Executive Profile: One on One with Joby Orlowsky, Discover Network
Joby Orlowsky is a die-hard Cubs fan—is there any other kind?—but the Chicago native’s optimism extends well beyond baseball. After nearly 20 years at Discover, in roles spanning financial planning, operations, M&A, business development and marketing, Orlowsky is animated when he talks about the future of payments and Discover’s place in it. And unlike some, he’s not spooked about a potential fintech bubble.
“There’s so much money flowing through the payments ecosystem, it’s not going to burst,” he predicts. “Sure, we’ll see consolidation at some point, but I wouldn’t say the current state hints at irrational exuberance.” Orlowsky expects to see certain models winning out and big incumbent financial institutions acquiring fintech companies, which will lead to more standards and uniformity. “There’s plenty of runway left,” he adds. “Investment may not stay white hot,” he says, “but it’s not going to get cold any time soon.”
As vice president, global business development of Discover Network—a role he’s held since 2009—Orlowsky is plugged into Silicon Valley, devoting much of his time to strategic partnerships with tech companies, such as Google, Facebook, Samsung and Apple. “I’m inspired by my work with them. Their mentality is different from traditional banking, where you typically build on legacy platforms, test and then test some more,” he explains. “These organizations approach payments differently. They leverage cutting-edge technology, and their development and release cycles are very fast. They’re willing to ‘launch and learn.’ Additionally, they realize that payments are simply a component of an overall consumer experience, not the experience itself.”
|In His Own Words
Payments in five years … I don’t think it’s about mobile wallets; they’re a stepping stone and an important one. Mobile wallets are critical in terms of getting consumers comfortable with technology, but they’re not the end game.
When I’m not in the office … My wife is a commercial real estate professional, who also works full-time, and we have four kids, so it’s controlled chaos. We’re constantly going to a myriad of activities and events, but I still make time to work out, golf, travel and visit new restaurants.
I am also on the board of directors of an organization called A Safe Place. It’s a provider of services addressing domestic violence in Lake County, Ill. A Safe Place assists victims in transforming their lives after domestic violence and educates the community about domestic violence and how we can all be involved in its end.
Where I look for inspiration … I read almost all science publications. At times there’s no direct application to payments, but at other times, an interesting and potentially innovative correlation can be made.
Words I live by … There is a Latin phrase that I find important in life. The phrase is, “Nosce Te Ipsum.” It means, “Know Thyself.”
With alternative payments, including prepaid, under his purview, Orlowsky is focused on growth. “There is great volume potential in the business and it’s a relatively untapped market for us,” he says of prepaid. “We’re vigilant about this sector and dedicated to materially growing this business, particularly with some of the things we’re doing in the campus space.” Despite potential regulatory barriers related to the recent Department of Education rulemaking on campus cards, Orlowsky’s characteristic optimism shines through. “We approach campus cards with our partners—like we do our other products—in a very consumer-friendly way. As long as we keep our focus on the consumer, we’ll be fine. For us, campus products are lead generators for a deeper Discover relationship that also may include student lending, consumer banking and, ultimately, a Discover [credit] card.”
The diversification of Discover’s product suite is something Orlowsky has helped lead during his years at the network. What began as a large credit card issuer with a U.S. focus, Discover now offers student and personal lending, PIN debit with PULSE, and global acceptance with its Diners Club brand and strategic network-to-network alliance relationships.
Payments of the Future
Ensuring that payments are simple and integrated into everyday life is one of the things that intrigues Orlowsky about Discover’s role in payments now and in the future. He gives the example of Amazon’s Echo, a cylindrical Bluetooth speaker that connects to Alexa, a cloud-based voice service that provides information, answers questions, plays music, reads the news, and can control connected household devices, such as lights. “Eventually, you’ll say, ‘Alexa, can you find me a maroon and black wool scarf?’ You won’t even have to search. And if you’re a Prime member, you won’t have to enter your address or payment information. Alexa knows you’re logged into the Echo account, so the payment is invisible. It’s not even a shopping experience anymore, it’s a life experience—it’s augmented reality,” explains Orlowsky. “It’s critical for payments companies to be part of this technology and not to be left out of the experience.”
A key part of Discover’s strategy in this area is monetization of the digital platform, helping partners get their prepaid, stored value and private-label cards into the mobile wallet, for example, without disrupting the current transaction and economic flow. “Premium credit cards can afford the freight to get into these wallets, but prepaid and private-label cards typically don’t have the economic room to support it. The market is still nascent and participants are continuing to evolve their technical and pricing strategies in this ecosystem. The development, implementation and customization of the platform is a heavy lift among the players in the value chain and it’s a key focus for Discover,” he notes.
“We’re seeing a convergence of technology, data and money,” he continues. “The ability to take data and use it with new technologies at a pace we’ve never seen before makes this a fascinating time to be in the market and why I think the term ‘payments’, as a stand-alone item, limits thinking, creativity and evolution in the industry.”