Visa Europe CIO Steve Chambers on managing a transformation strategy

Spending six years developing a European-wide payments platform­ with €0.5bn to spend and an 800-plus strong development team is a big, complicated job, but it hardly calls for a rocket scientist, does it? Even if it did, that would be no problem for Visa Eur­ope CIO Steve Chambers: he is one.

I interviewed him in a room on the ninth floor of Visa Europe’s headquarters in London’s newly-built Paddington commercial campus. Marks & Spencer and Kingfisher – big indirect Visa customers – are neighbours. From that height, a good part of West London is visible and it’s a suitable backdrop for our discussion of the very future of cash and paying for things anywhere in Europe.

Chambers isn’t a large man, but he has a big presence. This Geordie has a prize-fighter’s demeanour and it’s easy to imagine people going out of their way to avoid seeing him angry. This is borne out by his assumptions on why he was chosen to head up such a mammoth task.

“I’m not shy,” he says. “Visa Europe is a very collaborative, consensus-driven organisation, but when you get into execute mode, you have to transform into a command and control approach.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking Chambers is all about brute force though. He’s as adept at the subtleties of corporate politics as any other blue-chip business leader.

Chambers was brought into Visa Europe­ at the payment system’s inception six years ago. The company was responding to its European member banks’ demands for a durable and compliant authorisation, clearing and settlement system for the 21st Century. The system had to adapt to cardholders’ increase in usage and pave the way for new business lines – factors that presented a constantly moving target to Chambers and his team.

“There are new product offerings, more service offerings, six-monthly releases into the payment universe. Development [on the new system] had to be in synch with the existing Visa platform, which is constantly in motion,” Chambers says.

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