Inside PayPal’s Big Plans to Keep Innovating

June 10, 2016, 9:15 PM UTC

The way PayPal’s president and CEO Dan Schulman sees things, the company’s biggest opportunities are still in front of it, and they are gigantic. And even though the company is more than 15 years old and faces a host of competitors in the digital payments territory it helped create in the late 1990s, it has only just begun.

“We are just scratching the surface,” Schulman said.

In an interview at Northside Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Friday, Schulman mapped out new territory for the ecommerce payments company, which spun off from parent company eBay (EBAY) in 2015.

For starters, PayPal (PYPL) wants to dominate payments by creating a platform that supports all forms of mobile technology and integrates quickly and easily with the payment systems used by merchants. The company also plans to let merchants interact more with their customers through apps and messaging, and reduce costs for consumers by charging lower fees than banks do for managing and moving money, Schulman said.

There’s still a formidable market to crack. Schulman said the global payments market is currently worth $100 trillion, and about 85% of payments still occur through cash. To put that in perspective, PayPal processed $278 billion in payments in 2015, generating revenue of $9.2 billion. The company counts 184 million customers, 14 million of whom are merchants.

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Yet, perhaps the most important payments trend PayPal is watching is the explosion of mobile and the way it’s reshaping both customer and merchant expectations. “We are seeing a tipping point right now, and merchants are asking how do I use mobile to redefine the relationship with consumers,” Schulman said, adding the distinctions continue to get blurred between online shopping and in-store shopping.

By way of example, he mentioned two pilot programs that PayPal has engaged in the past year or so — one with coffee purveyor Starbucks and one with sandwich company Subway. PayPal has helped those companies develop apps that let their customers order ahead and pay using traditional payment methods, rewards points, or a combination of both.

Acquisitions will also help PayPal move into mobile payments. In 2013, the company inked an $800 million deal to buy mobile payments provider Braintree, inheriting popular money-swapping app Venmo in the process. Schulman said when PayPal detached from eBay last year, it had $6 billion on its balance sheet and no debt. The company plans to use that money for more acquisitions going forward, as well as to support Venmo.

Schulman says PayPal is also thinking of ways to help consumers who don’t have bank accounts — about 70 million people in the U.S. — to manage their financial lives more effectively. They currently pay as much as 10% of their disposable income on interest rates and fees, he says.

But PayPal’s growth plan isn’t only about technology. Schulman also took a moment to discuss the company’s culture of inclusion, which he described as one of the key underpinnings for its ability to continue innovating. He specifically described how inclusion came into play with its decision to cancel plans for a 400-person operations center in Charlotte, N.C., following the state’s passage of HB2 in April. Known as the “Bathroom Bill,” the law bans transgender people from using the bathroom of their chosen gender, and allows businesses to use religious objections as an excuse not to serve customers to whom they may object, for example, for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. PayPal had announced plans for the operations center just a few weeks before the bill passed.

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“I read through the entire bill, and it seemed to us that it allowed for discrimination against people for either sexual identity or sexual orientation,” Schulman said. “There is absolutely no room for discrimination against anyone in our country, or anywhere in world.”

Schulman said he got many accolades for taking the stance he did, but he also took heat from people who disagreed with him, including letters that threatened Schulman personally.

More than 100 companies signed a letter addressed to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory opposing the legislation this spring. In addition to PayPal, other prominent tech companies, including Salesforce, Airbnb, Facebook, Google and Uber took forceful stands against the bill.

“Having that values set is as important as any one benefit you [offer] your employees,” Schulman said. “This is what I personally believe, and what our company personally believes in.”

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