PayPal and the Future of Payments with Sri Shivananda, SVP, CTO of PayPal

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What compelled me most was the purpose of the company. What we wanted to do was democratize financial services all around the world. We wanted to make it easy for anyone to manage and move money. And we know that there are 1.8 billion people in the world who don’t have access to those kinds of capabilities. Dan Schulman, who’s our CEO, often talks about how it’s actually expensive to be poor. And what we want to be able to do is create great capabilities through innovation where we create a more inclusive payments platform where everyone can participate.”  

Sri Shivananda is PayPal’s SVP and CTO, which is a long way away from his original dream of being a pilot in the Indian Air Force. But being the SVP and CTO of a payment company that in 2018 did $578B in total payment volume and 9.9B transactions in 200 different markets in about a hundred different currencies is still a pretty big deal. On this episode of IT Visionaries, Sri takes us through his journey and explains all the ways that PayPal has made an impact on the way people make payments in the digital age. 

Best Advice: “Productive employees are more engaged, engaged employees are more inspired, inspired employees innovate more.”

And 

Being always curious about everything, whether it is technology or working with somebody else or being on a team or doing a transformation. That curiosity compels you to learn more and more and build yourself and cultivate those capabilities as you go forward.    

Key Takeaways:

  • Payments are becoming more ambient
  • Cryptocurrencies are more of an asset than a currency
  • PayPal innovates in three main ways

Sri’s early days 

When Sri was a teenager, his dream was to be a pilot in the Indian Air Force. After three attempts, Sri decided to go to school to study engineering. Soon thereafter, Sri had a decision to make on whether to buy a motorcycle or a computer. Thankfully, Sri bought a computer and began writing software. However, writing software didn’t keep his curiosity fully quenched, so he started to open things up and observe the hardware too. 

Sri’s current scope of responsibilities

As the chief technology officer, Sri’s responsibilities are, “to ensure that PayPal has a cohesive technology strategy across the company. The choices that we are making in both modernizing, scaling and securing PayPal are done in a strategic way. It’s a deliberate direction and it’s consistent across the whole company.”At the same time, Sri also runs information security, infrastructure, internal IT, developer experiences, and core platforms.

To put things into perspective, in 2018 PayPal closed the year with about $578B in total payment volume with about 9.9B transactions in 200 different markets and about a hundred different currencies. 

Sri mentions, “80% of my job I would say is serving the external customer and making sure that we are getting the right features in front of them in a way that is safe, secure, reliable, and up all the time. At the same time, [I’m focused on] the employee constituency in the company and making sure that they’re productive as they do their jobs, whether that is an engineer on a product development team or a person in sales.

The Geek Squad

Sri calls himself, “The Chief Geek,” and what the geek squad ensures that the key things that they deliver to their customers that are not features are done in a great way.

As the chief geek, Sri and his team are focused on three important things:

One, “Given that we are in the business of trust, security is the number one concern. So we invest a lot in information security, not only in things that we need to do defensively to protect ourselves and our customers from cyberattacks but also in designing both our infrastructure and software in a way that every transaction is safe and secure.”

Second, “Is our merchants who rely on us being up all the time. They want us to take every single transaction on their behalf that we can. So being reliable and up 24/7, 365 days/year is a critical need. We continue to modernize our infrastructure on a very regular basis. Every single year we take on an area and we modernize that.

Third, “We want the product development engineers in the company to be more of an artist and a mechanic in them going fast and building amazing, delightful experiences for our external customers.” 

Current and future state of affairs of payments

So what’s happening with payment experiences is it is becoming ambient. You express the intent to take a ride or order some food and payment just happens. It’s no longer that friction-full activity that you did at a store, at the end where you had to check out everything and pay. So a lot is happening from an experience perspective, a lot is happening from a speed perspective, a lot is happening from a security perspective and collectively that’s just exciting. It’s also becoming easier for all kinds of people from various parts of the world, various segments and various demographics to participate in that economy of where they can move and manage their money faster.”

The physical fall of money will start to diminish or disappear and money will go entirely digital, not just the transactions that you do, whether it is in-store, through your mobile phone or card and so on. But eventually, money will become digital.

The act of moving money or paying for something is just going to not be a big concern. It just becomes safer, more secure, and more convenient no matter what kind of transaction you want to have and no matter where you want to have that transaction between people across the globe, that just becomes super easy. It already is in many cases, but that’ll continue to grow as well.”

Sri believes cryptocurrencies are more of an asset than a currency currently. For the most part, people tend to buy and hoard these currencies for the sole purpose of watching it appreciate or depreciate in value. At some point, Sri thinks we’ll see the emergence of digital stablecoins, that are issued by authorities and properly regulated. 

Sri’s view on internal IT and innovation

In terms of the internal IT itself, there are two distinct aspects to it. One, is all the corporate platforms that you have, whether it is for human, legal, your financial back office, and so on. And those platforms have to be built in a way that, whether it is your HR practitioner like an employee or for that matter, a salesperson can do what they do daily, extremely easily and so that they can be productive and they can focus on the value creation, not in wrestling with the systems that they’re dealing with. This is why, I would say the internal IT portfolio has moved more in the direction of design thinking and experience design, not just the underlying, nuts and bolts of how to offer those systems.” 

Sri then gets into how most IT leaders at companies are beginning to focus more on employee experience. “Productive employees are more engaged, engaged employees are more inspired, inspired employees innovate more.”

Sri and his team view innovation in three separate buckets:

Bucket 1: “There is innovation that happens in people’s jobs day to day, which we call horizon one innovation.”

Bucket 2: “Then there is the, what we call the medium term innovation. The 1-3 year timeframe where you’re looking at the things that you need to deliver over the three-year timeframe and what capabilities you need to create, what experiences you need to build, what designs you need to undertake, and how to help achieve thatThis is what we call horizon two innovation.”

Bucket 3: “The horizon three innovation is a post three-year timeframe. Many of these are just seeds you’re laying, you’re not exactly sure whether it’s going to go, but you make many of those small investments. You start to build a proof of concept or pilots, you test ideas and some of those ideas then take off and become big and then can lead to new lines of businesses for the company as well. So that’s the way we think of innovation.

eCommerce, if you look, has brought about a revolution where there was a time pre-nineties when you’d go to a shop and with eCommerce happening, shops started to actually come to you. You now shop where you are and you can shop for anything around the world. The world is one large unlimited shelf of goods that you can buy from.”

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On this episode of IT Visionaries, Sri Shivananda, SVP, CTO of PayPal dives into the current and future state of payments, how PayPal innovates, and what it means to be a part of the geek squad.

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