Frank Monaco is an awarding-winning payments pioneer with over 20 years of experience. He has a track record of developing, scaling, and restructuring businesses globally. He is currently the President and Chief Operating Officer at Tua Financial Technologies Ltd., and we are very privileged to have him as a member of the Board of Advisors at Berkeley.
1. Who is Frank Monaco?
When it comes to understanding who I am, I often turn to my wife Teresa for a clearer perspective. After spending 29 years together, she undoubtedly has a better grasp of my identity than I do, despite the image I may have crafted for myself.
In a nutshell, I would describe myself as a sarcastic and introspective individual who often finds himself in awe of life's intricacies. Amidst the chaos, I stumble upon occasional moments of brilliance and illumination, which continue to shape my perspectives.
Despite my grandiose delusions of world domination (which I must admit, are quite entertaining), my primary focus revolves around the joys and challenges of fatherhood. I have three wonderful, albeit sometimes unruly, daughters, who constantly remind me of my lack of expertise. Fatherhood has a way of humbling you, of reminding you of your imperfections and shortcomings. Yet, it also drives you to become a better person, for their sake. You strive to be a better role model, a better guide, a better source of support and love.
2. Why Fintech and payments? How did it all begin?
It all started on the Ponte Sant'Angelo, believe it or not. I was just a 10-year-old kid, wide-eyed at this monstrous marvel of a bridge that had been standing tall for 2000 years. I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do, but the idea of being a bridge builder, of creating something that could revolutionize people's lives, was like a seed planted in my young mind.
Fast forward to 2001. A young man (but still a kid at heart) climbing the corporate ladder as a Senior Director in the telecom industry. Things were going pretty much as expected until an old friend (and a fellow tech fanatic) decided to call me out of the blue. Fab was diving headfirst into the world of gift cards. I'll be honest with you; at first, I thought he was talking about fancy greeting cards! When he explained the concept, the tech specs, and all the trimmings, I found myself more intrigued than confused. I remember thinking, "If Fab thinks this has potential, it's worth checking out".
Next thing I know, I found myself at a Marriott Hotel near the Toronto Airport, slated to meet with the legendary Tom Recktenwald, founder of Stored Value Systems (now SVS, a division of Fleetcor). What was supposed to be a simple, one-hour meeting, ballooned into a three-hour brainstorming session filled with ideas and possibilities. I left that meeting with a mind full of thoughts and a heart full of excitement. All thanks to Fab!
Two months later, I was waving goodbye to my comfortable downtown office, settling into the hardwood floor of my guest bedroom, my new makeshift workspace. I was now part of SVS, with one clear mission: to bring the gift card industry to Canada.
What a ride! Within a year, I found myself in the UK, introducing the “Power of prepaid” to our European friends and colleagues. Seven years later, I had forged partnerships with many of the world’s top retail merchants and had established operations in 40 countries. I was utterly hooked!
It was thrilling, and Tom never missed a chance to challenge me. In 2004, I launched Canada's first Gift Card Mall program. That same year, I partnered to give birth to Life Experiences, creating the first experiential programs in North America. I even dipped my toes in professional sports, introducing the first ever collectable program with the Toronto Blue Jays, followed by an interactive loyalty program with Rogers Communications.
By 2007, I was working with industry heavyweights - Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover - to launch financial services programs in high-profile spots like MGM, Simon Malls, and Westfield properties.
2009, and you'll find me at InComm, another pioneer in the prepaid industry. With even more zeal than before, I took the helm of an emerging international business unit. We built a payments network that connected nearly 400,000 retailers across four continents and developed a cutting-edge payments gateway empowering over 30 wallet providers.
I've racked up more than 2 million miles, made innumerable friends, and forged lasting partnerships. I have more stories than I have time. But what's truly awe-inspiring to me, is that the wide-eyed kid on the Ponte Sant'Angelo who dreamt of building bridges, got to build quite a few, both metaphorically and literally.
3. If you had to choose one aspect of the payment industry that you think everyone in the industry should focus on, what would that be?
If you ask me, the prime focus of the payments industry should be on creating seamless and secure customer experiences. It's like aiming for a smooth, safe drive every time you start your car. In today's high-speed digital world, we need frictionless payment solutions that feel as simple as blinking and as secure as a bank vault.
We can make this possible by leveraging cool tech innovations like mobile payments, contactless transactions, biometrics, and robust authentication. But we can't forget the harmony - the industry needs to work together, fostering collaboration and standardization.
In a nutshell, by focusing on seamless and secure customer experiences, we'll encourage more people to adopt digital payments, empowering everyone to participate in the world economy. And that's a future we should be working towards!
4. What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Our industry grapples with multiple challenges. Top of the list are ensuring transaction security and data protection, while also meeting ever-changing regulations. Technology's rapid pace presents a thrilling yet complex ride, especially integrating new tech like blockchain and AI into existing payment systems.
Cross-border payments add to the complexity with differing currencies, regulations, and processes requiring seamless integration and collaboration. Convincing regions heavily reliant on cash transactions to adopt digital methods is another hurdle, demanding clear benefits, security assurances, and easy-to-use solutions.
Moreover, financial inclusion is a must, ensuring even underserved populations have access to financial services. This asks for digital bridging, extended infrastructure, and inclusive payment solutions. Addressing these challenges ultimately requires a synchronized dance between industry participants, regulators, and tech providers to foster innovation, security, and inclusion in the payments world.
In the end, what might seem as simple as paying for your coffee with a tap or swipe is a high-wire act that few can imagine. That's the real trick of it all. Behind the curtain, it's a tangle of complexities and endless challenges. But for the consumer, all they care about is that cappuccino. And that, my friends, is the magic of our industry.
5. What's something that most people don't know about you?
I'm absolutely haunted by the thought of public speaking. Envisioning a horde of eager faces sends me spiraling into a vortex of anxiety. Over time, I've managed to camouflage this trepidation with a crafty blend of audacity, composure, and a liberal smattering of humor.
Those who know me or have had the (mis)fortune to witness my stagecraft, might find this confession startling.
Allow me to pull back the curtain on a particularly unforgettable Las Vegas Experience. Picture this - there I am, scaling the steps to the stage, under the gaze of a thousand spectators, when – whoa! Instead of plummeting, I lurch forward, catch myself, and spin into a standing position as if I was auditioning for Cirque du Soleil. Awkward to the extreme? You better believe it! But also, unmistakably human in its rawness! Regaining my composure, I declared with an air of confidence, "That, ladies and gentlemen, is a way to make an entrance!" A beginning that was far removed from the script of my planned presentation. And yet it prompted an eruption of laughter that served to reset the mood.
6. So tell us about your work at Tua Financial.
Over 129 million Americans are grappling with the affordability of essential services. Think dental care, eye care, veterinary services, used vehicle maintenance and repairs. The total spend on these necessities clocked up to an eye-watering $390 billion in 2022.
Here's another heart-rending stat from the Fed - almost 40% of Americans find themselves in a tight spot if they were to face an unexpected $400 expense. With credit card interest rates scaling dizzying heights and hidden fees adding to the woes, the financial strain is overwhelming. What's more, providers of essential services have few affordable options to extend to their clients, resulting in a lose-lose situation.
This is where TuaPay zooms into the picture, on a mission to simplify access to these much-needed services. How, you ask? By offering a platform focused on fixed payment options that promise to be 30% cheaper than credit cards. Say goodbye to hidden fees, say hello to competitive merchant discount rates, and lightning-fast approvals.
But the real cherry on top? Our program is backed by community banks and designed to boost your credit rating. And here's the plot twist - a payments provider who's genuinely invested in your financial well-being. Now, isn't that a refreshing change of scene?
As for our vision, we see a future where financial health is within reach for all. Our platform isn't just about facilitating transactions; it's about changing lives, one fixed payment at a time. We envision a world where access to essential services isn't a question of affordability, but a matter of course. Where individuals, families, and communities thrive, backed by a payments provider that stands firmly in their corner. A fairer, more inclusive financial landscape isn't just a dream—it's a future we're committed to making a reality.
7. What are you proudest about in your career so far?
If you asked me to pinpoint a single moment or achievement that fills me with pride, I'd find it a challenge. Why? Because my career, my journey, has been an accumulation of experiences and milestones, each adding a distinct flavor to the overall recipe of my professional life.
However, if I were to choose one overarching theme that brings me immense satisfaction, it would be the opportunity to build bridges. And I don't just mean metaphorical bridges. I'm talking about the actual, tangible bridges I've had the privilege to construct in the payment industry.
The thrill of kick-starting Canada's first Gift Card Mall program, introducing the inaugural gift card program in professional sports, and forging partnerships that have spanned across 40 countries – each of these feats, in their own way, have been a bridge connecting people, businesses, and opportunities. These bridges have led to exponential growth, not just for the organizations I've been a part of, but for the industry. And every time I've seen the positive ripple effect of these endeavors, it's filled me with a sense of pride.
But, above all, what truly swells my heart with joy is the relationships I've cultivated over the years. Every handshake, every shared victory, every hurdle crossed together–they've resulted in a network of trust, respect, and friendship that spans continents and cultures. I see these as the most precious bridges I've built, the ones that have stood the test of time and circumstance.
So, if you ask me what I'm proudest of in my career, it's the lasting, positive impact they've all had. It's the realization that in my own way, I've managed to bring people closer, build stronger communities, and create a sense of unity in an industry that's as fast-paced and dynamic as ours. And the journey of building these bridges, in all its joy, struggle, and triumph, is what I take the most pride in.
8. What was the biggest mistake you've made?
Reflecting on my career, I can certainly recall times when my decisions did not yield the expected results. If I had to identify the "biggest" mistake, it would likely be early on in my career when I didn't fully grasp the importance of effective communication and its power to build or break relationships.
In one specific instance, I had to lead a major project with several stakeholders involved. I took it upon myself to drive the project, making decisions and implementing changes without properly communicating with the entire team. I believed I was being efficient and forward-thinking, but I overlooked the vital aspect of collaboration and inclusion.
The project hit snags due to misalignment, and it quickly became clear that my lack of effective communication had led to confusion, frustration, and a loss of trust among the team. This mistake had tangible consequences, causing delays and straining relationships I had valued.
But, as with most mistakes, it offered a valuable lesson. I realized that no matter how competent or well-intentioned you are, without clear and consistent communication, you risk alienating those around you. From that point forward, I vowed to prioritize open communication, fostering a culture of transparency and inclusiveness in every team I led.
This mistake early in my career became a significant turning point for me, shaping my approach towards leadership and collaboration. It taught me that when we stumble, the critical thing is not the mistake itself, but how we learn, adapt, and grow from it. So while it was a significant error, it was also an invaluable lesson in leadership.
9. Which country or countries do you think are leading in terms of innovation in the payments industry?
China is at the forefront, particularly with the widespread adoption of mobile payments. Platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay have transformed the way consumers and businesses transact, with QR code payments becoming the norm even for small, everyday purchases.
The United States is a key player as well, with companies like Square, PayPal, and Stripe driving innovation in the payments space. The adoption of digital wallets and contactless payments has accelerated, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Europe, the UK has been a leader in terms of fintech innovation and the development of Open Banking under the PSD2 regulation. Sweden and Denmark, where cash usage is very low, are also noteworthy for their advancements in digital payments.
Meanwhile, countries like India and Kenya are pioneering in terms of financial inclusion. India's UPI (Unified Payments Interface) has revolutionized peer-to-peer and merchant payments, while Kenya's M-Pesa has been instrumental in enabling access to digital payments for millions of unbanked individuals.
However, it's crucial to note that innovation in the payments industry is happening globally, and the country’s leading the charge may evolve as new technologies emerge and consumer behavior changes.
10. What will be the top three trends in the payments industry over the next decade?
Predicting trends in the payments industry is always a challenging task, given the pace of technological advancement and the complexities of global finance.
The trend towards digitalization has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's likely to continue. More consumers will embrace digital wallets, contactless cards, and mobile payment apps for convenience, speed, and safety. We can expect to see continued growth in e-commerce, and omnichannel payment solutions will become even more important for businesses of all sizes.
While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been a hot topic for several years, their role in the payments industry could increase significantly in the coming decade. As blockchain technology matures and regulatory frameworks develop, cryptocurrencies may become a more common method for transactions. Additionally, the development and potential adoption of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) could revolutionize the industry.
With open banking, third-party developers can build applications and services around financial institutions. This promotes greater financial transparency and encourages competition and innovation. It also opens the door for more direct, API-based payment methods, bypassing traditional card networks for faster, cheaper transactions.
Lastly, one more trend worth mentioning is the ongoing focus on financial inclusion, particularly in developing economies. Technologies like mobile money have already made a significant impact, and the push to bring more people into the formal financial system will continue to drive innovation in the payments industry.
These trends also come with challenges, such as the need for robust cybersecurity measures and regulatory frameworks that balance innovation with consumer protection.