The Rise of Single-Providers amongst Fintechs with Visa’s Carl Raven

The Finterview - Fintech Exposed episode 21.

In an era where the financial sector continually adapts to technology's pace, a vital question arises: How has integrating consolidated services and single-provider trends altered the fintech landscape?

Enter Carl Raven, director of issuer technology enablers from Visa, with an illustrious 12-year tenure spanning some of the industry's notable names, such as First Data, and Carl's depth of experience positions him uniquely to shed light on the intricate shifts seen over the last decade, particularly the move from cost-centric to value-driven decisions.

In this article, we'll unravel the significant transformations as observed by Carl, understand the reasons behind the emerging single-provider trend in fintech, and appreciate the role of entities like Visa in fostering this evolving ecosystem. We'll navigate through the pivotal developments in fintech, with Carl's expert lens guiding us, offering insights into the strategies and collaborations that will shape the industry's future.

Keep reading for the key takeaways from the episode or 🎧 listen to the full podcast here.

Carl Raven's journey in the payments industry

Carl has amassed a remarkable 12-year experience in the payments industry. Beginning at First Data on the acquiring side, he moved to Visa, dedicating four years to establishing new principal members and issuer processes. After stints at various issuer processors like Carter Worldwide and, where he played a pivotal role in developing the issuing solution, Carl returned to Visa 18 months ago. His vast experience positions him as a significant figure, if not an "issuer processor specialist," in the payments ecosystem.

Evolution of the fintech landscape

Carl's observations over the past decade spotlight two primary shifts:

From cost to value

  • A decade ago, decisions were predominantly cost-driven. The emphasis was on who could offer the lowest price, leading to a "race to the bottom."
  • Fast forward to today, and the paradigm has pivoted. Cost discussions have moved to the backdrop, and the foreground is dominated by technology, services, and the inherent value brought to the table. This shift mirrors the evolution of fintechs from competing purely on price to focusing on technology, user experience, and overall service quality.

Holistic service provision

  • Historically, entities in the ecosystem were specialised, resulting in multiple contracts and interactions for varied services.
  • Today's trend leans towards consolidated offerings. Service providers now aim to encompass a broader spectrum, reducing the need for several contracts and affecting the overall cost structure. The fintech boom and savvy cardholders have catalysed this shift. Fintech now evaluate what they can manage in-house versus external outsourcing. The overarching theme is streamlining services and contracts optimising cost and value.

Emerging single provider trends in fintech

Navigating the financial ecosystem, many companies nowadays lean towards the convenience of working with a single provider under a single contract. More clients approach providers looking for comprehensive solutions that cater to their entire suite of requirements under one umbrella. This preference isn't limited to merely startups. Established brands, including banks, have expressed a desire to launch card propositions but often lack the in-house expertise.

Therefore, they seek external help to encapsulate their needs within a solitary contractual framework. This aligns with the broader industry trend where even partners aim to diversify their offerings to meet these demands.

Furthermore, this isn't exclusively about the newer fintechs. Companies of all scales, from fintech startups to renowned brands, have preferred this streamlined approach. Even those without experience in card propositions see it as a strategic move, reaching out to industry giants like Visa for guidance.

The bottom line? The landscape is changing. Whether it's the allure of simplicity, the need for expertise, or a strategic decision, the inclination towards a consolidated approach is evident across the board.

Guidance on selecting the right card product partner

Choosing a partner to launch a card product can be daunting, especially with varied internal capabilities among businesses. There are pivotal considerations to ensure a compatible partnership.

Firstly, it's paramount for businesses to understand their specific objectives. What is the company aiming to achieve? By assessing their in-house features and identifying gaps, they can seek partners to fill those voids. For instance, some businesses may already possess significant in-house technology, only requiring a partner for transaction processing through networks like VisaNet. In contrast, others may have minimal platform capabilities, necessitating outsourcing nearly every function, including managing ledger card balances.

The vital aspect is matching individual requirements with potential partners. While Visa maintains a neutral stance, refraining from endorsing any particular partners, they play a pivotal role in consultation. By comprehensively understanding their partners – their strengths, limitations, and targeted segments – they provide invaluable assistance in aligning businesses with the most fitting partner segment.

In essence, for any company, knowing what you bring to the table and what you seek in a partner is the cornerstone of forming a productive alliance.

Significance of cards in business strategy

The evolving role of card-based strategies has piqued interest across varied businesses. According to Carl Raven, the value of integrating a card is evident in sectors like remittance. Traditionally, workers migrating from home countries returned money without a card-linked system. This landscape has witnessed a substantial shift towards card-centric solutions. With its depth of expertise and broad market research, Visa has aimed to delineate the tangible benefits of adopting card programs. They strive to articulate the value proposition of such a card system and highlight Visa's potential role as a strategic partner in this evolution.

Visa's role in the payment ecosystem

To further comprehend Visa's stance in this ecosystem, it's crucial to understand its position not merely as a global card network but as an enabler. Visa furnishes a network for members, encompassing principal members, VIN sponsors, and tech partners. Their foundational role is facilitating a seamless infrastructure for transaction processing – both acquiring and issuing. Rather than just being a rule-enforcing entity, Visa envisions itself as a value-adding partner. Their primary objective is to drive partners toward achieving maximum success with their card programs. In particular, Visa recognises and emphasises issuer tech enablers' substantial yet often overlooked value. Their endeavours are always rooted in collaborative growth, ensuring mutual success.

Visa's role in navigating fintech's expanding ecosystem

The fintech industry has recently observed a surge in integrating new technologies, such as tokenisation, and innovative products, such as "buy now, pay later" options. Visa, a forerunner in the payment space, has recognised its pivotal role in fostering this dynamic ecosystem.

Key trends and developments

  • Tokenisation: Once regarded as a luxury, card tokenization has become necessary. With the vast majority of products integrating this feature, the trend underscores its importance in enhancing the digital card experience.
  • Digital shift: The demand for digital payment solutions, such as "click to pay" and SDK offerings, underscores the market's transition towards enhanced digital experiences.

Carl emphasised the company's proactive approach in aligning with these trends. With access to a wealth of data, Visa can spot emerging patterns and act on them, ensuring they stay ahead of the curve.

Expanding the partnership horizon

Traditionally, Visa's collaborations were largely limited to direct bin sponsors and customers. However, the evolving landscape necessitates a broader view. Today, Visa engages with a myriad of partners:

  1. Core banking platforms: Systems that support daily banking operations.
  2. Program managers: Diverse entities ranging from principal members to those white-labelling sponsorship and issuer processing.
  3. Orchestration layers: Middleware that connects different technologies and solutions.

The crux of Visa's strategy lies in its adaptive approach to collaboration. Recognising that no "one-size-fits-all" model exists, the company tailors its partnership strategies based on individual needs. From offering Visa consultancy services for expansion and market research to facilitating the adoption of Visa products across various domains, the focus is on value-addition and strategic alignment.

The importance of partnering with program managers and orchestration layers in fintech

A trend underpins Visa's collaboration with program managers and orchestration workers: the growing demand from clients for holistic services and products combined under one contract.

Historically, Visa may not have fully engaged with this sector, but it now prioritises these partnerships. Why? These program managers and orchestration layers are the behind-the-scenes forces that add power to card programs in the UK and globally.

Addressing past shortcomings

Visa acknowledges past challenges in this space. However, their proactive response has been to foster a culture that encourages innovative ideas, paving the way for positive change. Visa focuses on understanding and creating solutions that benefit them and their partners. A miss-step could result in rebuilding trust, a process which can be time-consuming.

Recognising this, Visa has concentrated its efforts over the past six months on hosting events, establishing committees, and engaging in outreach to demonstrate its commitment to the sector.

Visa's adaptability: a startup spirit in a global giant

Visa has shown flexibility, likened to the adaptable nature of startups. Established two years ago in Europe, their team has been laying down the groundwork to ensure better partnerships in the ecosystem.

As they continue on this journey, it's clear that the blend of a forward-thinking approach and a deep understanding of the ecosystem's requirements will be crucial in forging stronger, more beneficial partnerships in the fintech space.

Differentiation and expansion in the fintech ecosystem

The fintech ecosystem, rich with program managers and enablers, is pivotal in the ever-evolving market dynamics, ensuring card programs' efficient launch and sustainability. Carl Raven highlights the nuances and vitality of these entities, which he aptly terms "the unsung heroes," elucidating their comprehensive capabilities and integral, though oft-overlooked, contributions to the industry.

Nuanced differentiation among program managers

  • Identity and service offerings: Program managers differentiate themselves through diverse identities and offerings, such as orchestration layers, tech platforms, and services they provide independently or source from third parties.
  • Diverse role recognition: Recognition is pivotal, ensuring these entities shed their behind-the-scenes roles and assertively market their extensive, client-beneficial services and products.

Market saturation vs expansion opportunity

Historically a robust hub for tech partners, the UK might present an ostensibly saturated market for program managers and enablers. Conversely, a discernible and quite sizable market across Europe teems with potential despite having its share of providers and orchestration layers. Thereby, new providers targeting this expansive European market might uncover lucrative opportunities.

Navigating the complex world of fintech launches

Contrary to external perceptions, Fintech launching involves an intricate mesh of processes, extending beyond the simplistic conceptualization of establishing bank accounts and issuing cards. Here, the program manager magnifies its relevance by:

  • Simplifying launches: Aiding novices in the fintech arena by shouldering complex, knowledge-intensive tasks and streamlining launches without necessitating the newcomer to delve deep into industry intricacies.
  • Facilitating expansion: Enabling established fintechs, banks, and brands to dabble into new card offerings without diverting significant resources and time or diverging from their core offerings.

Continuous Learning and the Importance of Questions

The fintech industry, perpetually dynamic, necessitates perpetual learning and the unabashed seeking of knowledge through questions. Even for seasoned professionals like Carl, the industry presents new learnings daily, underscoring the necessity of maintaining an open, inquisitive stance to navigate its intricacies and nuances.

The importance of program managers in launching card propositions

Launching a card proposition in the financial tech landscape presents nuance and complexity. Understanding these intricacies is vital before introducing a product to the market.

Orchestration and efficiency

Program managers and orchestration heads play a pivotal role in the launch process. Instead of starting from scratch, they provide a foundation, allowing businesses to introduce their products swiftly, gather user feedback, and adapt accordingly. Over time, companies can decide whether to take on more responsibilities or maintain the current structure.

Cost efficiency

Program managers streamline operations. They can simplify legal complexities with singular contracts and help reduce operational costs. For Fintech companies or businesses wanting to embed financial products, this translates to combined lower monthly recurring costs.

Swift launch

Time to market is crucial. It's paramount to avoid making assumptions about customer preferences and promptly get the product into their hands. This allows businesses to get direct feedback and adapt to consumer needs.

The user experience

A card proposition's initial launch must be flawless. Users might abandon the product if a card doesn't work or the front-end application is cumbersome. Modern card propositions have evolved, with shortened registration processes and immediate access to virtual cards. Achieving this seamless experience is critical, and partners play a significant role in ensuring this.

Fusing personal and professional: an insight into potential entrepreneurial directions

Navigating the intricacies of potential business ventures, particularly in the fintech sector, often unveils intersections between personal and professional life. Carl reveals how a personal journey could shape future entrepreneurial pursuits.

Personal experience as a business catalyst

When faced with creating a company, Carl admits his inspiration is drawn deeply from his personal life, specifically raising awareness and education regarding Type 1 diabetes. He highlights the pervasive lack of understanding surrounding the condition despite its significant impact on those diagnosed and their families.

Blending passion with practicality

While acknowledging the enticing nature of such a venture, Carl nevertheless signals a commitment to his current role in the vast fintech space, particularly at Visa. He recognises the plentiful challenges and transformative changes on the horizon within the payments ecosystem that holds his present focus and dedication. The concept of delving into a cause so close to his heart, such as diabetes research and education, might simmer in the background while his current professional journey unfolds.

This balance between personal causes and professional commitments often presents a conundrum for many in the corporate world, highlighting the need to intertwine meaningful personal causes with our professional pathways yet ensuring a harmonious blend with ongoing career objectives and industry developments.


In conclusion, Carl Raven's extensive journey through the payments industry reveals a dynamic landscape that has evolved significantly over the past decade. We've learned that the industry has shifted from a cost-driven focus to one that emphasises value, technology, and holistic service provision.

The trend of seeking comprehensive solutions from a single provider is rising, benefiting startups and established brands. Visa's role as an enabler and value-adding partner is pivotal. Carl's journey also emphasises balancing personal passions with professional commitments.

In essence, the payments industry is undergoing profound changes, and Visa, under his guidance, is positioning itself as a strategic partner in this ever-evolving fintech landscape. The key takeaway is the importance of adaptability, collaboration, and delivering value to drive success in this dynamic field.

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