PayPal's Chief Technology Officer, Scott Thompson, is a prime example of what might be called the "payments geek."
It's a label that Thompson earned the hard way, with stints at Coopers and Lybrand delivering IT solutions to financial services clients, then as CIO at Barclays Global Investors, before becoming Executive Vice President of Technology Solutions at Inovant, Visa's IT subsidiary, where he was in charge of that company's global payment system.
At a company like PayPal, which prides itself on its geek culture and stringent hiring standards, being a "geek" about whatever topic you own is something that carries a lot of weight.
Thompson seems right at home. But he's the first to admit that PayPal is a unique place, and that his prior payments industry experiences only prepared him so much for his current job.
One of the first online payment vendors, PayPal today serves 143 million accounts spread across 190 countries. And, as parent company eBay expands its reach through the labors of its independent developer community, PayPal is planning to follow suit: releasing APIs this week that make its payments platform easier to integrate with Web-based and mobile applications, and launching a developer certification program to encourage more software developers to begin expanding on the company's platform.
That makes Thompson -- who oversees PayPal's IT, product development and architecture -- a busy man. When he sat down with InfoWorld at the recent eBay Developer's Conference in Boston, Thompson said that tapping the creativity of developers is nothing new in the payments industry, and that PayPal's traditional strengths in security and online transactions will soon position the company to play with the big boys in the years to come.
"Most people think Visa solved the problem of end to end payments, but it didn't. It only solved a small problem. It was others, like First Data, who arguably are the developers who extended it and added to it and make it what it is today," he said.
PayPal still only handles a fraction of the payments of companies like Visa, American Express and MasterCard, Thompson noted, but its origins in the online realm give it a competitive edge against those companies, and will become increasingly valuable as the Internet becomes the default platform for transactions of all kinds, Thompson said.
"We know where the Internet is today, but the question is where will the Internet be tomorrow and the day after that? If you believe that our payment system goes naturally where the Internet is, you have to believe there are more markets where our payments will naturally fit in," he said.
Thompson says those markets include both e-commerce, and traditional brick and mortar stores, where retail point of sale (POS) terminals could soon be connected to the Internet and use standards like TCP/IP to communicate.
Mobile payments are another area where PayPal is placing its bets. The company on Monday released new Mobile Checkout APIs that allow merchants to conduct transactions through PayPal on the "mobile Web."
PayPal plans to follow the release of APIs with news, next week, that between 10 and 12 leading online merchants will use the new APIs to allow customers to do two-click purchases from mobile devices, according to Amanda Pires, PayPal's director of corporate communications.