Visa Inc. scored a coup in persuading Kevin Knight, Nordstrom Inc.'s credit card czar, to oversee its credit and debit card products in North America.

Knight, who was most recently president of Nordstrom’s credit division and chairman of Nordstrom FSB, the company’s bank subsidiary, brings the much-needed perspective of both a card issuer and a retailer to Visa, observers say.

Nordstrom is one of the few retailers that owns its own credit card receivables, and industry observers say that experience, plus Knight's direct experience in banking, provides a diverse background.

And as Visa struggles to persuade merchants to go along with certain new initiatives that may cause friction, a leader who speaks merchants' language could be a big help.

"Kevin has the deep experience on both sides, as a bank and as a merchant, which is unique," Scott Strumello, an associate with Auriemma Consulting Group, tells PaymentsSource. "And Visa's experience with merchants has not always been the greatest. They can use someone who has that dual background, not to mention experience with a major retailer."

Knight will be responsible for managing development and growth of Visa’s consumer credit, debit and small-business product suite, Visa said in a March 28 press release.

The former Nordstrom executive is known as "a superb marketer and outstanding manager of financial assets," Robert Hammer, CEO of RK Hammer Associates, tells PaymentsSource.

One of Knight's particular skills is finding the precise levers for "squeezing out value" in a competitive industry, Hammer says.

And because it owns a bank and directly controls its credit card operation, Nordstrom funds its own card rewards, which gave Knight experience in the ongoing interchange debate, Hammer notes.

"Kevin knows better than almost anyone how to extract value and drive a profitable operation in this economy, skills which Visa can certainly use," Hammer says.

Knight "built Nordstrom’s retail loyalty program," its vaunted Fashion Rewards, Visa noted.

Before joining Nordstrom, Knight spent more than 20 years at GE Capital in a variety of positions, with responsibility for credit card and other financial services, the release states.

At Nordstrom, Knight has been a staunch Visa supporter. When Visa announced its incentives for U.S. issuers, processors and merchants to adopt EMV smart cards last year, Knight was one of three industry executives cited in the announcement, representing issuers that supported the move (see release).

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