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First-person summary of Innovation Project a payments industry conference put on by PYMNTS March 16-17 at Harvard University.


Innovation Project is a conference put on annually by Payments Industry trade publication PYMNTS. Socure was a silver sponsor, our CEO was on-stage briefly during the “Think-a-Thon” challenge, and we participated in the Innovator Expo.

If you’ve never been, the conference is a mix of panel discussions, ‘fireside chat’ interviews of high-profile industry executives, and a short ‘Innovation Expo’ with solutions vendors at the tail end of each of the two days of the conference. CEO Karen Webster firmly presides over the event and keeps things moving as its de-facto emcee.

sanders1000.jpgThe Sanders Theater (Memorial Hall) at Harvard University provides a unique, and although slightly dusty not at all antique venue—the space well-sized to this event. (Think ‘Hogwarts’ from the Harry Potter movies.)

Find a summary of the two-day conference on for “play by play” of each panel and chat. This blog is intended as more of a general overview of the conference.

Panels at the Edge

Panel sessions were all appended with “at the edge,” as in, “Payments at the Edge,” “Who’s Protecting payments at the Edge,” “Financial Inclusion at the Edge,” and so on. Each panel featured 5-8 panelists, most of whom seem to have been invited—few of whom seem to have been able to buy there way into seats on those panels with sponsorships. PYMNTS can be both commended and derided for this, as their tight control of the agenda means that there is clearly no overt “sales pitchy” presenters, at the same time – the message control means there is no real community aspect or feel to the event, nor do panels produce much in the way of surprises or new information.

The panels are have one or two moderators, chosen by PYMNTS and sometimes with a solo introduction with slides for key presenters proceeding the panel. Some of the interesting moderators included Ben Lawsky, former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services and Adrienne Harris, Special Assistant to the US President for Economic Policy.

Fireside Chats

CdxHABLWAAANZRc.jpgThe one-on-one interviews are all done by CEO Karen, who is well-researched and completely plugged-in. These were generally CEOs – from Visa, PayPal, Verifone, First Data, etc. Obviously focused on the payments space, there was broad conversation around the market, innovation, trends in the industry and specifics of the company – often ending with the “what keeps you up at night?” question to close. It’s worth commenting that the chat with FirstData CEO Frank Bisignano was a highlight for both its transparency and hilarity.

Twitter Chatter

For a financial conference, there was a decent amount of activity on Twitter around the excruciatingly long #InnovationProject2016 hashtag – 20-30 active tweeters in addition to the moderated @PYMNTS handle itself. Overall, the chatter was non-confrontational, not overly commercial (“hey – buy my stuff”), some information was additive, but the distribution of which speakers and even presenting firms who have identifiable Twitter presence is uneven, and there was almost no listing of handles for either the presenters personally nor their firms on the slides.

CdsqaeeUAAEMEaw.jpgThe Innovator Expo

Located in an adjacent building (the Science Hall), the expo hall with vendors is set-up for demonstrations and short presentations for attendees. While there wasn’t a “pull-though” reason to come through that area, turnout was solid on the first evening with attendees at all levels generally spending some amount of time there. (less so on the second evening, as people were rushed off to the Awards Dinner.)

Different from the likes of Money 20/20 and Finovate, this isn’t the kind of conference where you go to check out the latest from vendors, large and small…. This one is about that commentary from industry luminaries, so the action is on stage.


This is a worthwhile conference, with solid attendees that are fairly senior in their organizations, and an appropriate level of conversation—in terms of high-level versus in-the-weeds content. The PYMNTS Team would be well-served to take more of a community stance, and move the conversation more towards disruption as opposed to innovation.

PYMNTS fuels a diverse gathering of like-minded individuals from the payments industry, keeps things moving through the day and delivers a forum to hear from industry stalwarts. Dominated by large firms in the panels and chats, this conference is less about disruptive ideas and more about understood industry trends.

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