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Aug 06, 2014

5 Minutes With Christopher Uriarte

Chief Payments Officer, Vesta Corporation

Arlene Hauben

Vesta serves mobile carriers by powering their payment solution, primarily for their prepaid phone platforms. An interview with Chris Uriarte, a payment transactions expert, helped us to understand how users add minutes through different channels and how Vesta, in a white label fashion, makes service payments easier.

AH: Chris, how did you get started in the payments industry?
I started doing payment work in the mid to late 1990s with small businesses and worked for a company called Retail Decisions. It was an interesting time when ecommerce was coming to birth. We were doing payment transactions for companies like Sears and Walmart. We grew Retail Decisions for 10-11 years. Then I went to work for American Express as a vice president focused on international expansion. I was responsible for prepaid on the team with Jason Hogg, the original founder of the Serve platform. Both Serve and Bluebird could be looked at as game changers because they solved a big problem for the massive unbanked population providing banking-like platforms that didn’t gouge them with fees.
AH: What is your current role at Vesta?
As Chief Payments Officer with Vesta, I am responsible for the company’s payment strategy and payment operations and I also oversee teams that are managing products.
AH: What do you see as the biggest challenge in the payments technology field, especially as it pertains to mobile and ecommerce?

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Mobile is an interesting challenge. The industry still has yet to come up with a success story as it pertains to mobile commerce. There are so many competing technologies and mobile commerce requires a complex alignment between all the players in the ecosystem: card brands, acquirers, issuers, equipment makers, and consumers. Ultimately consumers will adopt a new method when it fills a real need and solves a problem. We don’t have something in the market yet that is ubiquitous or top of mind. We have card issuers like Chase and others with their products. A lot of people are waiting to see what Apple is going to do. There is still not a good unified platform. What we have seen is growth in transactions online, such as the case with Amazon. With the handset as a payment instrument, we have a ways to go.
AH: Would you explain Vesta’s chief product and service areas?
Mainly right now we are serving the mobile carriers by powering their payment solution; we do it primarily for their prepaid phone platforms, such as Pay As You Go brands. Prepaid telephony has exploded and a significant chunk of the mobile market is through prepaid brands, whether it be Boost or an AT&T brand. There are many different channels for users to add minutes, including web, IVR system, mobile app, and customer service on the telephone, and Vesta makes service payments easier.
Vesta does it in a white label fashion. A customer who wants to add airtime will call in and may think they are speaking to their carrier, but often they are speaking to Vesta. The real value of what we offer our customers, who pay us a simple flat fee for all our payment services, is that we fully indemnify those payment transactions. Carriers are never liable for fraud. We have a tremendous ability to detect fraud. We drive revenue through different channels and we have indemnification technology. We have 15 years of experience in payments and indemnification platforms. Our platform for carriers is called vMobile.
AH: I believe you launched a platform that is specifically for online merchants. How does that work?
Yes, Vesta also processes online payments for merchants. That platform is called vSafe. Many of these types of merchants are major retailers who might be managing gift card programs online and prepaid cards online. We especially help merchants in high risk categories like digital goods and services. We load value on an instrument and manage fraud.
AH: So vMobile is your platform for carriers and vSafe is your platform for online retailers. You must process a high number of payment transactions each year. Can you mention what the volume of payments is?
Card associations look at Vesta as a Master Merchant because our target for this year is $6 billion. That puts us in the top 10 of processors. We are 100 percent responsible for risk. We indemnify all the transactions. Fraud control is at the core of what we do. It is both an art and a science. Unique to us, we manage proprietary data and pair that with our knowledge to create custom fraud protection programs. We manage a large consortium of data on all our mobile carriers so that we know who is a good customer and who is not.
AH: As a payments expert, do you think we will be using plastic credit cards in five years?
Probably we will be. It is tough to get consumers to stop reaching into their wallets. As with mobile adoption, converging away from a card-based payment system could take decades to align all the players in the ecosystem. There is continued growth in the alternative payment methods and new products will become more prevalent.
There is also continued growth in alternative payment types and greater penetration for non-card types, such as the PayPal type. Card associations are pushing wallet technology. There are financial firms, such as Affirm, a new consumer finance startup founded by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, getting into alternative payments.
There are non-card payment types all over the world, including Brazil and Russia, and they will continue to grow. The big question is: how will mobile influence payments? We will have to wait and see. •

Chris Uriarte is the Chief Payments Officer at Vesta Corporation. Visit Vesta online


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