Google, digital payments and the power of partnerships
Visa Navigate recently caught up with Google’s Florence Diss, to discuss the progress of Google Pay across Europe, understand the impact of the pandemic, and find out more about her vision for the future of payments.
Based in London, Florence Diss is Head of Payments Partnerships at Google. A recent achievement, from November 2020, was the simultaneous launch of Google Pay in an additional 10 countries – which means the service is now live in 29 European markets.
Visa Navigate (VN): Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
Florence Diss (FD): I’ve been at Google for more than 10 years, always in product partnerships. I started off in maps, then moved to shopping, then our advertising products, and have been in payments for almost five years, setting up the European team for Google Pay. What unites my work in each of these roles is partnerships. All of these products are delivered through partnerships, and they only succeed if they are attractive and relevant to our partners.
VN: What’s the strategic rationale for Google Pay?
FD: For us, it’s not about the payment per se. Instead, it’s about our users, the wider Google proposition, and the ecosystem that surrounds it. For example, many people come to Google to search. When they have found what they are searching for, they may want to transact, and we want to make that easy for them. That’s true online, it’s also true in store, and while people are travelling. Wherever people are, whatever they are doing, we want to make payments simple and secure.
VN: Can you update us on November’s launch, and the rollout of Google Pay across another 10 European countries (that is, Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, and Romania)?
FD: To go live with Google Pay in a country, we depend on our partners coming together. Banks, payment processors and online merchants all need to have integrated with the service, and to go to market in-step with each other. That can be a long and complex process. For this launch across 10 new countries, we gave the payment ecosystem in each of the 10 countries the choice of how they wanted to organise their respective launch. And it has been interesting to see how the different national ecosystems work together.
A great example was Romania. During the pre-launch phase, all the banks pulled together to orchestrate a national launch and were determined to collaborate to bring about a behavioural change. It is a perfect instance of close cooperation on the collective infrastructure level, balanced by lively competition on the individual issuer level.
That type of partnership is what Google Pay is all about. We have absolutely no interest in becoming a bank ourselves. Instead, we are here to bring everyone else together – because, as we always say, a rising tide lifts all ships.
VN. Can you tell us about the performance of Google Pay during the pandemic? What has changed? And what new behaviours do you expect to stick?
FD: Prior to the pandemic, the majority of European Google Pay transactions were contactless transactions, either in-store or for transit. Linked largely to the state of the national lockdowns, we saw a drastic reduction in these in-person transactions. But this was offset by a huge up-tick in online transactions. At the start, all manner of merchants were scrambling to enable ecommerce payments for the first time, and we saw a surge in growth across several categories, like food delivery services, neighbourhood stores, and takeaways. We also saw transaction spikes on, for example, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, with people quickly finding ingenious new ways to select and send gifts.
Then, as the lockdowns began to lift, some interesting in-app use cases started emerging, particularly order-to-table applications in bars and restaurants. There were already a few of these, but they suddenly proliferated, and we expect them to stick because, frankly, they make for a better experience. We also expect to see another wave of growth in contactless payments. Yes, the volume of transit payments is currently lower than it was pre-pandemic. But, as people return to towns and cities, we are convinced a greater proportion of them will use contactless.
Across Google more broadly, we worked hard to support the rapid acceleration of digitisation, which impacted every facet of the business. We also made an extra effort to be as helpful as we could. For example, we prompted businesses to update their Google Maps listings with up-to-date opening times and contact details. We communicated where and how people could donate to charities, highlighting Google Pay as a payment option. We also worked with the payments ecosystem to counter common misunderstandings about contactless transaction limits.
VN. What messages would you want to get across to the payments ecosystem?
FD: The work is never done.
Yes, we have got something that we hope is helpful to our users and partners. But we are only at the beginning of our journey. There is still much more promise to be delivered, but also new challenges to be overcome. Here in Europe, for example, Google Pay has embraced the challenge of Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), and we would encourage the ecosystem to work with us on introducing new identity and verification solutions, so we can continue making payments more seamless and safer.
Ultimately, we endeavour to bring ever more simplicity and security to payments, so people have freedom and flexibility in how they pay. We also want to continue going beyond payment to support broader applications, like loyalty, or ticketing, or merchant offers. To achieve this, we will keep working with partners within the ecosystem.
VN: And how about your own experience of the pandemic? What has it taught you about yourself?
FD: That I don’t know when to stop!
I always thought I had my work-life balance in control. But, when you are working from home 100% of the time, the balance can shift in the wrong direction. That is something we all need to look out for – both in ourselves and our colleagues. I am a firm believer that, to do something well, you need to have fun doing it. Yet, when you never see colleagues or partners in-person, you do need to try that bit harder to have fun and forge a sense of camaraderie.
With all of the time at home, I have also been reminded of some of the things I enjoy doing the most. It is a strange time, but a good time to reflect on the things that really matter and make some solemn resolutions for the future.
Florence heads up Google Pay Partnerships for the UK. In her 10+ years at Google she has covered a range of different product partnerships from Maps and Geo to Shopping and Ads, helping launch products as diverse as Google Transit, Local Inventory Ads and now Google Pay. Prior to Google, Florence began her career at BCG in finance and went on to lead partnerships at a procurement start-up now part of Capgemini.
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Visa has partnered with Google and local banks to launch Google Pay in Europe. 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.