For some, EMV-enabled payment cards are about more than just security. For some, EMV is deemed essential for banks with reloadable prepaid products to both cut costs and boost convenience for international travellers, says Pamela Kohl, Executive VP of Products and Channels, Banco do Brasil Americas. Kohl sat down with MPD CEO Karen Webster to explain how BBA is leveraging its multicurrency prepaid card program to enhance cardholder security around the world, decrease complexities around currency conversions, and ensure long-term relationships with its users.
KW: So there are a lot of interesting developments in the payments space these days with IPOs and spin-offs and new players coming into the market. One of the things that the industry is really grappling with is the migration in the U.S. to EMV. Let’s talk about that use case as it relates to prepaid cards. What is your thinking with respect to having EMV cards issued for prepaid?
PK: I understand that a lot of concern is in the marketplace about the cost of EMV as well as the complexity of the migration. For us here at BBA, it was really important to migrate to EMV as soon as possible with our prepaid program, because for us, the cost of not migrating was much higher.
We currently run a global multi-currency scholarship program via our prepaid cards, and in that program we have students in Europe, Asia, the U.S. and more attending the top 100 universities worldwide. Unlike the U.S., much of the world has already migrated to EMV. So to be able to provide a solution that was effective for our clientele and would give them the security and confidence they needed, EMV was essential.
KW: That’s interesting – that’s a very specific use case. How big is that market for you?
PK: Currently, we have over 60,000 cards in this program. But for us, it’s more than just this particular program that we’re running. We find that for our client base, we really need to be where they want to be. We have a lot of clientele that’s interested in international travel, and many people here in the U.S. don’t have a single EMV card in their wallet. So traveling to places like London, for example, can be rather problematic if you don’t have an EMV chip card. A lot of times if you’re trying to purchase a ticket for the subway, for example, you can’t if you don’t have an EMV-enabled card. So just to make people’s lives easier and allow them to transact when they want and the way they want, we felt EMV was very important. Then of course when you add protections from a fraud perspective, there’s really no losing in that equation.
KW: Do you see yourselves as early adopters of EMV prepaid or are you starting to see other issuers coming along?
PK: We’ve seen a few cards with the chip, but we do think we were one of the earliest adopters, and we’re proud of that. But to us, it seems like a very natural step for a prepaid program that will have a reloadable component. For someone that isn’t going to offer reloadable cards, the cost of EMV becomes an issue, but if you have a client base with a reloadable focus, EMV is essential.
KW: I like the fact that you distinguished one of the features that makes the investment seemingly worth it because these are going to be cards used in multiple locations over an extended period of time, and hopefully customers that stick with you as well.
PK: For our scholarship program, it’s very important for us to consider that these students could be future clients as they move onto different stages of their lives. We’re very committed to the community and to making long-term relationships.
KW: I know that you partnered with i2c when you thought about enabling this capability. What problem did i2C solve for you?
PK: When we started this journey, we were in 2012, and the concept of launching a multicurrency prepaid card in 12 different currencies was a little bit “out there.” It was something that the marketplace didn’t truly expect. There was a great vision within our parent organization and within our group to try to provide a way for students to travel the world in their studies and not have to deal with the complex issues of wire transfers and opening accounts in other countries.
When we went through a rigorous process, what we found about i2c that was particularly unique was that they were really interested in making this work. We wanted to partner with a company that would be forward thinking, and that would think of new technologies and new markets as a bonus as opposed to a problem.
We want to be at the forefront of change and we want our customers to have the best technology and the safest features available.
KW: Is having this multi-currency functionality on a card a real use case that has a lot of an addressable market attached to it, or is this a niche product?
PK: I think only time will tell, but from my own experience in testing the card, I’ve really enjoyed using the prepaid card in a multicurrency basis. Being in Miami, I see a lot of international travellers and I see people wanting to be able to separate and budget for different areas of their lives. To me, there’s definitely a niche there, but if someone doesn’t want to use the multicurrency piece of the card, they may simply want to use it for that EMV protection.
KW: Interesting. Is the user experience complicated?
PK: I don’t think it’s complicated – we make it rather straightforward. People can choose to stay in the U.S. dollar purse and travel around the world without a problem. Or, if someone wants to go to London and they know they have $2,000 to spend and don’t want to worry about currency conversion and what that’s really going to mean, or perhaps a fluctuation in currency. They can buy their pounds via our card immediately, set it aside, and use it when they’re ready – and they know exactly how much they have to spend.
KW: I know Banco do Brasil is relatively new to the U.S. Give us an overview of some of the things that you’re working on specifically to address the U.S. market.
PK: In addition to our prepaid cards, we also issue credit cards, so we offer a full solution there. We also offer traditional loans, deposits, and the like, like any U.S. bank.
Some payments-focused future initiatives include remittances, low value international payments, and our upcoming business credit card product. Beyond that, we are slowly growing our brick and mortar footprint in the state of Florida and we hope to eventually move that to other states as well.
Executive VP of Products and Channels, Banco do Brasil America
Pamela Kohl serves as Executive Vice President of Products and Channels at Banco do Brasil Americas. Joining the executive leadership team in 2012, Pamela is directly responsible for the product set offered at the bank and related bank channels. In addition to developing a traditional banking product set, Pamela has established a denovo prepaid card program, credit card program, and global payments platform.
Pamela brings 20 years’ experience in financial services, predominantly in the disciplines of marketing, product development, and sales strategy. Previous to her tenure at Banco do Brasil Americas, Pamela was Senior Vice President of Sales Strategy and Product Development at BankUnited. In this capacity, she developed account pricing, product parameters, and revenue generation strategies for the bank and delivered depository and lending products and ancillary financial services, including electronic banking and cards.
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