IP2013: ThinkAThon













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How Payments Professionals Worked Together to Solve Some of the Biggest Problems in the Industry and What They Came Up With










Much innovation is about the lone venture pursuing the dreams of its entrepreneurs, creating a successful product, and reaping vast rewards. Everyone should celebrate that. But sometimes society faces problems that would benefit from “collective innovation” by bringing together participants from across industry, academia, government and other parts of society. In fact collaboration may be the only way of solving some of these problems.



As we embrace the possibilities offered by the technological revolution that is leading to the reinvention, and creative destruction, of payments, we face numerous challenges in creating an industry that serves society. Some of these challenges entail seizing new opportunities for helping society while others involve lowering the risk of emerging practices that could ultimately harm society.










Last March, 113 payments professionals and other thought leaders came together on the Harvard campus to try their hands at collective innovation. They were drawn from 500 elite attendees of the 2013 Innovation Project. Fifteen teams, each consisting of roughly 8 people, worked through some of the most difficult problems the payments industry faces in serving society at large.



This is a report on the problems they tried to solve and what they came up with.



The teams participated in the Think-a-Thon™. While the Think-a-Thon was about collaboration we still decided to rely on the time-tested forces of use of competition to get the best solutions.



We first scoped out five key problems:


  1. Consumer privacy and mobile commerce: How should we deal with real and imagined privacy concerns to maximize the potential of mobile commerce for consumers and strike the balance between consumer interests and innovator interests?

  3. Catastrophic failure and systematic risk: How can society best insure against the catastrophic failure of the electronic payments system and minimize the consequences of such failure were it to occur?

  5. Financial inclusion and the other 2 billion people: How can innovators, governments, and incumbents work together, or by themselves, to best use the disruptive innovation occurring in payments to deploy, at large scale, banking services to the underserved?

  7. The new point of sale: How can merchants, issuers, acquirers, networks, and perhaps even consumers, work together to reach the best solution most efficiently?

  9. Making mobile simpler for consumers: How can the global payments industry converge most quickly to the mobile payments solution that delights the consumer?


We then formed three teams to compete for the best solution to each problem. Each team was lead by a Captain. Team members were drawn from across the participants at the Innovation Project so a typical team often had members from competing firms. The teams and their leaders are listed in Table 1.



Table 1 – Teams










They hung up the gloves for a couple of days to collaborate on industry wide solutions. On Day 1 they met and came up with their solutions and wrote up a synopsis. Then they prepared a presentation. The teams all took their jobs very seriously in some cases working late into the evening to perfect their ideas.



An illustrious team of judges picked the winner for each category who was awarded the Payment Guru Prize. The judges are listed in Table 2.



Table 2 – Judges










On Day 2 the team captains presented their solutions to the judges in five minutes or less. The judges picked the winners based on the written synopses and the presentations. Of course, it sounds a little hokey but it worked.



While only one team could win there were lots of great ideas from all of the teams and in many cases the judges had a tough time picking the best of the best.



If you want to know who won and what for you’ll need to read on. After describing the background for each problem I report the solution proposed by each team. I generally use the synopsis prepared by each team with some very light editing.




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