A Recap of PAYMENTSfn – A Conference for Payments Engineers

Posted on June 4, 2018 Peter Mollins

What a great two days at the inaugural PAYMENTSfn conference for payments engineers. The event brought together one hundred (!) technical payment professionals to share experiences, network, learn from real-world cases – and have a good time.

In fact, it was such a hit, that we can officially say that we’re ready to do it again next year. So, get ready for PAYMENTSfn 2019 in Durham April 16 – 18, 2019.

But before we go too far thinking about next year, here’s a brief recap of the sessions from the event.

Ready to start this payments conference

Day 1: Spreedly Focused Half Day

The first half-day focused on Spreedly-related topics — including case studies delivered by our customers.

Spreedly’s CEO on Why We Built a Payments Conference

Justin Benson, Spreedly’s CEO, kicked things off with a review of why we’re all here for PAYMENTSfn. The Spreedly team, like the other payments and gateway professionals in the audience, have been part of the explosion of fintech and e-commerce. There’s been a matched growth in the number of events to support the industry. But there’s never been an event singularly focused on the engineers that build the payments technology, like gateways and card vaults, that supports e-commerce and fintech.

Enter PAYMENTSfn. We wanted to build an event that we’d want to participate in. One that was focused on networking among technical teams. One where great speakers come together to share their practical experiences. And one that supports the development of a community of payments engineers.

Jacques Fu and Steve Karp from Fattmerchant, “There’s More To a Partner Than the API”

The team from Fattmerchant took the stage next. Fattmerchant offers an omni-channel, integrated commerce solution for SMBs. And they brought out some incredible statistics on the market. One of the most fascinating was that 4 out of 5 small businesses are looking for basic functionality when it comes to payment processing. That leads to 40% of the need being around price and 25% around reliability of processing.

They then looked into the needs of the developers themselves in working with a payment partner. Interestingly, 50% of developers’ reasons for implementing payments is because it is core to what their business model is. That is, there’d be no business if they couldn’t accept payments.

Then, Jacques and Steve went deeper. They explored what developers are looking for in a good partner — in particular, they highlighted good documentation, support, and the ability to trial products.

Audience of payments engineers

Vaibhav Kaul, Nicole Grazioso from SeatGeek, “Scaling Payments With Your Growing Business”

SeatGeek has had an incredible growth trajectory. And the company has developed and extended its business model significantly. With each step, they’ve needed to adjust not only how the company messages and markets to customers. They’ve also had to change fundamental capabilities around how they process payments.

They moved from being a search engine that captures for-sale tickets with a great UI to be the merchant of record itself. That allowed SeatGeek to give customers a great experience with more dynamic pricing. SeatGeek looked to Spreedly to vault cards and also to support integrations into multiple PSPs. That allows them to efficiently process payments. And it supports them as they continue to evolve and provide a great, coordinated customer experience.

Jim Carter from Giving Assistant, “Cashing Out with Cash Back”

Jim revealed interesting facts about where US consumers’ spending goes. 62% of income goes to housing, transport, and food. So, what do we spend the remaining 38% on? Convenience items and other spending that is less core than those three categories. The fact that it is less core means that it can be more easily abandoned at checkout – people simply don’t need to buy these items.

That leads to a struggle for merchants: how to minimize cart abandonment? Jim then discussed how they are able to support the execution of the transaction by linking a charitable donation to the purchase itself. That helps encourage shoppers to proceed with that purchase because there is an extra positive outcome. It also helps enhance positive feelings of consumers towards the brands where it is used.

This was a fascinating look into a different angle on payments. That is that the success of a transaction is not only due to whether the processor processes it. But also because of a variety of user-centered interactions that payments engineers should consider.

presentation at PAYMENTSfn

Lightning Talks and Spreedly Ask Me Anything

A primary goal of the Spreedly half-day was to increase the flow of information between Spreedly and our fellow payments engineers. The lightning talks were a series of 5 minute discussions by Spreedly engineers and payment professionals about focused areas of interest in the payments space and in the Spreedly product stack.

The reaction to these talks was so encouraging that I’ll be rolling out a series of interviews with each of the speakers. We’ll explore their topics in more detail through a blog-based conversation.

After a great half-day, attendees regrouped at the newly expanded and renovated Spreedly offices for a Happy Hour. Again, great conversations and interactions!

Day 2: General Keynotes and Sessions

After an evening of networking, Nathaniel Talbott, Spreedly’s CTO, kicked things off with a historical review of payments technology. It was incredible to think of – but absolutely true – that coins and clay-based dispute resolution and contracting systems are actually early examples of payments technology. We truly work in a vital and storied line of business!

Nathaniel also discussed the importance of building a community. We started PAYMENTSfn to do exactly that. And it’s so exciting to see one hundred payments engineers and professionals in the audience. But we need your feedback and support to make it happen!

John Duff, former Director of Engineering at Shopify

John was the day’s first keynote, and he sparked a lot of conversation with his discussion. He looked at the evolution of Shopify over time and the challenges and wins it has had during its incredible growth.

Consider back in 2005, there were very few options available for a merchant that wanted to sell. Options like Yahoo Stores were less compelling for merchants that wanted to enable e-commerce. But along came Ruby and the Active Merchant library. That made it easier to accept payments thanks to its broad support across payment providers and the open source community.

One of Shopify’s early recognitions was the need to manage compliance – particularly PCI compliance. While a consultant may tell you that you should put everything into scope in order to minimize risk, John suggests going the other way and minimize the amount of your application that is in scope for PCI. Store only what you need and build services that touch cards so the rest of the system is out of scope. That also had the added advantage of dramatically reducing the number of attack vectors to the application. Because “if you build it, there will be fraud”.

John then discussed their work in offering PSP functions to provide a still better experience for their customers. A fascinating walkthrough of Shopify’s explosive growth and the underlying evolution of their payments technology.

Jennifer Marston, “Payments: An Integrator’s Perspective”

Jennifer brings years of systems integration experience to her perspective on payments and compliance. So, it was excellent to hear her exploration of compliance for payments applications. From the very beginning she challenged the audience to look at compliance from a different angle. Instead of solely thinking of it as a challenge or a distraction, to instead see it as an opportunity.

Many compliance regulations are common sense and are well-thought through ways to improve security, privacy, and other important aims. So, if developers treat these regulations as guidance to help them make stronger, more robust applications, they’ll provide a better customer experience and a more robust system.

She also brought up a particularly interesting point. Payments engineers should recognize that because they manage the processing of payments, they have a vital connection with the accounting department. They need to ensure that they have the data needed to support accounting’s work. And there’s an added benefit to payments engineers: accounting teams often have a good relationship with the payment processors themselves. So, if a gateway goes down, for example, accounting might help.

Nathan Adamson from Radtab, “Card Not Present, meet Card Present”

Nathan explored the different challenges stemming from Card Present versus Card Not Present transactions. The difference matters for many reasons, but he cited two in particular: the difference in processing rates and the chargeback liability.

His presentation took an interesting review of payments technology over time. In particular, he looked at the rise of card technology and how it has evolved since early cards in the 1950s through 1970s to today. As payment technology has changed over time it has altered not just the convenience factor for customers but also how fraud can be managed by merchants.

Consider the trade-off that that merchants must make when it comes to processing cards through Point of Sale. 15 million devices are out there that don’t support chip technology. Do merchants invest in upgrading these devices or trade-off on security? It’s an important decision for merchants to make when considering their payments technology.

Stephanie Slattery, “Why Won’t You Take My Money?”

20% of Americans have some form of disability. This massive number of people represents an opportunity for developers that must be addressed. Stephanie’s talk took on that opportunity.

Why is it an opportunity? Stephanie explored the legal issues and potential legal risks that non-compliant companies face. The Americans with Disabilities Act looks at not just the more visible forms of non-accessibility like building access, but also website access – including that related to payment forms. It’s also an economic opportunity. People with disabilities represent $175 billion worth of spending. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do!

Stephanie then explored how payments engineers can adjust their payment forms and processes to support those with disabilities. One of the most fascinating angles of the talk was that payments engineers and developers not only benefit those with disabilities through enhanced design – they help all their users and improve the overall experience.

Alex Henderson from Pushpay, “No Payments Left Behind!”

Pushpay has experienced incredible growth in the ‘generosity’ market. In this space, there’s no physical item that is necessarily exchanged. As it could be a donation, tithe, or gift to a religious institution. Uptime is vital to Pushpay and its clients, so Alex’s talk looked into how to ensure uptime at all times in the payment process.

His talk looked into some of the key best practices that they implemented to ensure great uptime. For instance, they built monitoring tools to identify when a gateway was down. They built feedback and error handling tools to help the team quickly understand and deal with any problems that might occur during payments processing.

A highlight from the talk was Alex’s description of the ability to change payment timing if there was an issue in processing. They quickly realized that this technical solution might actually be a value-add to their customers. So, a technical solution became a benefit that the company took to market.

Camille Acey from Clubhouse, “Making Them Pay: Tales from the Immutable Stack”

Camille brought together a number of threads for a fascinating look at her experience in setting up a payments system. The team had chosen Stripe and were looking at how to connect it into their backend system — which was built in Clojure and Datomic.

Camille then pivoted her topic to weave in the story of Edgar Allan Poe and his book “The Gold Bug”. In the story, the hero must decode a challenging cipher and search out a buried treasure. Camille’s connection reminded us of the value of diving deep into understanding context and trying multiple angles can help solve a problem. And, like the hero in The Gold Bug, sometimes the solution is not where you first dig. But instead, step back, re-evaulate, and your fresh perspective can lead to a solution.

Innovation and Payments

Brad Powers from Passport, “Tackling Complexities in Government Payments”

Brad is CTO of Passport, an application that helps citizens pay for a variety of micro-transactions with their municipality. These could be bus fares, parking fees, tolls, and more. And in each case these transactions tend to be relatively small. So, Brad dove into the approach of using a digital wallet to address transaction size.

He also explored the importance of user experience. When a citizen has a great experience with something like parking, that might induce them to spend more time and money in the city. And the importance of user experience extends to administrators who need actionable insights in order to make better decisions for their municipality and residents.

Sandi Metz

The final keynote of PAYMENTSfn was from industry luminary Sandi Metz. She is legendary for her ability to weave together multiple seemingly disconnected threads into a powerful message. And she didn’t disappoint.

She started her session by saying that she was going to predict the audience’s future. And she looked into the development of printing technology over time. With each leap forward, there was a major win for merchants, consumers, scientists, and humanity in general. But there were also significant disruptions. Particularly to those that stayed with the existing technology or ways of working.

It was a thrilling wake-up to us all to seize the moment and stay flexible to new opportunities.

What Did We Learn?

The event was an incredible success. How do we know? The sheer volume of times we were asked “when are you announcing PAYMENTSfn 2019?” were a pretty good indicator.

Shortly, we’ll post videos of the event’s talks in addition to registration forms for next year’s event. If you’re a payments engineer or technical payments professional, we’ll see you there! Pre-registration coming soon. When payments engineers can come together, it helps us all build great payments applications.

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