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Carta Worldwide

Building payments for the future with Carta Worldwide, interview with CPO Dante Siracusa

Fintech Alliance Interview with Dante Siracusa, Chief Product Officer at Carta Worldwide

Card payment in store

What happens beyond the tap of a card is a trillion-dollar industry. Companies around the world are working behind the scenes to ensure that everything runs smoothly – and that we don’t even notice they are there.

For example, the observant reader might be aware that Apple Pay launched in 2014 – but probably doesn’t know that the issuer processing platform behind that iconic moment was Carta Worldwide.

Launched in 2010, Carta Worldwide spent its proceeding years on the “bleeding edge of innovation”, says Dante Siracusa, Chief Product Officer at the API-driven business. The company, now in a new phase of growth since being backed by Mogo, is a modern issuer processing platform that deploys payment products to businesses around the world – but what makes it stand out?

For Siracusa, the key difference is developing these products alongside the customer. “We work with our customers to build things in house, and then offer those solutions back out,” he explains. “It’s a matter of taking their requirements on board, rather than just saying ‘here’s our API structure, you can build something dynamic yourself’.” Carta Worldwide offers a delicate balance of offering out-of-the-box solutions and, as Siracusa puts it, “adding on other boxes as well”.

“We want to continue to innovate because the burden to build on non-payments companies can be difficult. There are companies that want to innovate, and the payment product is their speciality, but for others it’s just a necessary evil,” says Siracusa.

Building the right product

Key to this capability is having a stellar product team, and Siracusa says that can be difficult to find. His own experience, he describes as “tripping and finding payments”.  Having worked in the marine corps for 8 years, a propensity for maths saw Siracusa become a payroll clerk. He went on to train payroll teams, become a subject matter expert, and made his way from Peoplesoft to card acquirers and issuers like WorldPay and Marqeta. Here, he worked on implementation and sales engineering, focusing on how companies could expand into new markets. All this brings experience of both sides of the payments coin (or card),  and he says some things can only be learned this way.

“I’ve worked for small companies where I had to do everything – so I’ve definitely seen the inefficiencies and the pain points, but there’s always room to build strategy solutions,” he says, adding that in chaos lies opportunity. “I try to specialise in looking through the chaos, finding the patterns and then building something based on those,” he says. “Then, the chaos becomes calm. It’s about unlocking things by being able to observe it all a bit more critically.”

So what does Siracusa look for in his product team? “It’s really difficult to find a course that makes a good product manager,” he says. “I see it as a combination of critical thinking with a minor in psychology and sociology. You have to understand what your market wants, then what the regulators will allow, then what the technology can actually do right now – and what you want it to be able to do. Then, you get into ‘are we going to make money?’ – the commercial viability. Unless you’ve worked in an environment where you’re exposed to all those things, you’re going to become frustrated.”

Collaborative product development

So, when it comes to finding calm in the chaos and building products that work – where is Carta Worldwide now?

Currently, the business has key strengths in B2B payments such as employee expenses, meal cards, and the back-end of benefit cards for public sector entities like the NHS. Its popularity with these organisations comes from a focus on the use case and understanding of individual needs “We build out calculators and balance management tools in-house,” says Siracusa, sharing the example of enabling a company to offer its employees a fixed contribution to meals via a card which draws balance from the employers’ funds and the remainder from the employee’s own credit – and even ensures this is just used during lunch hours.

“All the layers are there, it’s multi layered multi wallet management, subledger management, acquiring management, all within a package,” he explains. “Lots of the other issuers can’t offer that without leaving the customer to figure it out. For us, it was a matter of listening to what they had to say, understanding the regional markets they’re in right now, country to country, and understanding the exact use case.”

It’s very much a two-way conversation with the customer. “We understand what they want to give their customers or employees, we tell them what we can do to enable that – and if there’s a gap, it’s either up to them to fill the gap or allow us more time to fill it ourselves. Collecting requirements is always a challenge, because the project depends on them. Sure, there will be adjustments, little stones along the path, but if you’re 80% down that road and someone says ‘oh, we forgot this massive boulder’ everything could blow up.”

Of course, with every product, there comes a time when you just have to roll it out and see what happens – but this is a delicate balance. “You’re never going to have the ability to guarantee that something works 100% of the time,” says Siracusa. “With cards, there are about 20 different entities involved in making one transaction happen – the end user, gateways, merchants, their banks… You never know when you’re going to issue a card that’s used at a convenience store by the owner’s 17-year-old nephew, who doesn’t know how to use the POS because he was asked to sit there and hope no customers came in… How do you code for that?”

Overall, Siracusa adds, the aim is to capture 80% as you roll out the product but ideally as it matures get up to 95-98% range. “You need to understand your barometer of success,” he explains. “Honesty and transparency with the customer are paramount here.”

Growing Carta – worldwide

Since Siracusa joined the firm, Carta Worldwide has continued its growth, especially with its biggest customer – “they’re trusting us to double their card portfolio and continuing to bring more business as they expand in new markets” – but it’s also in a period of transformation.

“The first eight years was dynamic but then there was a question of what to do next. We slowed down in order to speed up, as we found a buyer in Mogo which is now our parent company,” says Siracusa. “With their backing, we’re able to level up our hiring, restructure, migrate fully to the cloud… but the biggest change has been adapting from a vendor to a strategic partner.”

While vendors tend to provide a product and unsatisfied customers simply go elsewhere, a true strategic partner like Carta Worldwide can work to build a solution based on problems yet to be solved. It also uses its wealth of knowledge from experiences with other customers to add value to businesses that are just starting out. “With our success in the UK and expansion into Canada, the US, LatAm and Asia, we can help you get to where you need to go – and at the same time build strategy and operational readiness,” says Siracusa.

Launching in any new market can be a challenge, especially the US – and Siracusa admits without his 14 years of experience on both sides of the local payments market, he wouldn’t be able to help customers in the same way. “Launching in the US is difficult. It has so many quirks. You need to find someone with a holistic understanding of payments to advise you. Conversely, we have a lot of customers from the US trying to enter Europe – they need to remember that the US way of doing things is not the only way! Check your ego and check your knowledge base. It’s the same advice I give my kids always listen.”

Going forward, though payments is often the first area of FinTech to innovate, it’s certainly not over yet for those looking to transform it. “The payments industry is frustrating and exciting. We want to innovate on things that are going to be long lasting. It’s not just about the newest tech – you can’t always fall for the fads. It’s about staying innovative with the right technologies that will help stabilise and be sustainable for your company. Not getting caught up in all the hype.”