Pressroom  /  Optty's CEO shares insights on Mastercard’s Inner Circle podcast episode, From Plastic to Pixel: The Future of Payments
May 11, 2023

Optty's CEO shares insights on Mastercard’s Inner Circle podcast episode, From Plastic to Pixel: The Future of Payments

Listen to the podcast here!

In this episode of the Mastercard Inner Circle Podcast, Optty CEO and Co-Founder Natasha Zurnamer, joins host Connie Cheng and Paul Weingarth, CEO and Co-Founder of Slyp, to discuss the future of payments. The conversation covers a range of topics, from the impact of digital currencies on traditional payment methods to the role of technology in creating a more seamless payment experience.

Natasha shares her insights on the potential benefits of digital currencies, such as greater financial inclusion and reduced transaction costs. She also discusses the challenges of implementing digital currencies on a large scale, particularly in terms of regulation and security.

Throughout the episode, the panelists emphasizes the importance of collaboration between traditional financial institutions and emerging fintech companies in driving innovation and meeting changing consumer needs. The discussion also highlights the role of customer-centric design in creating payment solutions that are intuitive, user-friendly, and secure.

Overall, this episode provides valuable insights for anyone interested in the future of payments, whether you're a financial professional, a technology entrepreneur, or simply someone who wants to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and innovations in the payments landscape.


Connie Cheng: A very warm welcome to our first Innovation Series episode From Plastic to Pixel: The Future of Payments. My name is Connie and I lead innovation and customer solutions at Mastercard for the Asia Pacific Region. Please join me in welcoming our very two distinguished guests, Natasha Zurnamer and Paul Weingarth. Natasha is the CEO and Co-Founder at Optty with over 20 years of industry experience in digital, fashion, retail, and fin tech sectors. So welcome, Natasha, and thank you for taking time to join us today!

Natasha Zurnamer: Thank you, it’s great to be here.

Connie: Super! Next, we have Paul, CEO & Co-Founder at Slyp. Paul has a deep passion for customer experiences, in particular the payment experience. With his spark of genius he founded Slyp, as he realized the last step of the payment journey–also known as the “paper receipt”–was way overdue for a facelift. So pleasure to have you with us today, Paul.

Paul Weingarth: Thank you, Connie. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here today.

Connie: So if you think about the touchless world of commerce, it is limitless not just by business innovation, but also consumer needs. And this brings up our first conversation-starter: how has social commerce impacted payments? And I wanted to level-set with our audience. Natasha and Paul, what we mean by “social commerce”, as it has proliferated in so many innovative ways, where you can participate as a buyer, a seller, a creator, and also as an influencer. So whether we’re shopping for breakfast cereals or a pair of sunglasses, the zero moment of truth has actually expanded beyond soliciting feedback just from the wisdom of the crowd.

So Natasha, I’m going to start with you. You are a global e-commerce go-to expert. And there’s also a big rumor out there that you’re a crazy fanatic online shopper. Can you share with us your views on what you’ve seen to be the deep-rooted challenges in social commerce, and how your innovation actually plays a role in growing this global social commerce market?

Natasha Zurnamer: Thank you so much, Connie, and I don’t think there’s any truth to that rumor, but we’ll discuss that later! I think the interesting thing about social commerce is that it’s about the unexpected thing that is presented to you. And when an unexpected thing is presented to you that you’re actually going to like [because there are algorithms sitting in the background making sure social commerce is serving something you’re going to be interested in], there’s a whole lot of trust  in the way you’re going to make that purchase. So the first thing that’s going to happen is that when you click on it, if it’s slow the load a website, you’re going to go, “actually, hang on a minute–can I really trust purchasing from this website?”, and I think the connectivity between social commerce platforms and e-commerce platforms is still something that does need to evolve.

Once you’re in that experience though, the trust needs to be there. So things like TrustPilot or things like being able to understand whether that is a good seller by having reviews–and I’m not just talking five people with five stars–I’m talking about trying to see a couple hundred reviews on an item or a seller is also really, really important, because remember–this is probably a first-time purchase with someone you’ve never purchased from before. Now when it gets to payments, that’s where the REAL trust factor happens. So you’ve made your decision and you’re going to take a leap of faith–something has popped in and you’re going to make an unexpected purchase. Something you weren’t thinking about purchasing today, and you get to check out and there aren’t enough payment methods available. So the next thing you’re going to think is, “Actually, is that seller really going to deliver? Are we going to be okay? Am I going to get my goods?”

So there’s a lot of factors I think along the value chain, particularly with consumers deciding to purchase within a social setting, something that is suggested to us. And I think they’re the challenges that retailers face in making sure they can convert a consumer from a social setting right through their value proposition to being a buyer.

Connie: Right. And so from your perspective, as soon as any of these merchants take care of such social context and things, that’s going to massively change over a consumer experience.

Natasha: I really do feel that we have a herd mentality. So if you are actually purchasing something and you see people have had a great experience, then you’re more likely to follow than going into an experience where there’s a few dubious things along the way, like a slow-to-load website connectivity between social and e-comm, or like not enough reviews on that product, or like going into a checkout that doesn’t have enough payment methods. The other side to it is the delivery experience once you do make a decision. You want to make sure that you’re getting that product and I think there’s so many exciting things happening within logistics and delivery that make the consumer experience even more exciting in the future, in terms of how quickly we’re getting our product.

Connie: And on that last mentioned situation–Paul?

Paul: Just to add, I think there’s one simple golden rule that I always think about, and it relates to friction and that ‘moment of truth,’ which is when the customer wants to pay, get the hell out of their way. And so how do you just remove that friction point? And you want to give them choices as you mentioned, Natasha, but at the same time too much choice can be confusing and can create a drop off in conversions. So it’s about that friction, that moment of truth–converting the sale and creating a friction-less experience, enabling form-filling, but every single field that is added to that flow is going to create a drop off in conversion. Also things like multi-currency, so being able to display the currency in local currency is absolutely critical in building that trust and seamless experience with the customer.

Natasha: Totally.

Connie: I remember you had mentioned too before, Paul–you said that, “This is pollution at checkout,” right? So if you’re creating so much friction in there, as a shopper you just give up along the way, and the drop off rate is actually quite glaring.

Paul: Exactly, so optimizing that. Throwing everything at the customer is not optimal, it’s really leveraging data and transaction history to understand what their preferences are, and as Natasha mentioned, that’s really key leveraging that dial to create moments of personalization, whether it be the payment or remembering their personal details so they don’t have to fill out those forms. Just removing that friction and getting out of their way is all I have to say.

Connie: Yes, sounds about right–getting out of their way. So Paul, while we have you, you’re a strong advocate in Slyp’s sustainability movement and have won the 2021 Best Social Mission Fin Tech Award. So what are your views in how innovations made in sustainability can actually progressively shift the traditional retail models?

Paul: There’s a lot of discussion and momentum-building in the green commerce space–it’s an extremely, extremely hot topic. It’s definitely not going anywhere, it’s only going to become more amplified over the coming years. I suppose retail is a space where there’s a spectrum of practices they can look at to reduce their carbon footprint as a merchant or as a retailer. And these range–it’s a spectrum, so you’ve got some quick wins all the way to really hairy fundamental shifts in how they operate their business and sell to their customers. So the quick wins are things like moving away from plastic bags to reusable bags, or you’ve got digital receipts which is obviously the space we play in, which is about getting rid of non recyclable thermal paper receipts and replacing it with a more environmentally friendly receipt, all the way up to the more challenging, chunky items that require more bandwidth and change management like reorganizing and reshaping your supply chain and manufacturing models and what-have-you.

But I think one of the most interesting ones I would call out today that we’re seeing in this space that really brings the customer in and the brand in, is–and obviously you’ve heard of commerce and e-commerce, and there’s a new term emerging in this space over the last few years called “re-commerce,” which is all about recycled fashion or furniture, or just goods in general–this is a really interesting space, I feel, because obviously with everyone becoming more conscious with their consumption and obviously with inflation right now and everyone feeling the peach in their pocket, this will continue to be a hot space in the short term and continue to amplify into the longer term. But re-commerce is all about the notion of being able to allow consumers to retail pre-loved items. And there are a couple different models in this space, one model is in the evolution of technology in platforms where you have marketplaces that are really focusing on different niches like fashion and furniture niches, which are pretty much peer-to-peer marketplaces. Other platforms that are coming to light now are these white-label functionalities that really allow brands to own that ecosystem on their own direct site. So really white labeling platforms to allow their existing customers to come back and trade in or re-sell their existing items they purchased direct from that brand, back onto a marketplace back to customers who are looking to buy pre-loved items–again–on that brand’s direct website. They-re keeping it in the family, keeping it in the ecosystem, which is really interesting.

But I think at the end of the day, you look at this space and we’re going to hear the word “trust” which is going to be spoken a lot today–trust is absolutely critical in making the transaction as easy as possible to re-list a pre-loved item. The listing of the item and the sale and logistics–all the stuff that comes off the back of that transaction needs to be really seamless.

Connie: What we wanted to look at just now is money today–the value of currencies and its widespread acceptance. Natasha, in your earlier times, when many of us would have used checks as a means of purposeful payments: deposit for rental, education, utilities. But now checks have pretty much disappeared, or are in the process of being sunset in some countries. Do you see a time where digital currencies might fully replace all paper and plastics?

Natasha: I definitely think that time is very, very near, and I think if we all think about how often we all actually have cash now in our wallets, it is pretty rare. I had an experience recently when I went to the US, I had my bags delivered to my room and the guy stood there and I stood there, and I thought, “Did we do something, do we hug, what do we do?”, because I didn’t have a dollar in my purse, right? And I thought, how crazy–of course I would normally have cash to hand over for a tip. But I think what’s really interesting is about adoption. Because if we want to and are going to move away from a cashless society, from checks, etc. and move to fully digital, it is about adoption, but adoption comes with a lot of factors, including security, and the significant role security is going to play within a digital payments world. And I think that’s probably where consumers do find themselves a little bit torn in terms of that security. Back to now, you could say that a check is pretty insecure–and it is–relatively speaking.

But if you think about what a consumer is actually looking for, they are looking for that security and protection in the way they are making a digital transaction, and that goes right down to the ease of the way they do it as well. I think we also have to consider that there are sophisticated countries and less sophisticated countries. Even in the US right now–whilst in Australia you can go out at night with your mobile phone and be sure you can pay for anything, in the US they still love a credit card, they still love you to present that credit card. They have you pop it into a machine, and you pop in a pin number. In Australia, we’ve really moved well beyond that, and so there are still–as you can imagine in some of the most developed countries in the world–you still see a lot of that plastic use. So how long is it going to take for those countries to actually go through that adoption? I do feel as though it’s good, I think it is a good thing, but I do think we still have a long way to go to assure consumers around their own security, their own privacy, and how that plays a role within the digital infrastructure.

Connie: We still see a huge resistance across merchants. We’re hesitant about accepting additional modes of payment. So Paul, Natasha–what are your views on this, and where is the resistance coming from?

Paul: I think payments/standard, traditional payments have become relatively commoditized. So it’s kind of a race to the bottom in some areas, like with a payment gateway. Obviously merchants care about keeping their cost of payment low, and they want to speed up checkout–again, if a customer wants to pay, get out of their way–so speed up checkout and also reducing fraud and making sure it doesn’t go dow. Like the performance of the payment platform is absolutely fundamental now to the customer as well. So there’s the fundamentals and non-negotiables, and I suppose the question is say for example, the explosion of Buy Now-Pay Later over the last  5-10 years, that’s creating the extended payment terms to customers and what-have-you. These are really interesting businesses because they sort of came in to solve one problem and created value around the payment, and then they built these really great networks and have become these affiliate marketing platforms for merchants to connect, so when there was sort of typically they started out as the moment of truth in the buying journey, they’ve now become the start of the buying journey, which is interesting.

That’s a really good example where you’re creating value around the payment and obviously they can build a business model around that. But what are the value aves you can create around payments that create value for merchants? And one of them for example might be  allowing consumers to link their loyalty card to their payment card. And that’s all about helping merchants to close business offline like they do online, putting the customer at the center of the universe and never ever compromising those critical underlying payments needs of the merchant in terms of efficiency.

Natasha: For me it goes like this, and I’m a retailer–before I was in payments I was in retail for many, many years and working with incredible brands all over the world. The first thing you have to have is a great product to sell, there’s no doubt about it. The second thing is the way a consumer pays for that product. So once a consumer has decided that is a great product that they want, the merchant’s difficulty is around the accessibility for providing payment methods, because they’re concentrating on other things: creating great products, creating creating great user experiences, creating great brand experiences. They do not have in their wheelhouse the ability to go and put time and effort into how they’re going to display their payments, what technologies they need to use in order to drive their payments. It’s actually not in their wheelhouse, and I think that’s where it’s important that technology helps solve that as simply as possible, because it’s basically not their knitting. A retailer’s knitting is not in their payment. A retailer’s knitting is in the fantastic things they produce to sell.

So that’s sort of the way I approached payments. I put my retail hat on and I  thought, “What does a retailer want? They want to win. And winning means more to GMV - they want it to be simple, and they want it to cost them nothing to do. And that’s a fact. And I think that goes across any industry you look at. Everyone wants to win, it’s got to be easy and it’s got to be low cost. So in terms of the way we think about enabling payments for merchants, that’s the way we need to focus on it. And obviously with the way I’ve approached it, it’s about creating a single source. It’s about creating something that gives everything in a wheelhouse to a merchant for them to make their own decisions about how they present that and what they want to offer–solving that problem that says “You don’t have to spend thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in order to grow your GMV, which is kind of what the expectation of traditional methods has had on merchants, and they just don’t have the money or time to do it.

Connie: It’s really been an absolute honor and pleasure to have you with us today, Paul and Natasha! And to our audience, thank you for being with us today.

Natasha: Thanks, Connie.

Paul: Thanks for having us. Thanks Connie.

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