How Interac has kept up with the digital transformation-driven times

In a sense, Interac has always been a digital brand – after all, it began as a non-profit collaboration between four of Canada’s big five banks designed to facilitate technology-based payments, and unlike many of its competitors around the world, when it hit the market in 1984 it required users to enter a PIN.

The company continued riding the technology wave as its services expanded to include chip-based payments in the late 2000s, followed by contactless payments, near field communication (NFC)-based mobile payments, and e-transfers today.

But it’s only this February that Interac officially merged with its for-profit division, Acxsys Corp., and established itself as the for-profit Interac Corporation, with digital transformation central to its business strategy.

Interac vice-president of digital products and platforms Debbie Gamble

“We have a history of delivering new services digitally,” Interac vice-president of digital products and platforms Debbie Gamble tells “But because of that history and our role in the marketplace, we need to continue to not just react to some changing market dynamics but anticipate how some of those changes are going to impact Canadians.”

In other words, Interac knows that if it wants to continue being the best at what it does – ensuring that Canadians can securely conduct transactions wherever and however they choose – it must adapt to an increasingly digital world.

It’s no accident, for example, that after e-transfer services were introduced in the early 2000s as a P2P service via email, they were gradually added as an online banking feature in the late 2000s, and then more recently adapted to mobile.

“Creating a digital strategy was our way of acknowledging the pace of technological change in general, and the need to address that by focusing on the growth of mobile and consumers’ connection to the mobile experience,” Gamble says. “As our society continues to embrace digital, the expectation of both consumers and businesses changes alongside it.”

That dedication to digital has earned Interac a nomination for parent ITWC’s 2018 Digital Transformation Awards.

Smaller than you think

In walking us through Interac’s digital strategy, Gamble says it’s important to remember that Interac is a small company relative to its distribution: According to Glassdoor, the company has fewer than 500 employees, despite its network having more than 59,000 ATMs and 450,000 merchant partners across the country.

“We recognize the privileged position that we’re in,” Gamble says. “So when developing our digital strategy it wasn’t just about recognizing the market as being increasingly digitized and bringing new ideas and opportunities with it. It was also about how we could leverage the assets that we have, and collaborate with our community – which includes financial institutions, shareholders, and solution partners – on a multi-pronged approach that tweaks our existing offerings, looks at what’s needed in the market, and brings new experiences to the market.”

The company has honed its approach to developing new digital services into a reliable strategy, Gamble says: It begins by regularly monitoring the financial services marketplace, and when it sees the market moving in a new direction, evaluates its own assets and considers how it can enhance its existing offerings before collaborating with its partners on something new.

Digital Transformation Awards 2018 - nominee badge

“We’ll talk to some of our industry partners, whether that be financial institutions, solution providers, or even the fintech community, and through that kind of collaboration we better understand the opportunities available and how to bring more enhanced capabilities to market,” she says.

Since beginning as a cooperative venture between RBC, CIBC, Scotiabank, TD, and Desjardins, Interac’s network of partners has grown to include more than 80 members, including two South Ontario incubators: Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District and Kitchener’s Communitech Hub.

“We’ve brought a number of offerings to market over the last couple of years that are the result of that collaborative approach,” Gamble says, citing features such as e-transfers, which Gamble says were a response to “a market need for enhanced engagement,” and Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, which were adopted in 2016.

Other new features have included auto-deposit, which allows users registered with a particular financial institution to immediately deposit transfers into their account without a security question being necessary – “Again, it’s making that experience easier and more relevant to the customer,” Gamble says – and request money, which allows users, consumers, or businesses to, well, send a request for money.

“It sounds quite simple but is incredibly useful,” Gamble says. “It can be used by individuals to split the bill, send money to family, or pay a hired professional, like a gardener or yoga instructor.”

Measuring success

When measuring its digital strategy’s success, Gamble says that Interac focuses on three key metrics: Ubiquity, growth, and new revenue streams.

For example, one of Interac’s key goals with the e-transfer, request money, and auto-deposit features introduced last year was not to only allow Canadians who bank at certain institutions to use them, but to make them available across the country.

“To do that, we had to collaborate with the financial institutions so that when we brought it to market, it could be brought to market at scale,” Gamble says. “But the large institutions embraced those features, and within the first week of introducing auto-deposit and request we were already at eighty per cent enablement across Canada.”

Another example of success illustrated by ubiquity is mobile support: Allowing Canadians to access Interac’s services, whenever, whenever, and however they choose to.

“When we brought our new digital mobile capabilities to market we needed to ensure they were available to all Canadians,” Gamble says. “That meant if a bank wanted to offer a proprietary wallet we needed to make sure that Interac solutions were included in that. If a consumer wanted to use Interac with an Apple or Android device, we needed to be able to support that.”

“Growth is obviously key for any business, and we see tremendous growth in mobile and e-transfer,” Gamble says. For example, the company currently processes around 1 million e-transfer transactions per day. And last year Canadians sent more than $90 billion in transactions over the company’s e-transfer platform.

“It illustrates how deeply app service is already woven into the fabric of Canadian lives,” she says. “Because of that, it’s important to us that we keep those services relevant.”

The company’s e-transfer platform is being embraced by the business community as well, as illustrated by the success of its Bulk solution, which allows companies to process and send out multiple payment requests in one file.

For more illustrations of Interac’s digital strategy, partners past, present and future can visit the company’s developer centre here, where they can interact with Interac, test new APIs, access whitepapers, read blogs about the company’s insights or watch videos of its partners, including blockchain or fintech.

“An important aspect of our digital strategy was ensuring that we actually had an engagement capability with the broader market,” Gamble explains.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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