Stefano M. Stoppani, BBS Alumnus of the Executive MBA, is the new VISA Country Manager for Italy. His task? To lead the development strategy of the number one digital payments company in one of the main European markets. We interviewed him to find out his perspective on what the company and the markets are experiencing at this moment in time.
How do you interpret, in general terms, the current economic and social context?
I believe we are living through a momentous time. The pandemic has severely tested not only people, companies, and governments, but also the very social and cultural fabric we were used to facing on a daily basis. After a particularly complex period, we are now recovering, but the situation is, in my opinion, still in flux. Covid-19 no longer has the same impact as it did a few months ago, and many economies are climbing the ladder. Yet, for many people and businesses, the pandemic continues to be a source of hardship and economic problems, not to mention the emergence of new variants that can challenge current reopenings. In order to trigger an equitable and sustainable restart over the long term, we must commit to supporting the most representative realities of our communities, such as small businesses, the people they employ, and their customers.
In 2020, digital payments in Italy, despite a drop in consumption of over 13%, reached 5.2 billion transactions, increasing from 29% to 33% of the total value of payments*. How do you interpret this figure? Do you believe that digital payments can represent an opportunity to improve the economic management of the country and, if so, how important is the role of politics and how much that of businesses?
In Italy, as all over the world, digital payments have played an important role in coping with the crisis, helping consumers make purchases and access public transport without coming into direct contact with payment terminals, and supporting merchants in online sales. And if the shift to digital was already a trend, with the pandemic emergency in just a few months there was an acceleration that would normally have taken years. Think of new ways such as distance learning or working from home, which we have had to adopt in order to give continuity to essential activities such as education and work even in the most difficult times. Even on the business front, we’ve seen traditional neighborhood stores begin to familiarize themselves with e-commerce channels and new forms of payment for home deliveries have multiplied. So much so that 45% said their sales increased after they started accepting digital payments. On the institutional front, the Government’s Cashless Plan has been a further incentive for the digitization of the country. For the first time in Italy, all the stakeholders in the ecosystem – people, businesses, and institutions – agreed in recognizing digital payments as a driver of change and value for society.
Speaking of innovative payments, in your opinion, are cryptocurrencies destined to remain a niche or can we imagine, in the near future, a more widespread use?
Definitely, cryptocurrencies and digital currencies represent a growing interest not only for Governments and investors but also for individuals worldwide. In terms of opportunities, we can divide the cryptocurrency market into two major areas. Firstly, cryptocurrencies that represent new assets such as Bitcoins, which are to be considered more as “digital gold”, they are in fact mainly held as resources to invest and, at this time, are not used as a form of payment. And then there are digital currencies, including Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and stablecoin, which are directly backed by existing fiat money. They represent an innovation for the payments market and have the potential to be used in global trade, just like any other fiat money.
What do you see as the challenges that managers need to prepare for in order to come out on top and turn a complex situation like the current one into an opportunity?
The last year and a half has shown us how important it is to be adaptable. The unexpected is always around the corner and we must be ready to create value with solutions that can be different every time. I think everyone’s personal growth depends above all on the way they approach situations of change, on the opportunities they manage to create or seize. This period of physical distancing and virtual relationships, for example, has allowed us to re-evaluate team working. We have rediscovered the importance of exchanging ideas and views with others, the trust in the people with whom we interact every day. In a constantly evolving market, objectives remain the same, what changes are the tools with which to respond to new customer needs and the ability to react in the appropriate timeframe.
What career and professional goals do you think can become more accessible as a result of choosing to invest in a Master’s?
Companies today are looking for profiles that combine competence with the ability to adapt quickly to change and to quickly acquire new skills. In this sense, the Master’s is the ideal tool because it teaches how to put into practice the theoretical foundations acquired at university in different situations of increasing competitiveness. Students are confronted with the same situations they will have to manage once they enter the world of work: projects to be created, deadlines to be met, dealing with crises and restructuring. In addition, they have the opportunity to study real case studies, analyze the market in which they wish to specialize and broaden the horizons of their thinking through the suggestions of professionals and managers. Developing these skills will allow young people to enter more quickly into the dynamics of companies.
What will be the most in-demand professions in your industry in the future and which are the most useful skills to access them?
In recent years, digital technology has profoundly changed our industry and professional skills related to the management or interpretation of these issues, as in the case of data analysts, will be increasingly in demand. We live in an increasingly interconnected world that creates an incredible amount of data on a daily basis, whose true value lies in the ability to analyze trends and aggregate them in order to anticipate market trends, make informed strategic decisions, forecast consumer interests, etc.
What would you recommend to a BBS student?
Always put yourself out there. The structure of a Master’s allows you to work actively, meet new people and measure yourself against experts in the field in which you want to specialize. It’s a dynamic, professional environment and an excellent training ground that prepares you for the many challenges of today and the future.