Visa’s Godfrey Sullivan talks challenges in payments industry, empowering merchants and shaping solutions

Digitally savvy consumers demanding seamless payment options push Visa to innovate
Visa’s Godfrey Sullivan talks challenges in payments industry, empowering merchants and shaping solutions
Godfrey Sullivan, senior vice-president, head of strategy and acting head of products, solutions and digital partnerships CEMEA, Visa

Godfrey Sullivan, senior vice-president, head of strategy and acting head of products, solutions and digital partnerships CEMEA, Visa, speaks to Economy Middle East about the latest trends in the global payments industry, the challenges and benefits of digital payments, and how Visa is empowering smaller merchants.

What does the current payments market landscape look like, globally and regionally?

This week we are hosting our annual Visa Payments Forum (VPF) for the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa (CEMEA) region, and your question is central to the purpose of the event, which seeks to turn today’s data, innovation and trends into a tangible blueprint for tomorrow’s payments ecosystem.

The global payments market is undergoing a significant transformation, driven by evolving consumer behaviors, technological advancements, and a growing preference for digital solutions. In 2023, global payment revenues surpassed $2 trillion, highlighting the increasing reliance on digital commerce and money movement, which have grown rapidly.

Regionally, the CEMEA region has witnessed a remarkable uptake in digital payments, especially contactless payments, which now represents more than 86 percent of all face-to-face transactions, half of which are via mobile devices. Saudi Arabia exemplifies this trend, with contactless payments growing from 4 percent in 2018 to 98 percent today.

Additionally, the adoption of tokenization and digital credentials continues to expand, with the number of merchants accepting digital payments in CEMEA growing three times over the past three years to reach an 11 million merchants in 2024. This evolution reflects a broader shift towards a more seamless, secure and convenience-driven payments ecosystem globally.

What are a few of the most pressing challenges across payments today that you have sought to address with these new products and services?

The payments industry faces several critical challenges that Visa’s new products and services aim to address. At VPF, we unveiled a suite of transformational products and services tailored to the emerging and future needs of consumers, merchants and financial institutions. VPF serves as an ideal platform for engaging with clients, partners and sector leaders to explore innovative solutions, identify challenges, and envision possibilities that can shape commerce globally.

This year’s announcements go beyond mere products and services, introducing the next generation of truly digital-first payment experiences. These experiences are designed to be more customizable, convenient and secure, representing a significant step towards a more inclusive and digitally enabled future.

Ensuring consistent and secure payment experiences across various channels is also essential. Innovations like Tap to Phone and the Visa Payment Passkey Service enhance security features and reduce friction, significantly improving the overall consumer experience. Tap to Phone enables any device to become a point-of-sale terminal by simply tapping a card or digital credential, while the newly launched Visa Payment Passkey uses biometric identifiers to confirm a shopper’s identity and authorize online payments swiftly and securely.

Visa app

How different are consumers today, and what are the main considerations to keep in mind when shaping experiences for them?

Today’s consumers are more digitally savvy and demand seamless, flexible and secure payment experiences.

They expect convenience across all touchpoints, whether shopping online, in-store, or via mobile, and this shift requires payment solutions that are both versatile and user-friendly.

For example, the Visa Flexible Credential allows consumers to choose between various payment methods, including debit, credit, installments and rewards, with a single card. This presents the ultimate choice for consumers in choosing how they want to pay from across their multiple accounts, while also allowing banks to improve cardholder experiences.

Additionally, features like Click to Pay streamline online checkouts by reducing the need for manual entry of card details, and instead, one can immediately see their registered cards when providing only a phone number or email address.

Security also remains a top priority, as evidenced by the increasing adoption of tokenization and biometric authentication.

When shaping experiences, it’s crucial to prioritize these elements — ease of use, flexibility, and robust security — to meet and exceed consumer expectations, fostering a more inclusive and digital-first payments landscape.

Can you tell us more about how you’re enabling smaller merchants, particularly micro and nano merchants, to better serve modern consumers?

We are committed to empowering micro and nano merchants by providing them with the tools they need to participate fully in the digital economy. Our Nano Merchant Acceptance solution is a key part of this effort, offering innovative ways to facilitate transactions through mobile devices. This includes USSD Push Payments for feature phones and Tap to Phone, which transforms any smartphone into a point-of-sale terminal.

In regions such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where many small businesses still rely heavily on cash, these solutions are vital. For instance, in the UAE, one in four small retailers have lost transactions due to customers not carrying cash, highlighting the need for digital payment acceptance.

By enabling digital payments, we help these merchants increase their revenue and expand their customer base, ultimately driving growth and financial inclusion.

From a security standpoint, can you share how emerging technologies such as AI are contributing to innovation at Visa?

Security is at the core of Visa’s innovations, with emerging technologies like AI playing a crucial role in enhancing our capabilities. AI-driven models are pivotal in fraud detection and prevention, analyzing over 500 data elements across more than 200 billion transactions annually.

Our Visa Protect for Account-to-Account (A2A) Payments solution leverages AI to combat fraud in real-time payments (RTP), successfully identifying 60 percent of previously undetected RTP fraud.

Additionally, the Visa Payment Passkey Service utilizes biometric authentication based on FIDO standards, providing a secure and seamless checkout experience by confirming consumer identity without disrupting the transaction flow.

These advancements not only protect consumers and merchants but also build trust in the digital payments ecosystem, ensuring secure and efficient transactions.

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Disclaimer: Opinions conveyed in this article are solely those of the author. The information presented in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It does not constitute advice on tax and legal matters; neither are they financial or investment recommendations. Refer to our full disclaimer policy here.