Exploring & Unpacking VISA’s First Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) Innovation Studio That Recently Launched in Nairobi, Kenya.￼
VISA is a well-known global financial services brand that we encounter on a regular basis as we use our credit cards and debit cards, online and offline. They have a formidable footprint globally and are trusted across myriad offerings for being a secure and reliable means of making digital payments for financial service providers such as banks and as well as merchants of all sizes for retail transactions.
However, what may not be known to many consumers and businesses globally is how vast and comprehensive the Visa digital payments ecosystem is across the board. Indeed, on many levels, the best way to appreciate the sheer scope of VISA’s offerings is to think of them as an ‘ecosystem of ecosystems’ that connects everything to everyone from a digital payments perspective. Think of Visa as a sort of glue that holds everything together seamlessly in a way that ensures digital payments interoperability, convenience, and ultimately user-centricity.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic during the past 2 years, one of the things we saw is that digital transformation became de facto for a myriad of organizations, people, and scenarios. Social distancing and working from home became commonplace and as a result, consumer and organizational behaviors have been radically disrupted to adopt a digital-first bias.
In this regard, digital payments in a market like Kenya accelerated and we saw e-commerce and digital services gain widespread adoption. Visa has been at the heart of this transformation such as working with Safaricom to enable 24 million M-PESA users to transact at Visa merchant locations, and 150,000 M-PESA merchants to accept Visa card payments. Visa is keen to be core in further innovations in and beyond Africa.
Earlier this month, Visa launched its maiden Innovation Studio in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), right here in Nairobi, Kenya. The studio will help Visa and its clients and partners to innovate and extend service offerings whilst using a human-centered approach. The studio ultimately provides a sandbox of sorts that will enable clients and partners to explore their biggest business challenges and create innovative solutions for them to enable commercial success with digital payments capabilities at the core.
Shortly after the launch this month, Visa invited several bloggers. including yours truly, to experience the innovation studio and get a better understanding of what it is, and how it works. I must confess that I was quite simply blown away by what I encountered there in terms of the scope of use cases and scenarios where Visa is able to play a meaningful role in enabling digital payments for all stakeholders within an African context. Indeed, I was reminded of that famous saying that sometimes ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ and that being able to ‘touch and feel’ a functional demonstration of what is possible with digital payments as presented in the studio can be a real shift in perspectives.
The other thing I loved about the studio is how thoughtfully it had been created to reflect different nuances of Afrocentric culture and design. The studio is eclectic in capturing Eastern, Western, and Southern African elements in a harmonious and progressively modern execution. It seems no effort was spared to ensure that the studio will feel just like home for the many African customers and partners who will access the space from across the continent. For me, this was a delightful and unexpected aspect of Visa’s first innovation studio for Sub-Saharan Africa.
Visa’s engagement model for Innovation Studios like the one launched in Nairobi earlier this month is based on working closely with banks, fintechs, governments, merchants, and other stakeholders to explore innovative possibilities for digital payments. This approach is centered on a 5-step process, as follows:
- Innovation Experience – Engage with key trends, technologies, and Visa’s capabilities during innovation, virtually or in their physical spaces such as the Nairobi studio.
- Discovery Sessions – Going deep into key innovation themes and building joint innovation road map with clients and partners.
- Co-Creation – Digital product development sprints that deliver user-validated prototypes, solution architectures, and pathways to pilots for clients and partners.
- Design Sprints – Specialist design expertise for rapid prototyping, workshops, and user experience (UX) validation for clients’ and partners’ offerings.
- User Experience (UX) Health Checks – Psychometric texts on current user experience (UX) journeys to identify gaps and opportunities within the existing client and partner digital payments offerings.
The studio, in addition to offering practical demonstrations and use cases of how digital payments can be enabled also acts as a collaborative and consultative space where customers and partners can work on solutions for their respective organizations. This means that many will be able to really work closely with Visa to imagine and create all sorts of digital payments services that could transform their organizations to better serve their customers and markets.
During the tour of the Innovation Studio, we saw many use cases of how Visa can enable innovative digital payments. The studio is zoned into 4 areas – the connected home, the mobility zone, the merchant of the future, and the small merchant. One case in point was seeing an example of how Visa can enable digital payments using QR codes for mobility solutions such as within the public transport systems as is the case for ‘matatus’ in Kenya.
The other was a demonstration of how a small merchant can accept credit or debit card payments but also cryptocurrencies or mobile payments using Visa technologies. We even saw an example of how you could purchase clothing in-store and the use of augmented reality or AR to virtually try on clothing without putting it on. In many ways, the Innovation Studio allows you to really see how digital payments can work in ways you may not even have imagined possible.
Ultimately, the studio showcases Visa’s capabilities from a digital payments perspective with a focus on the African continent – so, for Africa, by Africa. The teams across all the studios globally work together to build digital payment solutions for clients and partners. An example was the connected home that works with Visa technologies, using identity verification and tap-to-pay with biometrics as well with a debit card and even Apple Pay and the Visa token service for secure e-commerce services. We also saw a use case for cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens or NFTs for the metaverse or Web3 using Visa technologies. This is where you could really see in a practical sense that Visa is indeed an ecosystem that is seamlessly connected to other digital payment ecosystems!
Going forward, I am keen to see what innovations will be possible due to the presence of the Visa Innovation Studio in this part of the world. The possibilities seem endless and for sure one of the things that became apparent is that Visa will work with everyone from small fintech startups all the way to the largest Pan-African banks to realize innovative digital payment offerings. This can even include complex super apps that connect to all sorts of payment ecosystems to enhance service delivery for customers at scale. It’s all possible thanks to Visa’s first Innovation Studio in Sub-Saharan Africa.