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Akshay Chopra, Vice President – Head of Innovation & Design, Visa CEMEA

February 2022


5 - 6 Minutes

From Hypermatrix Wall to Digital Souk: Explore Visa’s Innovation Center in Dubai

Examples of solutions co-developed at the Visa Innovation Center

Transforming Pay on Delivery: Portmone a Ukrainian e-payment provider, partnered with Visa to develop its “Safe Delivery” solution built on Pay on Delivery technology. “Safe Delivery” brings the physical store, logistics partner and consumer together into a single platform. Once the buyer orders a product, the amount is temporarily blocked on their account and only debited upon delivery, which allows them to order a selection, keep what they like and easily return the rest. The cost of delivery is integrated into a single amount, and the customer’s account is only debited after they click a link or have a unique QR code on their screen scanned by the courier. “Safe Delivery” is helping to build trust in digital payments in Ukraine, which has traditionally been a market hesitant to stop using cash.

Affordable Digital Payments for Micromerchants: Paga is a Nigeria-based mobile money wallet. In partnership with Visa and Samsung, Paga gives merchants in the country a smartphone pre-loaded with a user-friendly sales app. The device can be paid for over time through instalments, derived from sales, while the app offers merchants a series of value-added services, including digital payroll and inventory management, to help them grow their business. Paga account holders will be able to transact on Visa’s global network and have an easy way to connect to the digital economy.

Throughout the challenges of the last two years, the importance of the right innovations at the right time has never been clearer. Visa’s new Innovation Center in Dubai opened in September 2021 to help clients and partners develop the right innovations for them now and in the coming decades. Here, Akshay Chopra, Vice President – Head of Innovation & Design, Visa CEMEA, who has built Visa’s Innovation Centers in the Asia Pacific and Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA), explains how the concept of Innovation Centers has evolved over the years and what Dubai’s is already delivering.

Visa was one of the earliest players to build Innovation Centers. Their exceptional impact and sustained success is evident in how they’ve grown and expanded around the globe. Here we explore the journey and the tradecraft behind what makes Visa’s Innovation Centers a core part of its growth and success.

Q: How has the concept of the Innovation Center and Digital Transformation Group developed over the years? What is the difference between then and now?

A: Innovation Centers and Digital Transformation teams started mushrooming in the early 2010s. In the early days, many were built on the hype around others, and essentially set up for marketing and lacked clear objectives and measurable outcomes. We have seen many close down or pivoted in the following years. Now the Innovation Center model has evolved to suit what makes most sense for the business it is applied to. It usually becomes a combination of internal venture building and product development and external co-creation and ecosystem engagement. As a result, there’s no cookie cutter definition of Innovation Centers.

Q: How did Visa respond to this trend?

A: Visa started with only a couple of innovation centers. One of the first was in San Francisco, then I joined Visa to build the one in Singapore in 2015. Now, there are over a dozen innovation centers around the Visa network and it really shows the power of this model.

CEMEA’s 10,000-sq-ft Innovation Center is a realization of our vision to be the engine of commerce and to provide individuals, businesses and economies the access they need to thrive. We are fortunate to be based in Dubai, which is home to a thriving community of start-ups, incubators and accelerators, with a forward-thinking government that has developed a regulatory sandbox for the development and testing of new business models in the technology space.

Q: What opportunities does the Innovation Center bring to Visa’s clients and partners?

A: The Visa Innovation Center is a hub for our clients and partners, where we experience and build real-world solutions for a more inclusive, sustainable future. It is a place where we collaborate, co-create and explore the future of commerce and the impact of new technologies on the way we shop, pay and are paid. It offers the access to best-in-class payments thinking and technology to tackle the most challenging business problems and uncover new commerce opportunities.

Digital Transformation Factory: The Secret Sauce of Visa’s Innovation Centers

Q: Can you tell us more about Visa’s Innovation Centers in CEMEA?

A: We serve the large and diverse CEMEA region – which comprises 92 markets – through three innovation centers. We have the regional flagship in Dubai, and two subregional Studios in Moscow and Nairobi. In each Center, we have highly specialized teams of designers, developers, product managers and technical experts who build the future of payments in our partners.

Q: How can you serve the innovation needs of 92 markets given they’re so different?

A: The answer is simple – we never make assumptions. At the start of each sprint, we begin with gaining a deep understanding of the target segment – get out of the building and talk to the users, merchants and business owners for whom the solution is intended. This way we are always aligned to the needs of each market – the pain points, aspirations and unmet needs.

We also celebrate the diversity of the markets we serve. In our regional flagship in Dubai, you will notice that everything from the furniture, design elements, motifs and even room names pay homage to the unique cultures in CEMEA.

Q: Innovation is always about new experiences. How do we see this in Visa’s Innovation Center?

A: We see the Innovation Center as an immersive experience for our visitors. The CEMEA Innovation Center contains a number of purpose-built Experience Zones. The Experience Zones essentially form high-tech labs allowing us to showcase the art of the possible by enabling in-situ prototyping of innovations across a range of environments, including smart retail, the connected home, a transit lounge, or a space focused on small merchants (SMB souk). These specialized zones offer the latest digital tools relevant to that area, from augmented reality shopping technology to a smart fuel pump, smart airport immigration kiosks to connected home demos. It also has a travel-focused lab within a lab, set up to allow innovators to design future mobility solutions. Experience Zones provide exciting opportunities to trial solutions. For example, if a team is building a new ‘buy now, pay later’ experience, they can test this in our smart retail zone, which acts as a simulator. If we are developing a new merchant service, we can test it in our SMB souk, which is another of our zones. Taken together, the Experience Zones open up new possibilities for user-centric design and validation of new solutions.

The experience zones are preceded by a Welcome Zone, which includes a hypermatrix wall. This is a device in which thousands of small cubes move forwards and backwards to create a moving installation that adds depth to digital images and projections.

The third zone in our Innovation Center is the Collaboration Zone – where the creation really happens. This includes 4 areas where we combine the latest digital and physical collaboration technologies. This is where large teams from Visa and our partners co-create the future of payments, in highly structured agile sprints that our team guides them through.

Q: Could you tell us more about the technologies that are behind the Innovation Center’s innovation?

A: Well, there are some which are already being used widely, such as Tap to Phone and Pay on Delivery to develop smarter payment solutions. It also contains a range of digital tools enabling teams to test ideas and explore how they can improve the speed and ease of purchases, from ‘scan to pay’ to sensor-based technology. Clients can also experiment with the next generation of cutting-edge technologies that leverage the blockchain, metaverse, IoT, VR and biometrics.

Q: Has the pandemic had an effect, if any, on the work of the Innovation Center or the kind of innovations that you’ve developed?

A: We all feared that the pandemic would affect creativity, but it did not, and the team was able to learn best practice and in-fact online work took precedent over in-person. The pace of change has sped up in an unprecedented fashion and gathered momentum rapidly.

As clients had to quickly move to new payment methods during the pandemic, they saw the benefit of innovation, and following the pandemic we saw an unprecedented rise in our pipeline of work, from both external partners and internal projects.

Stay current with the latest payments insights from Visa Navigate CEMEA – subscribe today.

All brand names, logos and/or trademarks are the property of their respective owners, are used for identification purposes only, and do not necessarily imply product endorsement or affiliation with Visa.

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