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Executive Interview Series: Robert Clarkson, Head of Revenue and Growth, Americas | Stripe

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The Executive Interview Series provides readers with exclusive insights from movers and shakers in the payments industry. The payments industry is under continuous transformation. This series offers diverse perspectives on everything from strategy to payments technology and the industry’s future.    

In this interview, TSG team members Steve Vickers and Rachel Hartley spoke with Robert Clarkson, Head of Revenue and Growth for the Americas at Stripe, about financial infrastructure and the future of payments for enterprise merchants. 

Robert Clarkson serves as the Head of Revenue and Growth across the Americas at Stripe. With a rich background in fintech and payments, he previously held the position of Chief Revenue Officer at Payoneer. Additionally, Clarkson held key leadership roles at companies such as American Express, Paypal, NortonLifeLock, and more.

Q: Rachel H.

Can you start by sharing a little bit about your background, how you got into payments and your role at Stripe?

A: Robert C.

I’ve been in payments for 25 years and my career kicked off working at issuers including Citigroup and Diners Club. Since then, my work expanded to acquiring, private label, gift cards, cryptocurrency, B2B and B2C payments.  

A long time ago, I told a former boss “Nothing matters until something gets sold and paid for. I’ve held onto that mantra to make sure that the process of buying and selling goes smoothly for all parties involved.   

At Stripe, I love that we’re leading the path forward on that goal.  

Q: Steve V.

Merchants are looking for payment processing partners that bring more value-added services as part of their offering outside of just authorization and settlement. How does Stripe help enterprise clients maximize their revenue or increase efficiency from your products and services? 

A: Robert C.

Stripe is a revenue growth engine for enterprises. Optimized Checkout Suite, for example, allows businesses to build accelerated checkout options, a wide range of payment methods, and controls that allow businesses and platforms to quickly fine-tune the checkout experience for their customers.  

A recent study from Stripe found that businesses that switched to the Stripe Payment Element saw 10.5% more revenue on average than similar businesses that remained on an older Stripe integration. The results imply that businesses not using the latest payments tools are likely leaving far more money on the table than they realize. 

With Stripe, businesses can expect the highest level of reliability and consistency especially during times of peak demand–for example, during Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Stripe is supporting enterprise needs well beyond payments. Revenue recognition, tax, pay-ins and pay-outs are just a few examples. So, it’s not just about accepting payments, it’s becoming more about the overall purchase journey, not just the payments journey.  

Q: Rachel H.

Often we see that the process of onboarding and implementing payments into the enterprise merchant space takes a significant amount of time. Are you seeing enterprise merchants increasingly seeking faster timeframes? And then what does Stripe do to increase implementation?

A: Robert C.

Implementation has a natural starting point when we start working with new customers, but the process never really stops. It’s our job to support their needs and identify areas of opportunity that might not be immediately apparent when they partner with Stripe.  Enterprises are saying, “Here are the things that I do today: Visa, MasterCard, BNPL, and some cross-border trade. In the future I want to take wallets–what does that look like?” We love conversations like these because they align to areas where we can practically support expansion, but also because they open a lot more opportunities to grow together.  

Q: Steve V.

Oftentimes converting POS systems to a new platform is a big heartburn. Questions around whether it’s best to retrieve, wipe, reconfigure existing hardware or replace hardware altogether come up. Given that Stripe is a bit newer to the entrance of POS card present, what guidance would you give enterprise merchants that are going into this space?

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A: Robert C.

You’re starting to see more merchants take multiple approaches to hardware, designing for specific needs. When you go to the Apple store, for example, there’s no checkout terminal. Anybody in that store can do whatever magic they want to link their inventory to what they want to buy, and they take that payment through tap to pay literally on the iPhone.  

There’s a movement to this distributed checkout versus more of the funnel checkout which was the classic “bring everything to one point and then pay for it.” Hardware is still pervasive; it’s everywhere and deciding on hardware for in-store purchasing is still a monumental decision because these terminals are not cheap, they require maintenance, and they require updates. You make a large investment, especially if it’s incorporated into a loyalty system, you have gift cards, or barcode or QR code readers built into them. They’re very sophisticated pieces of equipment.   

We design, manufacture, and distribute hardware to very big organizations, including our newest premium smart reader, Stripe Reader S700. In fact, we have enterprise organizations that use our hardware both on-location and off-location. Most recently, we’ve been investing more in custom on-reader experiences, like the ability to run a custom POS app on Reader S700, to elevate what we can offer in terms of customer experience. Want to use one device to accept tableside payments and then carry it back into the kitchen to track orders? We can do that. 

And of course, we offer fleet management tools for direct retailers to manage their hardware globally, but for enterprise-grade platforms like Shopify and Lightspeed, we have also been able to improve their hardware distribution motion across countries to weeks instead of years.  

You’re also seeing much more emphasis on no-touch transactions, possibly triggered by the challenging COVID period. Platforms like Instacart replicate in-person experiences online or through mobile apps, separating the payment from the actual purchase. Our role is not to decide for the customers. Our job is to facilitate their decision, but at the same time, they often ask us, “What’s the best practice here?” This might involve a more distributed checkout model rather than the traditional centralized checkout approach.   

Q: Steve V.

One area that is on top of mind this time of year is declines. Network acceptance, specifically optimizing authorizations to capture more sales and decrease false declines is something that a lot of merchants, large and small, often struggle with and the reasons behind those declines can sometimes be vague. A lot is linked back to the issuer. One of the things I think that merchants are curious about is how Stripe is positioning to help clients understand the varying acceptance. 

A: Robert C.

False declines are problematic for the financial ecosystem. Most importantly, all the merchants that depend on successful authorizations for their livelihood. There’s evidence that 40% of customers won’t return to a merchant if their card is declined, a fully preventable instance that Stripe is out to solve at scale. Based on patterns we’ve noticed over our history supporting millions of businesses, our portfolio of products are designed to help them optimize their revenue without ever lifting a finger.    

For example, our Adaptive Acceptance feature uses machine learning to optimize authorization requests for issuers. It identifies optimized retry messaging and routing combinations to recover 10% of false declines, amounting to billions of dollars globally. Stripe supports the latest card network features, such as real-time card account updater and network tokens for Visa, Mastercard, and American Express volume. Our machine learning-powered optimization determines when to use a network token versus primary account number to improve acceptance rates. 

Many factors affect payment acceptance rates across issuers, including for some issuers, whether the attempted charge is made using a network token or a PAN. To maximize approval rates, Stripe maintains a secure vault of PANs and intelligently selects whether to use a network token or a PAN for a given transaction. When a PAN is used, Stripe card account updater automatically retrieves the latest card information for any expired or reissued cards. 

Stripe processes card transactions through direct integrations with all six major card networks in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. By exchanging information directly with the card networks, rather than relying on intermediaries, Stripe can reduce latency and remove potential points of failure for its customers.  

Our Enhanced Issuer Network helps issuers decrease fraud, reduces checkout frustration for consumers, and increases payment authorization rates for businesses. Stripe provides secure access to transaction fraud scores from Stripe Radar, our fraud prevention solution, through an encrypted pathway with issuers including Capital One and Discover.