How To Win Digital Customers With Howard Tiersky Of FROM | Soar Payments LLC

How To Win Digital Customers With Howard Tiersky Of FROM

Attracting digital customers is critical to the success of so many businesses these days, and those operating in payments or fintech are no exception.

On this episode, we dive into the keys to winning digital customers with the help of Howard Tiersky, CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency. Howard is also the author of “Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance” and had many insights to share.

Payments & Fintech Insights In This Episode

  • Why digital customers are so important to all businesses, but especially fintechs and payments organizations.
  • What unique challenges organizations face when trying to acquire digital customers.
  • The keys to winning digital customers.
  • Howard’s insights on the future of digital transformations.
  • With so much more!

Episode Transcript

Scott: Hey, how’s it going PayPod listeners? Scott here with you, and welcome to another fantastic episode of “PayPod: The Payments & FinTech Podcast.”: On this show, we’re gonna be turning our attention to something that’s really at the heart of so many FinTechs, payments businesses, and otherwise customers. But not just any type of customer. We’re talking about digital customers. What does it take to win digital customers in an increasingly competitive landscape with so many mobile banking options, financial apps, payment methods, cryptocurrencies, and more? The choices are endless. But getting enough customers to adopt your platform or use your financial service can be the difference between the next great FinTech success story and another also-ran. Joining me to provide unique insights on this is Howard Tiersky, who is the CEO of FROM, which is the digital transformation agency. Howard recently published a “Wall Street Journal” bestselling book entitled “Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance,” and is currently on a virtual book tour. The book outlines key strategies and tactics to transform a company around its customer experience and win customers in today’s digital age. So if we’re gonna be exploring the how of winning digital customers, I couldn’t think of a better guest to have. Let’s jump right in. Howard, welcome to the show.

Howard: Well, thank you so much, Scott. I’m thrilled to be here.

Scott: Thank you for being here. As I said, we want to explore the how-to win digital customers, but before we get into all of that, I’d like to start with a big question, particularly for banks, payments businesses, FinTechs. Why are digital customers so important? Why do digital customers really matter so much these days?

Howard: Well, I think you want to start by asking a question, “Well, what is a digital customer? What do we mean by that?” And I’ll tell you what I mean by it. It’s people who are living a lifestyle that is extremely digitally centric. This is, to me, the digital customer. And this is increasingly a huge majority of, at least I’ll speak for us here in the United States, and I know it’s true of many countries around the world, perhaps not all, it’s a vast majority of customers who are living that digitally-centric lifestyle. Studies show that 70% of people sleep with their smartphone beside their bed. And so many aspects of our lives from shopping to dining, to dating, to learning, finance, everything has become so focused on digital touchpoints. And so these days asking the question, “Why are digital customers so important,” you might as well ask, “Why are your customers so important? Why do you care about 7% of your customers?” And it becomes obvious. You know, with no customers, you have no money, you have no business. So you almost really don’t have a choice in almost every business to say, “I better focus on these digital customers,” because increasingly that’s everybody.

Scott: Right. So an organization, they may decide, or maybe more appropriate, realize that, “Yes, we want to win digital customers because we want customers.” And especially if we’re talking about a FinTech who has the, you know, next great finance app or something like that, that’s where all their customers will be. But it’s not always so simple to actually do. What are some of the most notable challenges organizations may face when trying to go out there and get these type of customers? What are the headwinds that they might encounter?

Howard: Well, digital customers today have very high expectations of the level of convenience that they’ll be provided, of the level of ease of learning and use of any given future capability, of the level of personalization that they’re gonna receive. And, frankly, of cost too, of the amount of value that they’re gonna be provided for what level of financial or other costs that they have to contribute. And so that means that you have to be delivering all of those things at a very high level or else your digital customers will, at the very least, feel dissatisfied and say, “Oh, man, you know, Amazon does it much better, or Uber is so much more elegant,” or what have you. Or, even worse than being dissatisfied, there may be a competitor of yours, whatever type of business you’re in, that has already figured out how to deliver an experience that meets or exceeds the needs of those digital customers. And because the digital component of the business and experience is such a priority, that may be enough to cause them to say, “All right. I’m gonna switch. I’m gonna go to your competitor because the digital experience is so important to me.”

Scott: Right. Yeah. “I’m gonna delete that app and download this other one that does what you’re doing, but better.” That’s the nightmare scenario for any organization. So, okay. These are some of the challenges that are faced, and you wrote a book with a lot of insights on all of this. What’s the story behind the book and perhaps maybe some key insights, if you could tease some for us, for overcoming some of the challenges when trying to win digital customers?

Howard: Sure. I think there’s sort of a number of challenges. The first challenge is having the right vision. What is the experience that you should be providing? What features, what capabilities, what content, what will be that experience that will meet and exceed their expectations? And figuring that out and getting that right, that’s the foundation of everything else you do. And so in the book, I talk extensively about the first step of my five-step digital transformation process, which is to understand the customer, to not guess or make assumptions or just fly off enthusiastic about some new technology or some new feature idea that your team may have, but to make sure it’s grounded in saying, “Okay, wait a minute. You know, if you have a product in the market today, for example, what is the customer’s experience? What is important to that customer? What are their priorities? Where are we making them happy and satisfying them? And we wanna make sure we are not messing those things up. We’re not eliminating the parts of our current experience that are actually doing well. And where are we frustrating the customer, or confusing them, or disappointing them?” Identifying those things and then focusing whatever type of digital innovation you’re going to engage in on the things that are important to the customer, this should be your guiding star. This is how you aim the effort of whatever kind of change or transformation you’re gonna do. So I think that’s the first challenge is to make sure that you really have good insight into the customer because, you know, in my world, I work mostly with large enterprises. So I don’t know if this is true for companies of all sizes, but I would say that most enterprises, their level of knowledge and insight into their customers is like a 6 out of 10. Very few companies are totally clueless about their customers and their needs, of course.

Scott: Of course.

Howard: But they often also have major gaps. And I know this because we often get brought in to research, to pull data together. And we’ll talk to people in the call center, we’ll survey customers, we’ll observe them using the product, we’ll interview them. We’ll engage in a variety of other research techniques, many of which I outline in the book. And we’ll come back with all kinds of insights about the customer that were there all the time to be found but the company may simply not have previously been aware of. And those insights are gold when you’re trying to figure out then how to actually have a vision for how to successfully improve the differentiation and value proposition of what you’re offering that customer. So that’s certainly one of the big challenges. And I guess if I were to just rattle off a few others, once you understand the vision, once you have an idea of what that should be, then, of course, it’s usually…feels like a very ambitious and sometimes intimidating challenge because once you lay out, “Okay. Well, this is what our customers really want. This is how they really want to interact with us,” and you realize that it could be a very long distance from where you are now, and then you have to figure out, “Okay. Well, how do we get from here to where we need to go?”

And so a second challenge is getting the organizational buy-in to be able to actually embark upon that journey, the funding, the kind of approval for whatever types of changes may be needed to business process, to the business model, etc. And not only is it difficult to get funding and approval for things just because that’s how it always is. You know, if you wanna go to a company and say, “I need a $50 million budget to do anything,” you should expect a lot of resistance, right? A lot of friction. After all, most companies have to say no to most ideas that come their way. And so you have to be able to convince the powers that be that this is really a critical business priority. And then even once you’ve done that, you have to worry about execution because even with funding, many well-funded initiatives fail even if they have the right ideas if the execution is not good. So you have to make sure you have the right technology approach, you have the right user experience design approach, you have the right marketing to communicate whatever it is you want the customer to do differently.

And along the way, you’re probably gonna have enemies. You’re gonna have people who are resisting whatever change you’re looking to drive. Even if it’s in the best interest of the company, it may not be in their personal best interest. If they were on the call centers and you’re employing a chatbot that’s gonna have the number of people that you need in your call centers, the person who runs the call centers may see this as a negative thing relative to their future with the company. And so look for arrows to be accumulating on your back any time there’s anything that goes even the littlest bit wrong. And so that’s another challenge is to overcome the organizational and personal resistance to change in the politics that often is one of the biggest obstacles to major transformation. So there’s more actually, but I’ll pause there. I hope I haven’t depressed you, but you asked me for some of the challenges and there are many, and those are some of the biggest ones.

Scott: No. I mean, I really appreciate it. And you’ve kind of broken it out so clearly. It would be exciting to say, “Yeah. Here’s how we want to win customers. Here’s what we wanna do to do better than our competitors.” But you can’t do that if the organization itself isn’t all marching and together, isn’t all on the same page if you aren’t having those considerations that you were just kind of breaking down. I wanna dial in the focus a bit on digital banks, financial apps, and other organizations that are kind of at the intersection of finance and technology. I’m curious, what strategies or considerations might be unique to them when it comes to attracting digital customers?

Howard: Sure. Well, I think two things. First of all, finance was one of the earliest industries, financial services in general, to undergo digital transformation. Finance, travel, and then retail and other industries such as healthcare, government, manufacturing are much, you know, earlier in their curve. Because, of course, many aspects of financial services have always been very much about technology and tech, you know, providing services, which at heart are information systems and information technology-type services. And so, first of all, you have a very strong, competitive set out there. A lot of companies are investing heavily in it. Not only are the big brands investing, but we have a very, very well-financed FinTech sector. This is one of the hottest areas for, you know, private equity and venture capital-type investment. And so there’s a lot of people with a lot of money trying to figure out how to create a better financial services experience. And we know that when they do, look at an insurance company like Lemonade has been eating the lunch of a lot of big property and casualty companies because they’ve used digital to provide a better experience. And now you see companies like State Farm accelerating in their ability to demonstrate strong, digitally transformed approaches to everything from claims, to creating new policies, making changes to policies, all these kinds of things. So I think that’s the first thing, is that if you’re talking about the services which you provide directly to your customers, whether they’re B2C or B2B customers, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on that you’re out there competing with.

And then I think the second thing is to recognize that financial services and finance and payments, this is what is digital transactions, no matter what industry we’re talking about. So in addition to the customers and financial services, you’re also reaching through to your customers’ customers when you’re talking about the business-to-business component, and certainly, in the payments industry, that’s heavily what we’re talking about. And so what you have to do as a payments company, for example, is figure out, “How am I gonna help retailers improve their customer journey for digital customers? How am I gonna help restaurants improve their customer experience to digital customers?” How am I gonna help gas stations or all the other specific verticals that you provide a payments engine for? How are you gonna help them do that in an even better way? And what’s really great in the payment space is that digital payments are massively on the rise. So many of the types of transactions that we used to more frequently use cash for, or maybe checks or something are becoming digital payments. And on the flip side, we have a proliferation of companies competing in that space. So there’s plenty of people who are out to get that bigger pie, but it’s nevertheless a growing pie, which is good news.

Scott: Absolutely. And I’m so glad you mentioned that. I sometimes feel like I’m a broken record when I talk about just how important payments organizations, FinTechs, banks are when we talk about things like going digital, like things like security and privacy. They’re the backbone of so many businesses and they can really drive all of this forward. So keeping that in mind when you’re talking about, well, how are you going to win these customers and help with all the growth, they have a direct role to play because someone could design some amazing app that has nothing to do directly with payments, but there’s a payment aspect to it. And if that’s not on point, well, then the person who designed that great app… I mean, it gets to use the example. The first time I used Uber and realizing how easy it was to just hop in and I had my credit card already loaded up and I just got out and it was all great. If that experience wasn’t so seamless, maybe I would’ve been like, “Well, Uber stinks. I’m not gonna use this.” Right? That’s a key thing.

Howard: Absolutely. It’s huge. And for many of the customers in finance companies, the payments may not be the main thing. It may only be 15% of their customer experience. I mean, consider Amazon, for example. You know, the way the payment is not the main thing, but it’s an important part. And if it’s bad, then that stains the whole experience. And if you can find a way to differentiate and make it better, well, look at the fact that we see this in customer research all the time, that when you ask people, “Well, why do you buy some of the stuff on Amazon compared to going elsewhere?” One of the reasons is my payment information is stored there and I don’t like having to put it in some other site if I’m buying from them, number one, because I may be concerned about who are these people that I’m giving my credit card to. And number two, because I got to type in all those digits.” So to the degree that a finance or a payments company can have help non-Amazon retailers, the remaining 40% of the world’s retail transactions that are not done on Amazon…you know, I’m exaggerating, but can help them. You help them in what is perhaps their number one most important competitive challenge, which is how do I compete with Amazon? Because one of Amazon’s two or three most important strengths is the fact that people already have their payment information stored there. So that’s just an example of how important payments can be,

Scott: Right. And bringing that all together and getting a customer to say, “You know what? I can rely on this now. It has such a great experience, whether it’s payments and getting this product or whatever it might be.” Shifting gears a bit because I think we’re really doing a great job of highlighting just how important the digital aspect of things are and you’re the CEO of FROM, which is a digital transformation agency, and you’ve kind of touched a little bit on this already. Many financial organizations are very keen to undergo digital transformations and many have already done so. In fact, we’ve seen this become a complete necessity certainly over the last few years in the wake of the pandemic and overall digital revolution that we’ve seen. So what’s the story behind FROM, and how do you really help with these digital transformations if an organization be they financial or otherwise says, “Okay. We gotta get these digital customers. We got to transform. We’ve got to find out what’s next.” Where does FROM come in?

Howard: Sure. Well, fundamentally, there’s a lot of big companies out there that are trying to figure out, “How do I get from where I am to where I need to be? How do I get from, I’ve got this business. I have a lot of customers, you know, but I’ve got digital stuff, I’ve got an app, I’ve got a website, but frankly, it’s not at the level that digital customers are expecting today. We haven’t moved fast enough. And, you know, we’re not nearly as strong in the digital space as perhaps some of our pure-play competitors or as some of the leaders in the digital world like in Amazon.” And that’s affecting your business. That’s affecting your competitiveness and may or most likely will be an even bigger problem in the future unless you can change the game. And that’s our typical customer. And frankly, that’s true of so many large brands today.

So what do we do? Well, you know, you mentioned my book earlier. The book outlines this five-step process that we use to work with the company to figure out, to understand the customer, to create a vision of what is the customer experience that, you know, if they were rebuilding this business from the ground up right now, if they were architecting a business right now without worrying about constraints that would be absolutely the most competitive value proposition to their customers in the marketplace today, what would that look like? What is that future customer journey that they need to be moving toward? And then working with them to figure out, “How do we move in that direction?” Everything from how do we get the funding? You know, how do we build the business case? How do we create the internal pitch, if you will, that has to go to various constituents to get them on board? How do we get alignment within the organization to be moving in this direction to, as we start to get some of that alignment and we get approvals to at least move in the direction, how do you execute on it, including doing user experience design, creating individual pieces and products, whether that’s a chatbot, or an app, or a website, or implementing a content management system or integrating a new payment gateway or whatever it may be? And then, you know, we’re measuring the results of that, figuring out, “How do we do we chart the course to make sure that we’re getting the impact that is really gonna equal business results?” That means usually prototyping things before we even launch them and testing them with users to make sure that they’re really going to deliver the, you know, change to customer behavior and the change to customer preference that we’re intending.

And then as things are built and launched, usually in some kind of a minimum and viable product, making sure we have the right processes in place, the right listening posts to say, “Okay. How’s it going? How are people responding to it in the real world, and how can we continue to improve it, and improve it, and improve it so we can create more and more value for our customers and therefore be able to extract more and more value from our customers?” And that process is what every company needs to be going through. And while they’re doing the big stuff, they also need to be thinking about, “What is the little stuff I can optimize day-to-day?” Because often the world won’t wait for your big ambitious vision. And also, what kind of leadership is needed to move the organization and help them past challenges like resistance to change.

So those are the things that we work with clients on, and many clients have capabilities in some of those areas. They may have technology teams or user experience teams or great leaders or research teams and other things. And so our job is to come in and help provide a framework like the one I outline in my book and then figure out, where do they need help? Where do they have the resources they need? In which case, great. Our job is to stay out of the way. And where is supplementation needed, additional thinking, additional strategy, additional user experience, design capacity, additional technology knowledge or technology bandwidth, or whatever it may be, and be a collaborator with them to help them move their company towards the future that they need to move towards to be successful and to do so as rapidly as possible? Because there’s a great Jack Welsh quote that I love from the ’80s when he turned around General Electric and I think he like 30Xed their stock price over 20 years, something like that. And he said, “When the rate of change on the outside of a company exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” And I think, honestly, many companies, maybe most companies today, they feel that. And so figuring out how to help them increase the rate of change on the inside, but, of course, not just increase the rate of change, but also make sure that the direction of change is right so that they’re chasing the customer who’s ahead of them in most cases to be able to deliver the experience that they expect and want so that they can win and frankly, earn and deserve the love of today’s digital customers.

Scott: As we near the end of discussions on this show, I always like to turn the attention to the future. When we’re talking about winning digital customers, digital transformations, how might the overall landscape change in the months and years to come when you’re thinking about what customer customers expect, what organizations can and should be working towards, what might the challenges and successful strategies for winning digital customers look like in the future?

Howard: Well, there’s no question that COVID has acted as a forcing function to make our customers engage much more with digital channels than they did before. And I think that as, hopefully, you know, knock wood, COVID subsides and permits us to go back to our prior behaviors, if we choose to, many customers will retain some of the behavioral changes that they’ve had to take up during COVID. They may continue to order groceries on Instacart. They may continue to order their food using Uber Eats, etc, etc, even if that’s something that they only started doing because of COVID because now they’ve learned how to do it and they discovered that it’s kind of nice. And it doesn’t mean they’ll never go out to eat, but they may not go back to eat as much as they did before because now they’ve got more alternatives. So I think that’s the first thing is to just recognize that that the future as COVID subsides is probably going to look quite different from the normal, you know, that…people use that term, the new normal. That’s a good way of putting it.

Some things will seem like they were before, but some things won’t, and some things won’t be the same amount. People may still go to movies, but less. People may go out to restaurants, but less. And, of course, as we know from so many retailers who have gone out of business, if your retail volume drops by 10% in a store, that could be a 90% drop in your profit. So some businesses are just not able to sustain a drop in volume and still have a viable business proposition. So I think that’s one thing, that the shakeup in the behaviors of consumers as a result of COVID, which is still shaking out, shall we say because it still remains to be seen exactly how that’s going to settle after people feel completely free to do what they want to do and not limited by, you know, fear of infection and such.

Then I think beyond that, of course, technology continues to raise the bar in terms of what’s possible. 5G is going to mean that, you know, ubiquitous connectivity is even more ubiquitous and is even faster and that’s gonna enable new kinds of applications that weren’t possible before. Voice has become already a very important part of the user interface and I think we’re gonna see that be applied in many, many more areas. And, you know, I’m continuously amazed, for example, that I can’t more effectively talk to my computer. How is it that I’m still having to use the mouse and keyboard so much? I know, of course, our devices have things like Cortana on the PC, but still, they’re still limited.

Scott: Yeah. There’s still places to go.

Howard: Yeah. You know, if I’m working in Photoshop, why isn’t it just that everything I wanna do isn’t just a voice command? I think that we’re gonna more and more… People are more and more comfortable with voice and the voice recognition has gotten good enough that that is not so much of a barrier anymore. We see that. And I dictate emails all the time using Google and that wasn’t really possible a couple years ago because it was too error-prone. And so I think voice is gonna be very, very important. And, you know, just to see as artificial intelligence and machine learning becomes more and more sophisticated and as companies figure out more and more what to do with it, we’re going to see smarter and smarter systems that are able to use our data in better and better ways.

And I guess I’ll just add one more. I mean, there’s so many things, but I think Blockchain is going to be a very transformative force. We see it already the effect of Blockchain on cryptocurrency and the rise of Bitcoin, of course, is this astronomical story. And I don’t know what the number is, how many trillions of dollars are circulating now through Ethereum and Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but it’s just extraordinary. And I think not only are we going to continue to see these types of independent forms of currency that are purely digital grow and become more and more sophisticated and some of their constraints and limitations go away because right now it’s rather geeky. I don’t think that my mom would be very comfortable figuring out how to buy things on Amazon using Bitcoin.

Scott: Right. What’s a digital wallet?

Howard: Well, yeah, but I believe Venmo is now offering Bitcoin. And I think, you know, like the… I mean, that’s often true with technologies. You know, the first generation or two are only for techno-geeks and then eventually they become something… I mean, you know, you could have used voice 10, 15 years ago using Dragon naturally speaking if you didn’t mind speaking into a headset and installing software on your computer and training it to your voice, but 99.9% of people are never gonna do that. But now, you don’t have to do any of those things. You can just push a button and say, “Hey, Siri, what’s the weather?” And she tells you, and now people will adopt it. And so I think we’re going to see that kind of a curve on all these crypto payment methods. But I think that’s gonna turn out to just be the tip of the iceberg for Blockchain.

And I think what we’re gonna see is that Blockchain is impacting not just payments, but anything to do with the supply chain and anything to do with personal and private information, or if not anything and everything, many, many, many things. And I think it’s gonna transform healthcare, and manufacturing, and agriculture, and logistics, and so many different parts that are key to industry overall. And, you know, it’s not gonna happen overnight, but I think it’s going to be as revolutionary as mobile was, perhaps in a different way because it’s not a sexy front-end technology. It’s a backend technology, but there are so many things that we don’t even think about trying to do today because we can’t trust other parties or so many industries that exist to bridge trust between parties. For example, in financial services, one of the big reasons people use credit cards is that, you know, I’m gonna pay you today and you’re gonna send me something that I’m gonna get in a week.

Well, how do I know you’re gonna send me the thing? Well, because I used a credit card and that way I have recourse if you don’t complete the thing you said you were going to do. But the credit card takes 2.5% to 3% of the transaction. And that adds up to an enormous amount of money. Imagine we could avoid those costs, yet still have the confidence that I don’t have to worry about trusting you. I have another method to make sure that you don’t get your money until you’ve fulfilled your agreement. That’s one of the key capabilities of something like Blockchain, what’s called smart contracts in Blockchain parlance. And that could make something like title insurance completely unnecessary. It could substantially reduce the value proposition of a credit card and the cost associated with that. So I think that certain aspects of financial services are really gonna have to think about how they exist in a post-Blockchain world just like certain areas of value like a travel agent that you could go to who would print your paper ticket for you, which wasn’t so valuable anymore in a digital world, and the whole industry kind of fell apart because the digital created a better way of doing it that just totally disintermediated them. I think Blockchain is gonna do the same thing to certain areas of industry and I think that financial services is one of the areas that has the most to fear and the most to gain if they figure out how to be an enabler of that Blockchain capability.

Scott: Right. Right. That’s the key part is, yeah, there’s challenge, there’s uncertainty, but there is also so much opportunity for organizations out there and particularly those in the financial and payments worlds. Howard, we have a segment that we like to end with on each and every show. It’s five questions. It’s rapid-fire. Are you ready?

Howard: All right. I’m ready.

Scott: All right. You gave a lot of awesome predictions about what the future may look like. But if you could make a prediction about the future of digital banking, payments, or another area of finance that you expect may happen more short-term, say 12 to 24 months, what would that be?

Howard: Well, the continued rise of small payments to small merchants or providers. You know, increasingly, the guy who maws my lawn takes Venmo, the guy who tutors my kids. You know, I think we’re just fine. You know, small… The whole idea that cash is being massively reduced, checks are being massively reduced as everyone just gets more comfortable paying each other with these types of systems, I think that’s just gonna continue up the hockey stick to the point where, you know, I was at my kid’s… What was it? Like a fundraiser for the school, you know, having one of those auctions, you know, where you buy tickets, a raffle thing. You put them in the little thing in the basket. And they were only taking payments by Venmo.

So you wanna get five raffle tickets at… This is like in the school gym, right? You want five raffle tickets. You scan the QR code, you send a Venmo payment, you show them the Venmo payment, they give you your raffle tickets. This is a school. This is not a sophisticated organization. This is the freaking PTA and they stopped taking cash. So I think this is stuff that’s been around for a few years, but especially because of COVID. Another reason, why aren’t they taking cash? Because they’re worried it has germs on it. That’s why, but the bottom line is this is what they’re doing. They’re adopting digital payments. And I don’t think they’re ever gonna go back even after everyone’s vaccinated.

Scott: Speaking of payments or finance, what’s one cool piece of payment or financial-related technology that you’ve come across recently that impressed you?

Howard: I’ll tell you something that really impressed me, which was something I didn’t realize. I was doing a live cast on my own and I asked my team to do some research on the digital wallets. And it goes to the point that we were making earlier about financial services companies, but also other kinds of companies needing to think about the payment customer experience. And so in the United States, of course, there’s some large digital wallets and digital payments companies all over the world and, of course, the ones that are big are in the U.S. In Asia, you see other ones, you see Alipay and that kind of thing. But in the United States, the number one and most popular digital wallet is, of course, Apple Pay. But what’s number two? Starbucks. Starbucks is the number two biggest digital payment system in the United States. And to me, that is a wake-up call to financial services.

When Starbucks, when a quick-service restaurant has created the second largest digital wallet, it says to me just like we saw in places like the media landscape where the most successful distributor of printed news or text-based news in the digital realm was not any newspaper but was CNN, a television channel that wasn’t historically in the business of stuff you read. And so it just goes to the point that just because you own the prior generation something doesn’t mean that some completely other industry might not step in and become the successful one in the next generation. And so that fact, I don’t know if it’s a technology so much as an application of it, that was a real fascinating detail for me to realize.

Scott: So then to kind of have you really put a point on it, in the next five years, most people around the world will make a purchase with either Bitcoin, Apple Pay, Starbucks, some other thing. Which one and why?

Howard: I don’t think it’s Bitcoin. It appears to me that the Bitcoin fundamental architecture will not sustain scaling to become a commonplace transactional, like go buy my Starbucks with a Bitcoin-type model. I think Ethereum is much more likely to step into that. And I think we may see Ethereum become the largest crypto over the next five years in favor of Bitcoin because it is a generation or two later in terms of the sophistication of technology and I think in terms of its scalability. And I think to many consumers, they’re not even gonna care. They’re just gonna have an app on their phone. Just like, you know, when I go into a store and I pay for something with a credit card, honestly, I reach into my pocket and I grab a credit card and I hand them whatever credit card my fingers grab. You know, it doesn’t really matter to me if it’s my MasterCard or my, or my American Express. What do I care?

That’s my general feeling. You know, I’m busy, I’m not thinking about it. And I think it’s gonna be like that. I think we’re all gonna have these multiple different digital payments. They’re all gonna be super easy and we’re just gonna hold up our phone and pay and we’re not even gonna care that much. And then somebody’s gonna try to convince us that if you pay with this one or that one, you’re gonna get points and this and that. And so some people will care about that and they’ll prefer one, but they’re all gonna work the same from the consumer’s perspective. They may work differently on the back-end, but they’re gonna work the same from the consumer’s perspective.

I heard Warren Buffet interviewed on YouTube the other day. It might have been a couple year-old interview. And far be it for me to say that I know more than Warren Buffet, but they asked him whether cash is gonna be around in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years and he kept saying, “Yes, yes, yes. I think cash is gonna be here for a long, long, long time.” I disagree. I know you asked me just for the next couple years, so I’m not gonna suggest cash is gonna be gone in the next couple years, but we continue to see declines. And I think that 20 years from now, do I think people are gonna have cash? Yeah. Like they do VHS videotapes and vinyl records, somebody will have some cash, but I think cash will become like a subway token. No, I think it’s going away.

Scott: What’s one piece of advice you would have for someone who’s considering that technology or maybe financial technology industry as a career?

Howard: Well, I guess I would ask why are you considering that industry? And is it what you really love? Because I think everybody should do what they love. And if that is what you love, then great. And I don’t really think there is a financial industry because financial services is so many discreet things. Property and casualty insurance is so different from lending, is so different from being a high-end financial advisor. And there are many other segments, as well, so different from raising capital for IPOs that you’re actually talking about a wide range of different careers and completely different industries that we just lump under this thing we call financial services. So deciding to be in financial services as a career, it’s sort of like deciding to go to Asia on vacation. I mean, okay, but like where? And I think that’s the next thing that someone who wants to be in financial services needs to figure out. There are many wonderful things to do in financial services and you have to figure out what you wanna do.

Scott: Last question here, Howard. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received, and from whom?

Howard: I would say the best business advice I’ve ever received is probably from Tony Robbins who I’ve had the privilege to work with and worked with his organization for over 20 years. And it was to when in doubt, hire people. You know, I started my own business 14 years ago or so. And when I first started, I was uncertain about, hesitant to hire people. After all, oh, my gosh, if I hire people, I’ve got to pay their salaries and I’m responsible for them, etc. And that is true. And that’s an important obligation you take on. But I think that the way you run a larger and larger business that grows from 1 person to 10, to 100 to 1,000, and so on is by bringing people in and giving them responsibilities, not trying to run everything yourself.

And I think the first piece of advice was just ask yourself, “What’s the value of your time compared to what it would cost you to hire someone to work for you?” And if you can hire someone to work for $25 an hour, is your time worth more than $25 an hour? If it is, you should hire someone to work for you for $25 an hour and keep following that advice over and over and over again. And eventually, the person you hire isn’t making $25 an hour. They make $50 an hour because they’ve gotten better and better. And that person needs a couple people that make $25 an hour or $10 an hour or whatever working for them and so on. I think that’s just that basic principle of getting over the concern about hiring people. When in doubt, hire. I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

Scott: I think that’s fantastic advice right there. Howard, thank you so much for joining me on the show today, really exploring just a critical topic that impacts not only payments and FinTech organizations and all of that, but so many. It’s a digital world we’re in and it’s only increasing. So it’s such a crucial thing to get right. And if folks wanna find out more maybe about what FROM can do for them when it comes to digital transformations, where can they do that? Where can they connect with you guys?

Howard: Sure. Absolutely. The FROM website, you can find that at, just that In addition, if you wanna learn more about my book, you can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and all the usual places one would find a book. The book again is called “Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance.” You probably just need the first word or two and it’ll come up, or it has its own website as well. If you go to, you can get links to all the places to buy the book there as well as download the first chapter for free. I also publish a lot on LinkedIn. So if you wanna find me there under my name, last name, Tiersky T-I-E-R-S-K-Y. I publish, I do a couple of live casts a week. I have a new LinkedIn newsletter all about digital transformation. So, would love to see you on LinkedIn as well.

Scott: And we’ll be sure to drop links to all of that in our show notes as well. Thank you again, Howard.

Howard: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. A fun conversation, Scott.

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