SXSW

Visa CMO: We're a Tech Company, and We're Hiring Like One

Company Plans to Hire 500 Engineers in Austin, As Tech Industry Rushes Into Payments

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Visa wasn't an official sponsor at this year's South by Southwest, but it sure wanted to make a splash. The financial brand launched its "Everywhere Initiative," a marketing platform aimed at roping in startups to promote its payments products and broaden its appeal with millennials. It renewed its NFL sponsorship too, packing venues with a trio of league stars and, later, a surprise John Legend concert.

Visa is also sticking around once the festival ends.

The company plans to hire 500 engineers in Austin this year, Antonio Lucio, global CMO of Visa, told Ad Age. It will add to the chunk of its workforce the company characterizes as tech -- roughly 64% now, per Mr. Lucio -- and help it brandish credentials in the sector that's bleeding into its turf.

"Most people don't see Visa as a technology company," he said. "Our vision is to open the fences of our system to make sure more developers can use Visa to generate the next generation of mobile payments."

Central to that generation is Visa Checkout, its digital payment service, launched in July, designed to spread Visa's commerce backend across the internet and mobile apps. Mr. Lucio said his budget is moving increasingly to promoting the service as well as Apple Pay. Visa's recruitment in Austin, its third engineering hub along with San Francisco and India, comes as Apple and the rest of the mobile industry moves into Visa's core business. Yesterday, Facebook unveiled plans to incorporate payments into Messenger, its popular standalone app.

Visa's commitment to tech is also pouring into its marketing. Currently, Visa moves 46% of its ad dollars through digital channels, Mr. Lucio added. By year's end, it will topple 50%.

Some of that digital spend will be on display at next year's Super Bowl, where the sponsor plans to showcase its "frictionless payments" inside Levi's Stadium. With the renewal of its NFL deal, a five-year contract, Visa stressed it was moving beyond traditional brand endorsements. "We've shifted the ways we're doing sponsorships, which was about emotional connections and affinity, into using the platform to reinforce our products," Mr. Lucio explained.

Levi's Stadium will be outfitted with WiFi to make digital purchasing easier, said Paraag Marathe, the president of the San Francisco 49ers, who shared the stage with Mr. Lucio at SXSW.

How advanced payments technology will become remains to be seen. At some point, for instance, fans may be able to buy concessions from gadgets embedded in their seats. "I shouldn't say no yet," Mr. Lucio said.