Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is changing his responsibilities  to place a greater emphasis on mobile payments and other digital initiatives.

"I think the payments space itself is a very attractive opportunity for our company given the digital assets that we have … we'll be speaking more about that as time goes on," Schultz said in a conference call Jan. 29.

To free up time to expand mobile payments and related projects, Schultz promoted the company's CFO, Troy Alstead, to the newly created position of chief operating officer. Some of the company's other top executives now have new roles in which they report to Alstead.

Starbucks is a rare success story in mobile payments. Many companies in technology and financial services have struggled in their attempts to convince consumers to use their mobile phones to make payments, but Starbucks can boast that nearly 10 million people have adopted its mobile app to make payments.

"As we sit today, processing almost 5 million mobile payments a week, we are so far ahead of any other national retailer with scale. I don't even know if anyone's processing a million payments a week," Schultz says.

"That has garnered the attention of the leading tech companies, all of whom are chasing with great fervor who's going to be able to create the standard, de facto, of mobile payments," he says. "There are things that we can take advantage of and that we can leverage that are outside of the ecosystems of Starbucks."

Schultz, who is also the company's chairman and president, did not go into specific details about Starbucks' plans. However, he hinted that the company might build on last year's expansion of its loyalty and rewards program, which now provides "stars," the Starbucks rewards points, for purchases of Starbucks products in grocery stores.

"There is a currency that relates to stars that can go further in the future and I think we're just beginning to understand that," Schultz says.

The management changes are not meant to distance Schultz from his role at the company, even though Alstead will now handle its day-to-day operations.

"I'm not leaving the business on any level. I'm still engaged in the meetings, I'm still engaged in the strategy," Schultz says.

And although Alstead will have control of his own team, he and Schultz are of a like mind, Schultz says.

"Troy and I have worked together for 22 years … we probably can finish each other's sentences," he says.

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