Visa – A Network Working for Everyone | Interview with Diana Kiguradze

Financial companies have long undergone significant transformations. Incorporating various businesses in their portfolio and building upon technological developments, they have also given a lot of thought to the aspects of social responsibility of their brands. Moreover, to simplify the lives of their consumers, companies have begun offering new financial-technological models and services to the public.

In this respect, Visa, is the distinguished company as the world’s leader in payments. It can be said upfront that Visa is a global financial and technology organization not only accelerates daily lives simplification of customers and simultaneously ensures technological development, additionally cares about the welfare of the society.

Visa Caucasus Office is backed by the team composed by young professionals, who work in a cozy environment located in one of Tbilisi’s skyscrapers. The team impressively leads and implements various projects across the region. It has been several months since Diana Kiguradze was appointed as a Senior Director and Regional Manager for the Caucasus region. In her new role, Diana stepped in with a new strategic vision of the company and set specific goals to strengthen an understanding of the local markets, promote digital payments, support Small and Medium size business and accelerate Women’ leadership in the Caucasus region. In order to find out more on specific projects of Visa and introduce Regional Manager, we offer an interview with Diana Kiguradze below.

Greetings, Diana. As we know, you joined Visa back in 2018, and today you are holding the position of Regional Manager for the Caucasus. Could you tell us what Visa means to you and the goals you have set in your new role?

Visa is a company, that cares about simplifying and improving human life, and may you agree that our mission is very serious Leading this exciting process in the Caucasus is a highly responsible job and one that fills me with and immense pride for many reasons, and let’s talk about couple of them.

At Visa, everyone is fully aware of where “Georgia” is – no one mixes it up with the U.S. State anymore (smiles). When discussing innovations, our small region often becomes the main topic of discussions. For reference, we are the second-largest globally in terms of the number of contactless payments made in the local market: nine and a half out of every ten payments are made through contactless technology. People pay quickly and safely, and we preserve their most precious resource – time. 

I would like to highlight that Georgia holds the firm position in the startup industry. Recently, our partner Georgian startup Payze became the winner of the CEMEA regional finals of the global competition “Visa Everywhere Initiative 2021”. This region unites 90 countries from Central Europe, Middle East and Africa, and you can imagine, that Payze undergone a very competitive competition, which is a great success for the whole region as well.

However, the long list of our success doesn’t end here, which makes me even more proud as a Georgian myself. 

This new role gives me an opportunity to work on key priority areas, which, of course, also includes empowering female entrepreneurs and expanding the precious legacy of Visa that I have inherited and have been actively involved in its creation since first joining the company.

Bringing innovation and development to Georgia, strengthening products and working closely with major financial institutions, fintech companies, regulator, and a growing number business partner companies, that increasing day by day, remain the key priorities for us.

Visa is actively involved in the development of various business industries, including small and medium-sized businesses. What problems do small and medium-sized enterprises face today, and what specific steps forwards Visa to support them?

Visa is a devoted supporter of Georgian business. We roll out several projects to support small and medium-sized enterprises in various areas, including digitization, customer acquisition, brand exposure and product promotion. Shortly after the pandemic broke out, we launched here part of our global campaign “Where You Shop Matters”, which is translated in Georgian – “Choose Georgian”. Through this campaign, we have given support to the local businesses to continue working and sell their products.

I believe the pandemic environment has accelerated digital transformation: business has to move to the online platforms, adapted their development strategies to the new realities, and, in general, the demand on digitization has dramatically increased. The landscape of contactless payment functionality usage has been expanded. In this context, the pandemic has pushed the companies to move to a new stage of development. In this regard, we have implemented number of tailored activities with our partner banks and promoted business online transformation process. I can proudly say that we provided support and our contribution for SMEs when they needed it the most.

Georgia was one of the first in the region in rapid respond to the pandemic by launching a local business support program. We believe, that SMEs are driving force of any economy and Visa as a global company offers them a variety of products and services that are usually not limited to just payment solution instruments. We represent a network that brings everyone and everything together. Our goal is to show companies the value of that network. When it comes to local business, global Visa acquires Georgian spirit and spares no effort to help pave the way towards success. 

What problems do women entrepreneurs face in Georgia, and what specific steps does Visa take to empower them?

In general, empowering women entrepreneurs is an integral part of Visa’s strategy. We also believe that by doing it we contribute to just and equal society development. We conducted a sociological research as part of the She’s Next campaign and revealed that 54% of women entrepreneurs found more challenging to run a business now than the previous year. Starting a business for a woman is still remains as a huge challenge. But from our perspective a challenge means an opportunity. This is where Visa steps in and shares number of resources, such as technology, knowledge, experience, network and simply an open heart that empowers women in overcoming an existing obstacle.

As I have already mentioned, we have launched She’s Next, Empowered by Visa in Georgia, aiming to empower women, create community and networking opportunities, give them an access to relevant knowledge and resources, and promote small and medium-sized businesses. In partnership with our reliable partner organizations – Women for Tomorrow and Forbes Woman Georgia, we carried out several educational initiatives, such as Free Online Masterclasses, the SME Contest for Female Entrepreneurs in Georgia. We are still expanding network of women entrepreneurs and strengthening local community, which is currently made up to 2,000 women. We welcome more woman to join She’s Next campaign, living across the country to boost their inspiration and further develop their business skills.

Could you tell us about the joint contest for women entrepreneurs implemented by Visa in partnership with Forbes Woman Georgia?

Under the contest, we focused on women who already run their personal business, but on the way to expanding they face challenges, such as developing a brand strategy and marketing communications. Along with the team of Forbes Woman Georgia, we selected TOP 10 female SMEs according to the pre-established criteria and engaged them to free online consulting sessions leaded by brand expert. At the following stage, along with the project partners – TBC and Bank of Georgia, Georgian Farmers Association, have been selected the best 3 women entrepreneurs as finalists based on live presentations about brand strategies. As a feedback, Visa and Forbes Woman Georgia will tailor promising communication activities for the winners to promote them and ensure brands’ exposure.

The selection process of the finalists was a unique experience for me, as a member of selection committee. During delivering presentations, the jury members fall in a very positive emotions, as we witnessed how participants expressed their unity and demonstrated gratefulness towards knowledge and experience, gained under the project. It quickly makes you realize what a meaningful job it is that we’re doing. I would like to thank our partner organizations, TBC Bank, Bank of Georgia, Georgian Farmers’ Association, the team of Forbes Woman, and the participants, who made the contest and overall process a very memorable.

You are leading the Caucasus region, including Georgia and Armenia. What are the differences between these two countries from the perspective of both aspects – women empowerment and technological development?

 I sense that in terms of women’s empowerment, the situation is quite similar in Georgia and Armenia. These two countries unite under one region precisely because of the similarities in certain aspects. The challenges that Georgian women face are also very common in Armenia.

However, in terms of technological readiness of business, compared to Georgia, Armenia is still on the path towards cashless and digital development. And we are happy to support the country and businesses there. For example, we were the first on the market to initiate and launch the functionality required for tokenization in Armenia in the last year and in Georgia the first mobile payments have been available six years ago.

Innovations and technologies in the Armenian market are associated with Visa, of which we are very proud and do not spare any effort to further strengthen our positions by implementing new projects.

As you have already mentioned, innovations are spreading at a rapid pace in Georgia. Moreover, Georgia is one of the leading countries in terms of contactless penetration in your opinion, what caused this strange phenomenon?

At Visa, we discuss on this matter very often, get calls from different regions – they wonder how a small country achieved such excellent results. In my opinion, such effects are primarily due to the interest expressed by the population, a kind of national readiness to welcome technological innovations. However, this interest is accompanied by the banking market structure, which is highly concentrated, with solid players who spend resources for creating a new technology and presenting to the customers.

Diana, what should we expect in the future? Will Georgian economy be transformed into the so-called “cashless”, or will it choose another track towards development?

I will share with you one fact: today, there is a tremendous amount of cash in circulation. According to Visa data, out of every hundred GEL processed on Visa card, approximately only thirty GEL is spent via the card. It turns out that there is a massive potential in this field and still remains a lot of work to reach fully cashless economy. Of course, as a tech company, we contribute in developing products, adding attractive benefits for customers so that people will no longer want to withdraw cash.

However, at the same time, there remain places where non-cash payment is impossible. In this case, together with banks we are implementing new solutions, for instance, accessible acquiring tools for SME’s, based on Visa Tap to Phone technology by Visa, which can turn an Android phone with NFC support into a mobile POS terminal. Accordingly, on the one hand, we develop a product and show people its benefits and on the other hand, we are creating a network in which consumers can use these products freely.

Finally, of course, Visa is a proponent of a “cashless” society. This is the ideal we are striving towards. However, we have a long way to go in reaching this goal, but with the joint effort we will accelerate this process.

Diana, you are one of the leading business managers in the financial industry. At a very young age, you have become the Senior Director and Country Manager of the global company. What advice would you give to young people who are just starting their careers?

I will answer to this question with one of the quotes which very much resonances with my personal experience and advices, which I would like to share with young generation – Dream big, stay positive, work hard and enjoy the journey! Which will motivate them and feel proud of themselves and their achievements.