By SGN | 3 Aug 2020
Over 20 years ago, just when Imran Bidiwala Hajimusa was about to complete his M.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Southern California, an opportunity from the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) came knocking at an uncannily perfect time. This opportunity with Siemens had Imran shuttling between Singapore and Germany whilst focusing on growing the business in China, in the next five years.
“Part of the excitement was going back to Singapore and the other was that my employment contract asked for me to be stationed in Germany while building the foundation for a design centre in Singapore. It was great to get global experience in the early part of my career,” he says. Having lived in Singapore in the early 90s with his family, Imran shares that they used to live in River Valley, next to all the hustle and bustle of Orchard Road. One of the fondest memories he had was eating seafood at East Coast Park and spending the day out in the sun at Sentosa with family and friends.
Imran spent the first part of his career building broadband and connectivity solutions that are the backbone of all cloud-based services today. After a decade of leadership roles with Infineon and later Lantiq, Imran made a conscious decision to take himself out of his comfort zone and venture into “something new.” Security and payments at that time were still at an early phase of disruption, but Imran took the challenge and went on to lead teams innovating in a burgeoning industry. He spent the next decade at the forefront of payments as GM and VP at NXP and Verifone launching mobile wallets and innovative eCommerce solutions. Today, Imran is responsible for the payments platform at Silicon Valley Bank, where he and his team are obsessed with reducing the friction in technology’s use and providing innovative fintech solutions.
Imran is also a frequent speaker at various industry forums and has developed a graduate level curriculum on Mobile eCommerce and Blockchain taught at Santa Clara University and University of California, Santa Cruz where now he serves as an adjunct faculty member.
As a global leader, one of the key leadership traits Imran learned in his early career is 360-degree leadership – a mindset shift that removes the mental block that you are constrained by job title or position. “It sounds like a cliché, but If you can remove that mental block, and inspire people towards a common vision, you will be able to achieve more than what you think is possible,” Imran explains.
Imran is also passionate about building teams. He shares that a single person is constrained by 24 hours in a day, and that success only comes from scaling by building high-performance teams that are enthusiastic about delivering tangible results. “The best success is when you can inspire your ideas within your teams, and they can refine and grow them. The beauty of that is they will own it and drive it with passion,” Imran says.
Reshaping the future of payments
Imran thinks that “banking is at the beginning phase of the innovation cycle.” He is passionate about finding intuitive solutions that simplify daily life. “I have always believed that if you can reduce friction in the use of technology, you can delight customers and create value,” he says.
Today, the payments and commerce industry continue to rapidly transform as the boundaries between physical and virtual commerce blur even further to make way for a seamless experience for consumers and businesses. Imran shares that COVID-19 has expedited digital transformation by at least 3-5 years.
“We are experiencing faster digital adoption and new use cases that are pushing the envelope of innovation.” In the payment world, the use of cash is rapidly declining due to the fear that they carry germs and viruses. He elaborates, “We are seeing rapid adoption of contactless cards and mobile wallets that does not require touching payment terminals. This contactless phenomenon is now taking on a new meaning with contactless delivery, contactless packaging, contactless cooking, even contactless barber service. We will rely more on IoT and sensors to guide us though our day to day journey in the future.
One of the side effects of increased digital adoption is more complex security threats. Imran shares that digital identity will become key. “The way we identify ourselves in the digital world and authenticate to services is completely outdated and is a major vulnerability threat,” he stresses. Imran reckons that a grounds-up new self-sovereign identity model will soon be required so that consumers can have full control over their identity and track when and where it is being used.
Singapore: Southeast Asia’s Fintech Hub
“Data is the new digital currency. The art is to create intelligence from this data that maps the customer journey and creates delightful experiences,” Imran says. He predicts that the post COVID world has expedited adoption of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning which can lead to innovative ways to solve customer problems that we have not imagined before. In Singapore, the government announced it would commit more than S$500 million to fund AI activities under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 (RIE2020) plan.
With Singapore at the heart of fintech in Southeast Asia, several large players have already set up their regional headquarters there – which in the past few years has seen a growing number of innovative companies breaking through. Visa, Master Card, and PayPal all have made huge investments in Singapore. But more excitingly, the local and regional players are investing in this space as well.
Even as he has been away from Singapore, Imran shares that he still has strong ties with Singapore. Throughout his illustrious career he has built numerous teams and businesses in Singapore. As fintech continues to burgeon in Singapore, Imran divulges that he is always looking to create fintech collaboration bridges between Silicon Valley and Singapore.
“What makes Singapore unique is being close to China and India. Those markets have very different payment and commerce requirements than the Western world. These large economies are hungry for innovation and disrupting the payments and commerce as we know it,” Imran shares.
(Pictures Credit: Imran Bidiwala Hajimusa and ACG Silicon Valley)