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Old habits die hard – which is why payment innovation can fail

Sport, business. Is there a similarity? Before you flick on to the next article, this isn’t about positive mental attitude and a testosterone fuelled winner’s mentality. I want to share my thoughts on why habitual behaviour, good and bad, can lead companies either into a downward spiral or a slow trajectory towards improved performance. The world of payments is at a critical point in its development and I believe there are some simple but effective ways to get ahead of the competition, particularly when launching new technology.


Developing an edge and an advantage

You may, like me, have sat through the Olympics and marvelled at the achievements of Team GB. To finish second in the table, when only recently we were welcoming home just a handful of successful Olympians, is an astonishing turnaround. I’m particularly interested in the way Dave Brailsford, the performance director of Team Sky, and previously at British Cycling, has achieved unprecedented success. I realise there is lively press coverage about other matters in and around British cycling but there is no doubt that the approach they have taken has delivered substantial improvements.

You’ve probably heard about his methods, which he refers to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” Brailsford explains it as “the one per cent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief is that if you improved every area related to cycling by just one per cent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement. When he started this programme the focus was on the obvious elements you’d expect, such as the nutrition of riders, training, the ergonomics of the bike and the weight of the tyres.

But he didn’t stop there.

The team around him fanatically examined all the aspects that were overlooked by others. They discovered the pillow that offered the best sleep and got the riders to take them to hotels. They tested the most effective type of massage gel. To cut down on infection they tested the best way to wash your hands, and selected the right products which worked. They searched for one per cent improvements everywhere. They tested and learned.

This, for me, is the interesting part.


Testing new technology – is it fit for purpose?

Forensic examination, and testing the right approach, is critical to developing new payment technology. It’s also important to look at the way things are currently done, tear up the established practices, and start again with an improved approach. Some of the processes I see in testing new technology are habitual and driven by historic norms. I don’t believe the thinking can accommodate the new technology that we deal with. As Samuel Johnson once said, “the chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

You may look across your organisation and see everything functioning normally but, if you scratch under the surface, there are risks, problems and inefficiency staring back at you and revealing some ugly truths. In my world, I’m obsessed with removing the inefficiency of payment testing. But the risks are now greater than ever before as we speed to market with new technology and it collides with the technology of yesterday.

A failed development or clumsy launch can cost a company hours in remedial work and millions in the loss of reputation. The old established ways of testing payment technology are habitual, but acquiring good habits can make a company significant savings. It’s breaking those old habits that is key.


The Acid Test

When people look at their test environment they know, deep down, that it doesn’t work effectively enough, that it can be done better and that improvements can be made to minimise risk. Their future reputation can be safeguarded and the balance sheet can look healthier if a new approach is adopted, but we continue to pay only lip service to new ways of working. Brailsford has taught people a lesson in challenging the norm and looking for constant improvement in everything you do. I believe people responsible for launching new payment technology need to look more deeply at the way we are taking it to the market. Our industry could face a reputational risk without better standards of care.

The part that makes me nervous is the attention to detail around testing.

The companies who do make testing core to their thinking and genuinely deploy continuous improvement can see faster launch times and improved efficiency.  And on top of that, it’s more secure.

The winners won’t be wearing Olympic medals around their necks, but they will be launching safer, faster and cheaper services. That’s a habit worth adopting and, as John Irving once said, “good habits are worth being fanatical about.”

Anthony Walton

CEO, Iliad Solutions

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