In many ways, the payments space today is not unlike the mining town of Tombstone, Arizona circa 1881 when the Deputy Town Marshall Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and their close friend Doc Holiday engaged members of a predominant outlaw group in one of history’s most famous shoot-outs. Tombstone — like many other frontier settlements at that time — was a restlessly churning boomtown, with potentially dangerous competitors coming and going, a wealth of opportunity for profit, and little margin for error or misstep.
The Earp’s had successfully staked mining claims, secured a piece of the gambling action at a local saloon, and pursued other commercial interests since first arriving in Tombstone. And although the brothers were cleared in court of any wrongdoing in the gunfight, many historians still debate whether the event transpired out of a desire for law and order or business interests and self-preservation.
Today we are witnessing a similar free-for-all environment in the payments space, as credit unions, banks, card issuers and third parties all jockey for key positions in a changing industry. Like pioneers pushing past the boundaries of the familiar, many cooperatives are now carefully selecting allies — or simply bridging out on their own — to not just hold their current positioning but also stake new claims for their membership.
The speed at which cooperative institutions innovate and adapt is important, but the threshold varies greatly by institution. Like a Hollywood style shoot-out at high noon, survival doesn’t just depend on the quickness of your draw but also on the ability to hit your mark. Whether the goal is incorporating a new technology such a mobile wallet, a new strategy such as a second look at prepaid cards and their potential user segments, or simply staying aware of how the industry is evolving and learning from the experiences of your peers, now is the correct time to reassess what you want to achieve in the payment space and what you’re willing to risk to get there.
Moving beyond established comfort zones is a scary process but a necessary one if progress is to be made and the looming wilderness tamed. We hope the following insights and best practices from both your peers and other cooperative-oriented businesses can help solidify your payments game plan for 2013 and beyond.