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Walt Granville of Netspend On The Future of Money and Banking

An Interview With David Liu

Partnership & Collaboration: It is important in this space to approach your work (even in BD & Sales) on the mutually beneficial relationships. The time of one-sided deals is a thing of the past.

The way we bank has changed dramatically over the last decade. It was not too long ago when you had to wait in line in a bank to deposit money. Today things are totally different. You can do your banking without ever walking into a bank. In addition, the whole concept of money has changed. In the recent past, money usually meant bills and coins. But today, the concept of money has expanded to include digital currency and NFTs. What other innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?

To address this, we are talking to leaders in the banking, finance, and fintech worlds, to discuss the future of banking and money over the next few years. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Walt Granville.

Granville is a payments executive with a 25-year track record of delivering and sustaining revenues and profits within highly competitive payments, loyalty and offers markets. He is currently the Senior Vice President of Bank and Network Operations and Partnerships at Netspend.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in this industry?

I found my way to the industry by chance, but I stayed because I love how this space has continued to evolve. Believe it or not, I found my first career in the payments industry in a newspaper. I had moved to Atlanta right out of college and was looking for my first job. I got my start in a business development role in an organization that went on to become First Data in Atlanta. During my time there, I had the opportunity to try a variety of roles and gain exposure to different areas of the business. I had the opportunity to take a business that was built in paper and digitize it, which was my first foray into customer-first design. Since then, I’ve always had one foot in product innovation and the other in business development. I have had the opportunity to work in many capacities in the industry, including for startups as well as large entities. I enjoy applying what I have learned from each in my daily work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

While I have had the opportunity to do many interesting things in my career, the things that impacted me the most have been the experiences that I have had with co-workers and clients along the way. One story that I reflect on regularly is related to a principal at an early-stage company I worked with. Prior to working with this person, I had been part of a company with a toxic work culture. It was common at this company for managers to be pitted against each other, for politics to dominate and to deal with daily confrontation. I became disillusioned, did not like who I had become and finally decided to leave. I quickly became close with one of the principals at the startup I joined next. He was a smart, deep-thinker and had been incredibly successful in another line of work. He seemed to be loved by all who encountered him and when we traveled, he always had friends and connections who were eager to work with him. Intrigued by him and his successes, I spent a lot of timing trying to understand what made him both successful and simultaneously likeable. One day, he revealed to me that he strictly adhered to a set of principles, The Pyramid of Success by Coach John Wooden. He genuinely relied on these principles to guide his decisions and how he interacted with people. During my time working with him in the startup, he encountered some catastrophic events with his primary business which put incredible financial stress on him both professionally and personally. As he attempted to navigate these challenges, I would frequently see him stop to contemplate how he would handle certain decisions that could personally benefit him while harming some others. He would be challenged to take the easy path, but always fell back to the principles. He would eventually work through his problems and rebuild. In the end our start up was not a success, but I exited with a great friend and a new approach to how I operate that has made me a happier and healthier person

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Happiness isn’t found it is created”. While there are many aspects to this quote, I really like and believe in the idea that your prospective is a choice and that you can actively control how you view and react to situations. My day-to-day happiness improves when I choose to view things constructively, with empathy or to simply avoid select things……and I like the fact that this is under my control.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

I’m particularly focused on working with businesses across varied industries to bring their vision for payments transformation to life through embedded payments at Netspend. With the digitization of payments, there’s a heightened focus on a customer-centric experience, which fits squarely in my wheelhouse — the intersection of product innovation and business development. The use cases for embedded payments are endless, really, and I enjoy helping customers find the right tools to make their customer experience smooth and frictionless. We’re creating apps and services to solve customer problems. And sometimes the tools we create end up leveraging the same functionality to solve very different problems. For example, Netspend has been working on two very different solutions for two very different clients: one is a tool that takes the friction out of money management for older adults and their care partners and the other being a more traditional bank account offering for a neobank company that incorporates money management tools that help get folks out of debt.

How do you think this might change the world?

At the end of the day, we’re focused on improving everyday interactions with money — how it’s spent and the ability to control it are critical to the financial well-being of people across the globe. We’re looking to bring new features and services that can smooth out the otherwise challenging aspects of people’s lives — whether that be helping to take care of aging parents or getting folks out of debt.

What most excites you about the banking or payments industry as it is today? Can you explain what you mean?

The disruption. We’re at a crossroads where innovation is inevitable and you’re either taking advantage of services that exist or finding ways to push your entities to be better and create more economically advantageous products for consumers. The scale at which this disruption is driving innovation makes this an exciting time to be a part of the industry, but it’s also a critical time. Industry players who are trying to innovate need to ensure they find the right partner to get them up and running but provide scalability for the long term.

What most concerns you about the banking or payments industry as it is today? What would you suggest needs to be done to address that?

My biggest concerns are around the fragmentation of the banking industry. There’s so much innovation and so many different tools and services that the customer experience becomes better, but in some ways it becomes more challenging or confusing. Industry standards are critical to making innovation work and to work at scale. The fracturing and inconsistency of setups can lead to scaling and reliability issues. It takes time to build an infrastructure that can be relied on in the way we have relied on networks like Mastercard and Visa. At Netspend, we help solve our partners’ pain points related to these problems. We’ve been in the business of innovating payments for over 20 years and have a track record of building solutions that provide a streamlined structure, program flexibility, risk mitigation expertise and the latest modern payments technology.

How would you articulate how the concept of money has changed in recent times? Is it really a change? How is it still the same? Can you explain what you mean?

The way people are managing their money has changed. Depending on where you sit in the ecosystem, that can be good or bad. On the whole, money is becoming digital and people aren’t handling cash as much. We’re seeing that people are managing their money through a variety of different channels. For example, they may have a traditional bank account but also keep money in a Venmo or Starbucks account. Their money is becoming less and less consolidated into a single account. The downside is that it’s more difficult to track if it’s not centralized and it may be hard to move money or get it out of different services. Despite limitations and challenges, people are choosing this option because it also creates a lot of convenience. And sometimes customers are incentivized to keep their money in a particular ecosystem.

That said, the way people spend their money hasn’t necessarily changed as much as how they transact has changed. For example, people can compare prices easier than ever before. So, you see instances of people shopping in stores but buying a specific product online in the parking lot. There’s also a lot more digital shopping occurring.

Based on your vantage point as an insider in the finance industry, what innovations should we expect to see in banking in the short and medium term?

As it relates to traditional banks, I predict that we will see a lot of smaller and community banks look for opportunities to extend the use of their license to be a sponsor bank and take on some niche side of the fintech market. But I believe there will only be a limited number of successes in this space because there’s a lot of overhead involved in staying compliant. Bigger banks have typically viewed fintechs as competition and in some cases that might be true. But, I also see opportunities on the horizon for bigger banks to collaborate with fintechs as folks look to get into the embedded finance space further and create products that solve customer problems with ease.

How has the pandemic changed the way banks interact and engage with their customers?

It forced the entire world to move into the digital environment, with more activity and spend happening online. It forced older generations to start transacting differently as well. Early in the pandemic, user experience wasn’t given a second thought as people tried to navigate grocery delivery and other day-to-day activities that were digitalized overnight. But companies who were ready with a great user interface and customer experience came out on top, including those who had to transition and provide offerings they didn’t have before in real-time. This also rings true to the banking experience and speaks to the desire that banks must meet their customers where they are with the services and experiences that they find most useful when it comes to money management.

In your particular experience, how has the pandemic changed the way you interact with, and engage your customers?

Netspend has always been focused on providing financial access to the underserved and that continues to be a priority, especially during a pandemic. Building financial health is at the core of what we do. Ultimately, we want to be able to make banking and financial services and access possible for all, which means doubling down on embedded finance and other financial services, including better solutions for today’s workforce. This includes solutions like earned wage access, which gives employees on-demand access to their earned wages.

In my work in the telecom space, I’m very interested in the importance of user experience. How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, encrypted messaging apps, phone, or video calls? How has this shift impacted the user and customer experience? What challenges do these apps present when used as a customer engagement tool?

We’ve adopted these types of technologies for our core business and are also making them available as part of our embedded solutions to customers. Creating options for the customer has been instrumental in creating an improved customer experience because different customers like to interact in different ways. However, when they aren’t implemented correctly, these types of technologies can be frustrating. The best user interface is the one that provides flexibility and works well. If the user has a good experience, they will use it and return but if they don’t, they will be frustrated, and a sale might be lost as a result.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

There are a lot of choices out there for customers. A perfect communication system would include a feature to help identify your target audience and communicate with them directly. It’s more expensive than ever for businesses to acquire clients and this could help cut down on that.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Modern Finance, Banking and Fintech industries? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Partnership & Collaboration: It is important in this space to approach your work (even in BD & Sales) on the mutually beneficial relationships. The time of one-sided deals is a thing of the past.
  2. Familiarity with today’s technology: The nature of technology is that it is constantly changing. To stay ahead of the curve and continue innovating to meet customer demand, it’s imperative to stay up-to-speed on the newest tech entrants in the market.
  3. Consumer-first approach and flexibility: Having a customer–first mentality allows for the development of innovative and market-leading solutions. Being nimble is also extremely important in the payments industry to be able to scale and provide solutions that are future proof and to pivot if necessary.
  4. Keep an open (and competitive) mindset — In a time when there are literally thousands of people contemplating new innovations and business models, it is easy to become jaded and discount their viability. A competitive mindset makes it possible to challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to life.
  5. Reputation: This is a tight knit community and your reputation will often proceed you. It is important to deliver on promises, follow up and deal fairly with people as word will spread quickly and can make or break you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I think we’re already there with a movement. One of the biggest changes in the banking market is the ground swell around helping customers live a better financial life. That comes in a bunch of different forms, like positive change in the form of business practices and fees. But it’s also about helping customers to gain access to the system. Once they have access to better manage their money, it becomes easier to help them smooth out some of the other pain points.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out the Netspend blog to learn about our innovations in embedded finance or follow Walt on LinkedIn here.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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David Liu

David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication

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