How the analytics guy won over the marketers at Visa

When Nathan Falkenborg began his career in financial services, he didn’t realize that he was doing analytics. “My first jobs were with Providian and GE Money. I learned how to measure at GE and how to optimize at Providian. For us, it was normal marketing management – using data to optimize outcomes. Today, people call it analytics.”

Nathan Falkenborg, Global Payment Card Analytics and Product Development Leader, Visa
Nathan Falkenborg, Global Payment Card Analytics and Product Development Leader, Visa

When he joined Visa in 2006, he was tasked with, helping card-issuers refine their product strategy to get the right product to the right customer. As a part of that role, he wanted to create reference performance metrics. When he dug into Visa’s direct marketing efforts, he found that “Visa was doing amazing targeting, but we weren’t measuring in a way that enabled us to understand performance holistically. So when I started asking the team about measurement and began making suggestions, some team members thought I was an analytics guru, and I’m not. But I know how to use data to optimize marketing ROI, and I have a solid grasp of how to structure solutions to drive business outcomes,” says Falkenborg.


Guru or not, his analytic approach led to a meteoric rise at Visa. He became the Head of Consumer Credit Analytics and started an analytics team that became the centralized analytics team for the US. After he took over Visa’s affluent product management in Asia, executives asked him to build an analytics team for the Asia-Pacific, Central Europe, Middle East and Africa region. The team and their results were such a success that Visa asked Falkenborg to come back to the US and lead business intelligence.

With a résumé like this, it’s no surprise Falkenborg’s Leading Marketing Excellence With Analytics discussion was a hot ticket at The Premier Business Leadership Series 2014 in Las Vegas. Here are his top tips from that session:

1. Analytics improves customer experience.

One of Visa’s customers are banks, and there’s an intense focus on keeping them happy. How? With new analytics products that help banks improve the cardholder’s experience.

For example, the Visa Analytics team uses aggregated, anonymized data to develop analytics products like travel tags that helps banks identify cardholders in travel status, ensuring these traveling customers won’t be turned down at the point of sale. In addition, Visa’s fraud risk models help banks stop and prevent card fraud – and Visa’s working with banks on enriching customer profiles to help personalize interactions with cardholders.

2. Simple innovations can be powerful.

“Visa is an innovation company, and we invest significant resources in bringing new products and services to market that will ultimately improve the customer experience. While high-end innovation is critical to remain relevant – innovation doesn’t have to be ‘fancy’ or expensive, and it can come from any team,” says Falkenborg.

Along the way, we’ve challenged legacy thinking and done simple things, like developing globally applicable models to help our clients target the right customer with the right product. It’s a benefit to our clients because we do all the heavy lifting and can serve smaller clients in developing markets with advanced analytics that were previously only available to our largest partners ,” says Falkenborg. “Because we were able to build a globally applicable model, we dramatically scaled the number of clients served with those insights, and we can now deepen our support of clients in countries as diverse as Kenya, Singapore, Russia and Kuwait. It’s been great for our clients and great for Visa, because when we help put people into the right Visa product, overall performance improves.”

3. Business and IT need to get to know each other.

“What I’ve noticed is that when we’re talking about technology and business partnership, what’s been missing is the ‘partnership’,” says Falkenborg. “We’re all moving fast, and at times businesspeople are too busy, so they write some high-level business requirements and throw them over to the tech guys. The tech team works their hardest to give us what they think we want, but all too often they’re working in a vacuum.”

Part of Falkenborg’s role is to bridge that gap between business and technology. “At Visa, we’re investing time, and that’s the No. 1 thing the business can do. It’s not just about money and budgets – it’s about spending time with the technology partners and working side-by-side with them to provide business insights throughout the development process.”

4. Analytics is central to marketing.

Analytics at Visa has been a journey over Falkenborg’s eight years at the company. When he started, hard-core analytics was housed in separate groups. Now Visa has a globalized, centralized analytics team – and, as Falkenborg says, “Analytics is the business.”

“At Visa, we work hand in hand with our strategy and marketing teams to inform decisions,” says Falkenborg. “Analytics is central to getting the most out of our investments.

Making analytics accessible through good user-experience and expert support fosters a measurement focus, and helps our amazing marketers structure campaigns in the most cost-effective, high-impact manner,” says Falkenborg. “While we are a leader in the industry, my focus is on making information and insights available in a consistent, curated manner with a great user experience. To continue to cultivate a culture of analytical thinking, we’ve got to make getting the right information as intuitive as possible for the entire firm.”

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