Buying Coffee in the Metaverse: How Fiserv Thinks About the Future of Payments

By Alexander MacDougall, Kate Katz |  March 18, 2022

If you’ve activated a credit card, bought a meal using a tablet-based cash register, or paid a bill online, there’s a good chance you’ve interacted with technology from Wisconsin-based Fiserv. The $16 billion company provides financial technology and services to a range of customers, including banks, credit unions, utilities, and omichannel retailers.

But the fintech world is changing fast, and Fiserv realizes that remaining a central player involves maintaining strong relationships with software developers. A big part of that job falls to Alvin Cho and his team. Cho is Vice President of Product & Engineering for Digital Innovation and Transformation at Fiserv, and he oversees the company’s Developer Studio, a set of APIs and tools that make it easy to integrate Fiserv’s offerings into all sorts of new and existing products.

We spoke with Cho about the objectives of the Developer Studio, how learning drives innovation, and how he’s approaching the metaverse.

What problems does Fiserv and its products aim to solve?

Consumers need more ways to buy goods and services. With the changes from COVID to even the metaverse, merchants need omnichannel methods that they can integrate quickly into their applications. Carat, Banking Hub, and the AppMarket Place all provide those integrations (or APIs) to accomplish this. Then, by using the Developer Studio as the unifying agent, the merchant or financial institution can reduce their build time and get to market quicker with new innovative [and] personalized customer experiences.

Alvin Cho, VP of Product & Engineering for Digital Innovation and Transformation, Fiserv

How do developers use the Developer Studio?

The Developer Studio is a product provided to support all our existing Fiserv products; and so to use products like Carat, you must come to the Developer Studio. The Developer Studio is a unified portal to deliver all Fiserv APIs. [Making the APIs public] allows developers to explore and try out our products. It allows them to innovate faster by trying our full range of products… The main goal for us right now is improving the developer experience… So that’s why we created the Developer Studio to bring all these things together.

What innovation practices or strategies are you using to approach problem-solving?

Exploration is a big deal for us. We like to think about growth for people, as much because we feel that innovation comes from growth. Whether you’re learning about a new technology, a new programming language, or a specific type of open-source product [or] new discipline, that helps drive more innovation.

Communication is important to us. So therefore, we get a multidisciplinary [group of] people [together] when solving the problem. When we set out to build the Developer Studio, we [used] a very specific human-centered design thinking methodology and an agile methodology — bringing all those disciplines together to solve this problem: how do we create the next best developer experience?

What are some of the biggest challenges for Fiserv, as businesses are quickly moving to mobile payment systems?

Nowadays, everyone is buying and picking up somewhere else, or timing the deliveries… Even with things like the metaverse, you can go into a “meta” place, buy something, and then go pick it up in the real world. So how do we help all our clients do payments faster with all these different types of channels?

The Developers Studio was [created] to help streamline all this, so that developers can adopt our products as quickly as possible…The vision is to roll documentation, sandboxes, API management, testing & certification, etc. for all products into a single portal that is accessible by anyone. The Developer Studio is developer-centric, as [developers] don’t want to be marketed to. It gets to the point of showing other products Fiserv offers, how to integrate [them], so developers can experiment quickly.

How did the pandemic change your approach to mobile payment applications?

Another product of ours, Clover, is a point-of-sale device, [so] we had to make sure that that was very simple and easy to use, and then integrate. If you’re a small shop or restaurant that now had to have the touch screen, no one was going to have a terminal device and type in their PIN codes. You simply want to swipe your phone, right? Tap a credit card, or just tap your Apple Watch. And then you didn’t have to touch anything. That was one thing. 

We are continuously learning through ongoing engagement — formal and informal — with our clients, partners, and industry thought leaders. We also conduct our own quarterly consumer trends research, and our most recent “Expectations & Experiences” report was focused on fintech adoption.

Are you looking into utilizing blockchain and the metaverse?

Another channel for purchasing is through the metaverse. I can go in there, mint NFPs [non-fungible tokens], and then buy them, or I can walk up to a Starbucks inside the metaverse and order my coffee. And then I’ll pick it up in real life or have it delivered to me. We are looking at those kinds of things, and how we play a role, but ultimately, how do we help our clients play the role? Because it’s not [Fiserv] who’s necessarily [in the metaverse], it’s the Starbucks [or] Walmart store that [has] people now walking down the aisles and wanting to buy stuff. They still want to checkout with a seamless experience.

Is there urgency for Fiserv to join the metaverse?

It’s kind of still ‘wait-and-see’ as [the metaverse] builds up. We definitely know people are interested. So for example, I’m sure [companies] like Starbucks or Walmart are thinking of this. And [companies can] put an entire store in here, let people just walk down aisles. Because of COVID, [fewer people are] physically walking down aisles anymore, but could you do it in the metaverse? So I think for [Fiserv]… [joining the metaverse] is up to the adoption rate of our actual customers. If no one is going into the metaverse, we’re probably not going to invest the time later.