Exclusive Interview with the CIO of Synchrony Financial

June 3, 2015     By : Amit

We did an exclusive interview with CIO of Synchrony Financial, Carol Juel. It was an amazing discussion and I am sure you will enjoy the insights.

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As the Chief Information Officer of Synchrony Financial, Carol is committed to driving the company’s overall IT strategy and vision, with a continuous focus on payments innovation. As CIO of GE Capital Retail Finance for the last three years, she has led growth for clients, dealers and providers by developing strong technology partnerships, delivering innovative solutions and driving the company’s digital transformation. Carol has also held various senior leadership roles, focused on IT Governance, Security, Business Development, Digital and Marketing at GE and has spent nearly a decade in technology consulting at Accenture.

Throughout her more than 20 years in Information Technology, Carol has leveraged her deep technology and financial services background to develop creative technology solutions to meet the needs of customers and clients.

Let’s Talk Payments Q&A below: 

Q: Can you give us a bit more background on Synchrony Financial?

A: Although we are a newly public company, our roots in consumer finance trace back to 1932, when GE first offered financing for families buying appliances. Today we are the largest provider of private label credit cards in the United States based on purchase volume and receivables. We provide a range of credit products through programs we have established with a diverse group of national and regional retailers, local merchants, manufacturers, buying groups, industry associations and healthcare service providers. We help finance the purchase of goods and services in over 300,000 partner locations as well as on the websites and mobile applications of our retail partners, merchants and service providers.

Q: How has your retail portfolio grown over the years?  Are you seeing any new trends emerging?

A: With our experience in consumer financing and deep relationships with retailers, we have grown through portfolio acquisitions, both start-up programs and from competitors.  Our value proposition is attractive to retailers as we offer more than just financing.  We offer a full suite of digital, loyalty and analytics capabilities. It can be hard for retailers to make investments to develop these capabilities in-house.

Our size and scale combined with our client-centric partnership model allows us to excel at starting up programs, which is increasingly important with the growth of online retail brands.  Many of our retail partner relationships were start-up programs, including eBates, PayPal, WalMart and Sam’s Club. We invest in establishing these successful programs, which develop into long-term partnerships, as evidenced by long-term extensions with retail partners.

Q: Can you brief us about the achievements of your innovation labs? How soon do you launch a solution/product once the prototype is ready and accepted?

A: Our Stamford Innovation Station team is comprised of cross-functional employees focused on Agile development of new digital and mobile products. The Agile development model calls for the fast release of a ‘minimum viable product’ and iterating on that based on feedback to continuously and quickly enhance and improve the product. Today’s digital economy requires that our solutions anticipate and solve for customer and partner needs and keep pace with rapidly evolving technologies.  The Innovation Station team also hosts one-day prototyping sessions with partners and customers, which has led to the development of a number of proprietary mobile solutions including enhancements to our mApply product and the prototype for our digital card product, a proprietary digital version of one of our cards that enables in-store account lookup and mobile payments functionality.

Our innovative mobile solutions for the entire credit lifecycle – from acquisition to servicing and loyalty to payments – are a big part of Synchrony Financial being recently recognized with two prestigious awards.  Synchrony Financial ranked number 48 on this year’s InformationWeek Elite 100, a list of the top business technology innovators in the United States, and this week we were named to the 2015 CIO 100, which recognizes organizations around the world that exemplify the highest level of operational and strategic excellence in information technology (IT).

The Innovation Station team also focuses on emerging technology and initiated the strategic investment in LoopPay, the company which developed Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology and was acquired by Samsung in February, and GPShopper, an innovative developer of mobile apps with a focus on the retail industry.

Q: One of the new solutions you mentioned is the “mApply platform”. How successful has this initiative been?

A: Our mApply product allows shoppers to securely apply for credit on their mobile devices and instantly access their approved credit line. We have processed more than 5 million mApplications to date, growing more than 70% from April 2014 to April 2015. As of April 2015, mApplications accounted for approximately 7% of total credit application volume.

Popular with many of our retail and merchant partners, mApply was leveraged successfully as an in-store line buster during the 2014 holiday season by a number of leading retailers. The latest generation mApply platform includes a fully redesigned user experience that has contributed to completion rates rising nearly 300% in the past year.

Synchrony Financial’s third annual Major Purchase Consumer Study (2014) found that 79% of all shoppers surveyed agree that financing makes large purchases more affordable. Combined with the rapid growth in mobile shopping – 53% of U.S. consumers report using their mobile phone for shopping activities (Synchrony Financial Insights Study, March 2015) – it is clear why the mApply product is popular with both retailers and customers.

We know financing is an important factor in making large purchases and we are committed to offering integrated mobile solutions like mApply that deliver convenience for our customers and value for our partners.

Q: Synchrony Financial has existing relationship with Apple Pay. You have also pledged to go along with Samsung Pay when it is launched in the U.S. How do you think “Integrate all wallets” strategy is going to work with the merchants who are currently indecisive?

A: We believe that mobile payment adoption will come down to consumer choice.   Our strategy has always been to make our cards valuable to our retail partners and their customers so that they will want to use them in whichever wallet they choose. We are committed to working with all digital wallets, including Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay, MCX (CurrentC), and others as we want to give consumers more options.

Through our ongoing innovation and strategic partnerships, we have developed a mobile platform that we can rapidly integrate across retailers and wallets, preserving our value proposition for all third-party digital wallets. Through this approach, Synchrony Financial is helping shape the future of how private label credit cards work in mobile wallets.

Q: How do you think competition from alternate lending companies is going to affect PLCC business?

A: We are always assessing the competitive landscape and like so many other sectors, the consumer finance industry is being disrupted by innovative companies using technology to interact with customers in a new way.  It is an exciting time to be in the payments industry and while we will continue to focus on technology innovation and agile development of new products, it is worth mentioning that the success of our PLCC and Dual Card business is built upon our client-centric partnership model.  Our deep integration with our retail partners allows us to deliver integrated solutions that provide value for our partners and their customers.

Q: You have analytics, mobile payments, and loyalty programs capabilities under your belt now. What is the next big thing or growth opportunity of you – like getting into Proximity marketing space?

A: We continue to expand how we are thinking about the evolving customer retail experience. We will continue to build, partner, and invest in integrated mobile solutions that deliver convenience for customers and value for our partners.

We recently announced a strategic partnership with mobile developer GPShopper, offering solutions that empower retailers to drive customer engagement and loyalty by bridging the online and in-store shopping experience with the use of mobile technologies.

Working with GPShopper we offer partners native apps, installed directly onto a mobile device, which deliver optimal performance and take advantage of device features like GPS and ‘tap to call’ to offer a seamless user experience and enhanced functionality. The apps also allow retailers, merchants and service providers to push out location-based promotions and special offers to drive awareness and repeat business, which is especially important for smaller merchants who serve a targeted geographic customer base.

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Amit

Amit is the Co-Founder & Chief Curator of Let's Talk Payments. He has a strong background in strategy and market analysis and has advised dozens of clients (ranging from startups to Fortune 500) in payments, commerce and technology. His vision with LTP is to provide the same level of analytical rigor that analysts put into their work and combine it with Content 2.0 technology to offer unparalleled satisfaction for readers in this space.

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