Green Dot Corp. has been busy lately, closing out its long-awaited and controversial $15.7 million purchase of Bonneville Bancorp and plotting a customer acquisition initiative.
Both developments will require major technology changes, and the firm has hired John MacIlwaine to head its information-technology shop. The former Visa global head of development, who also did a stint as chief technology officer of Morgan Stanley's private client group, became Green Dot's chief information officer in December (see story).
In an interview, MacIlwaine speaks about his plans to move Green Dot forward into new areas of mobile and social media, and about the impact of the Bonneville deal (see story).
What are you working on in your first few weeks on the job?
MacIlwaine: I'm focused on understanding all of the firm's technology components and business strategy. What attracted me to Green Dot was the opportunity to make a difference through use of the tech platform. … I'll be leading all of the technology at Green Dot, that includes application development and operations platforms. I'll also be working on the firm's architecture and vision going forward.
What new projects are underway at the firm?
MacIlwaine: The IT team is focused on a couple of things right now, the first is differentiating our prepaid business through tech innovation, which includes creating more customization for consumers. To do that, our platform will need to be flexible and configurable.
What tech innovation are you excited about, and how can it make a difference at Green Dot?
MacIlwaine: Right now [mobile] is at an inflection point. There is expanding technology capabilities and the ubiquity of mobile devices. We also have the growth of social networking. There is now an entire generation of consumers who are connected to each other via social networking, so it's becoming a critical component of doing business. … The organizations that can best capture mobile access and social networking will do the best work.
How can you make social networking and mobile work together to best suit Green Dot?
MacIlwaine: There are things that you can do with social networking and mobile that are on our roadmap for the future. Social networking is allowing lots of people to connect with each other.
What's not happening right now is the offering of [financial services] that allow people to successfully exchange value [via social networking]. That value can be the exchange of money via social networks accessed via mobile, but it can also be the exchange of some sort of credit or points, or some type of loyalty initiative.
Facebook has Facebook credits and Xbox has credits. The idea is to send and use currency that can be converted to cash or loyalty offers. As the concept crosses into financial services, there are a lot of firms that are trying to do this, but the trick is to have good social networking capabilities.
We believe Green Dot has the processing technology and the [retail and user] network to make a difference in the space.
How can you use mobile or social networking to further loyalty offers?
MacIlwaine: We have the ability to send discount coupons to consumers that are on a social network near or at the point of sale. … To do this you need to have integration with the merchant point of sale system and the prepaid card tech to process transactions at the same time. It's a huge opportunity for us.
What benefits can be derived from location-based technology?
MacIlwaine: You can send someone a special offer based on location, which is already happening at a lot of financial institutions. What we want to do is use location-based services to help control the end-to-end transaction and experience for the user. We already have all of the tech capabilities necessary to do this in house.
How does the Bonneville acquisition change your department's mission?
MacIlwaine: We'll be able to control our own destiny much more from an IT perspective because we now own a bank (which allows Green Dot to issue its own cards). We need less approval or input from third parties to offer new services, which reduces risk and will shorten our time to market (Green Dot has previously relied on unaffiliated bank issuing partners, exposing the firm to risk inherent in changes in those banks' businesses that were beyond Green Dot's control).
We'll be able to move new services though the development cycle from idea to deployment much faster. Banks are more heavily regulated, but we'll also have more control over development.
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