as much as a request that I would like to fulfill but can’t because of technology limitations or compliance issues or things out of my control. That I may never find a solution to the client’s issue — that keeps me up at night.
My second concern is keeping up with all of the innovations in our industry. It’s an exciting time for payments and ATMs, with so much change and innovation occurring. However, with so many new solutions, it’s a challenge to know which new idea will remain or fade away. If we don’t stay on top of the [consumer] trends in our industry and offer leading-edge solutions, it could represent a disadvantage for our organization, our clients, our consumers and our employees.
PYMNTS: What trends and changes are you watching that are affecting the industry and your role?
DM: I have been in the debit card and ATM network business for many years. I’ve seen the evolution from proprietary ATM networks to shared networks, the introduction of debit card acceptance at the point of sale, mobile [payment via finance apps] and even cardless transactions. They are all services that consumers have come to rely on or will rely on. And all have enhanced the user experience in some major way.
What I don’t understand is the current war on cash — attempts to eradicate cash from the payment space. I think the industry will find resistance from many segments of the marketplace, not the least of which are consumers who actually like cash.
PYMNTS: What product has had the most impact on payments in the last five years, and why?
DM: I think, without a doubt, the advancements made by the smartphone manufacturers and the introduction of consumer-friendly mobile financial applications is the winning concept of the decade. Mobile consumer adoption and the proliferation of easy-to-use, safe and secure financial services will probably be the good news story of this generation. It will have an impact on how we use cash or how much we need cash, how we apply for loans, make payments for services or even how we gift money for birthdays and holidays.
I know all of that is happening now to a certain extent, but it is fragmented and stratified along socio-economic and generational lines. The “big bang” will come when all of these services and applications are neatly incorporated into one unified application that will provide the consumer with self-directed alternatives for how, when and where they wish to move money.
Credit, debit, checks and cash will all have a place depending on consumer [trends], but I believe mobile will become the predominant vehicle for the payments business.
PYMNTS: What advice would you give a young innovator in this space, and why would you tell them to heed it?
DM: I have always felt that in order to be successful you need to listen to what the consumer wants and needs. Do not get too far out in front of the consumer. Give them what they want now and prepare for the future.