How many payment professionals would like to attend a full-blown conference by booting up their computers and putting their feet up on their desks? On May 18 and 19, 2009, Bankerstuff.com presented such a conference.
Dubbed the Emerging Payments Summit, the virtual event provided analysis and discussion of emerging sectors, such as prepaid and mobile payments, as well as regulatory issues, electronic payment opportunities and the role technology plays in product development.
The two-day conference was attended by 250 industry professionals. The setting's Web-based environment included an auditorium where attendees could view webinars, a lounge that served as a social networking center, an exhibit hall that enabled visitors to view information on vendors' products and services, and a media center containing white papers, podcasts and other presentations.
"The way the industry is right now we know that live attendance at physical conferences is falling," said Erin Handel, Managing Director, Product Innovation, at Bankerstuff. "What we found missing in the marketplace was one conference that brought all of the emerging payments together in one place.
"And I believe that Bankerstuff is one of the first companies to have done such a comprehensive virtual event that includes everything you'd find at a live event. We know that the need for education and staying relevant - especially in payment technology - is critical, so we decided it would be really cool to bring this type of information through this kind of venue."
Paul Tomasofsky, President of Two Sparrows Consulting, served as the conference chairman and also one of its presenters. He was particularly impressed with the exhibit hall motif in addition to the energy and dedication Bankerstuff brought to the event.
"I worked with Erin in the past as a speaker, and when she said she wanted to do a virtual conference and asked me to chair, I immediately said yes," Tomasofsky said.
"I helped put the agenda together, got the speakers lined up and helped them with their content and their presentations to make sure that it made sense for the audience and that it was what they wanted - and needed - to hear."
Tomasofsky noted that physical conferences often present overlapping content, which diminishes the value to participants in regard to money spent on travel, lodging and food. In addition, the expense of attending conferences forces companies to limit the number of personnel they can send.
"Clearly there is still a place for in-person conferences," Tomasofsky said. "But if you look at the explosion of conferences worldwide, it's just difficult to figure out where the differentiation is.
"What Bankerstuff did was supplement the physical conferences with a kind of 'in between': Here's the latest breaking news and relevant information that can be transferred down to any staff member or sales agent.
"Unfortunately, most payment professionals just can't get that information because of the costs involved with attending regional or national conferences."
According to Bankerstuff, one of the more popular webinars was Gary Yamamura's "Mobile payments - Is now the time to get into the water?" Yamamura, President of banking and payment consultancy Edept LLC, said greater consumer demand is driving the growth in mobile banking and payments. "Mobile is absolutely exploding in terms of what's happening in the rest of the banking and payments industry," Yamamura said.
"It's showing no signs of slowing down, and in my opinion, mobile implementation is a long-term investment. And I tell financial institutions there are ways to get in relatively inexpensively and leverage the trends that are going on." Yamamura believes the industry needs to be prepared for the next three to five generations of customers who will demand this type of service.
"They just need to be patient until baby boomers stop becoming their primary clients, and the Gen Yers and Xers take over that demographic," he said. "This is going to be their primary tool for banking, and for them there won't be another choice."
Yamamura stressed that a main driver for mobile implementation in the United States is smart phone technology and the multiple applications that can be downloaded on devices like Apple Inc.'s iPhone, Research in Motion Ltd.'s Blackberry Express and the Palm Inc. Palm III personal digital assistant, which give merchants who employ mobile workers comprehensive, cost-effective and secure solutions. "Mobile devices today are becoming true computers, very much like laptops," Yamamura said.
"And people are becoming very comfortable using application stores, which is a great tool to introduce merchants to the concept of adding and subtracting applications on phones that provide comprehensive services and functionality - and a potential huge market for ISOs and MLSs [merchant level salespeople] with regard to expanding their value-added offerings."
Additionally, Yamamura believes the mobile industry is moving toward consolidation and standardization of mobile device operating systems that will make "ISOs and MLSs lives a lot easier."
Tomasofky's "Emerging payments: More choices than ever" focused on segmentation: specifically, the phenomenon of certain consumer segments continuing to have access to credit, while others are shifting toward prepaid, debit and person-to-person money remittance services. "Prepaid cards and alternative payment products are very hot right now, which gives folks who don't have credit cards the chance to participate in e-commerce," Tomasofsky said.
"Secondly, payments are all about trust and confidence, which is one of the major pillars that the payments industry needs to be concentrating on if they want to maintain the payment franchise the way it is."
Tomasofsky pointed out that to be successful, emerging entities need to figure out what part of the market would most appreciate their product lines. "Most organizations try to conquer the world, but you can't boil the ocean," he said.
Founded in 2007, Bankerstuff produces and presents webinars designed to bring together experts from every segment of financial services. The company considers itself a portal for banking and payments industry information; it develops content and hires presenters to address any issue relevant to a particular theme.
The presentations from the Emerging Payments Summit are available online until Aug. 19, 2009. "For less than the price of an airline ticket or a couple of nights stay in a hotel, you get all of this content," Tomasofsky said. "Moreover, you can really distribute it down to additional levels of management and staff where it becomes much more valuable than getting the information secondhand."
For Handel, the Bankerstuff conferences are about reaching the widest possible audience to give payment professionals unable to attend physical shows - such as the feet on the street - valuable and vital information. "Since the information varies so much, chances are that there isn't one person, or even two people, who are expert enough to disseminate this information to their staff," Handel said.
"What we're hoping to achieve with this event is for attendees to build a training class forum from the archives. They can watch them as much as they want and can share it with the right person for that segment or vertical.
"And they get the gamut of emerging payments all from the convenience of their home or office."
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