Executive Profile: One on One with Sam Shrauger, Visa
Discovering the secrets of the universe may not be part of Sam Shrauger’s day job, but exploring what’s possible in payments is. As senior vice president of digital solutions at Visa Inc., Shrauger is responsible for making sure the payments network is leading the charge into new territory—whether that’s through Visa Checkout, contactless payments, wearables or whatever comes next.
“We’re not betting on any one device. Anything that becomes connected to the Internet is effectively a point of sale and potentially a payment vehicle,” Shrauger says. “Our job is to make each device work for payments to ensure payment data remains safe in the digital world. It doesn’t matter if it’s watches or cars or refrigerators or all of the above. We’re focused on providing a platform that delivers payments securely. We’ll let the consumers decide how they want to pay.”
Path to Payments
Although he’s long been fascinated by astronomy (see sidebar), Shrauger got into payments in 2004 when he took a job with PayPal, where he was responsible for product management and user experience design. The former consultant and Web developer with an economics degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MBA from the University of Virginia, found himself on new turf, so he set about learning everything he could about payments, including risk management and the economics of payment tools.
“I realized we had effectively digitized money and that makes it more powerful, but potentially more risky, too,” Shrauger recalls. “The fact that we can move bits and bytes around the world is fantastic for economic growth, but when you digitize something or extract it from its physical form, it introduces a whole new set of challenges – and what are challenges if not opportunities for innovation.”
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That realization continues to shape Shrauger’s thinking as he and his team build new ways for consumers to pay with Visa. “The complexity and beauty of what has been done over the past 50 years is amazing, and yet many consumers still see it as a swipe of a card. The question is: how will we evolve that in a way that’s both safe and comfortable for the consumer, first and foremost, but also for the entire payments ecosystem, which is incredibly complex.”
As he looks to the next 50 years, and to further expanding the reach and form factors associated with electronic payments, security naturally is top of mind.
“With every transaction at Visa, we look at all these data points in milliseconds to get the best authentication of identity that we can. I think biometrics is one of the best ways of augmenting our authentication, but there are many other data elements out there like the geographic location of the phone and its proximity to the point of sale terminal that can further enhance the security of transactions.”
The Ties That Bind
Shrauger credits his parents for his outlook on life, describing his childhood in upstate New York as idyllic—one in which inquiry and discovery were encouraged.
“They were always focused on learning something and my mother constantly created adventures for my sister and me,” he recalls. “These were real-world experiences. We’d constantly do something that was different like visiting nature preserves and museums, or even going on tours of factories.”
Although his parents were intent on assuring Sam and his sister became hard-working, driven people, they also emphasized compassion and respect for others. “They were always focused on learning something. I grew up asking questions and always wanting to learn, including other people’s points of view, which I hope has continued to carry over into my work.”
It’s also carried over to his relationship with his son, who Shrauger describes as the center of his personal universe. “You learn as much about yourself being a parent as you do about your child. He gives me a great reason to take time away from work and that gives me perspective.”
His son is also a great sounding board for new ideas. “The imagination of a child doesn’t have any constraints. We often get so constrained by what we think could do wrong and what others are doing that we don’t stop and think about the power of switching a paradigm,” Shrauger says. “He gives me great perspective about what a person would want the most in a product experience.”
Partnerships Will Fuel Innovation
As he strategizes about new Visa products, Shrauger also thinks about the partners that will help Visa get there and vice versa. “The dirty little secret around payments is it’s a tough business. It has many facets and companies need partners that know payments and can help them integrate payments into their core businesses,” he explains. But the relationship is not one-sided. “We build and we innovate inside Visa every day, but we also learn from our partners and their innovations. It’s the only way to work in today’s technology world. It’s our means to creating the next big thing.”