Cathy Vigrass - Head of Canada (Square)

Square is one of the most pioneering global FinTech success stories out there, having transcended the hype and become a fully-fledged member of the financial services ecosystem. It possesses dual powers, not only playing a pivotal role in the development of new payments trends but also encouraging merchants across industries to run their businesses more effectively. Responsible for the Canadian operations is Cathy Vigrass, a passionate and conscious leader fresh from Silicon Valley.

Vigrass met with RFi Group’s Sarah Hollinshead to discuss Square’s current position and future hopes for innovation. With experience ranging from large companies such as eBay to working in start-ups, Vigrass is well equipped to focus on a variety of business owners, all hoping to be empowered and able to fully participate and thrive in the Canadian economy. A common thread across the companies Vigrass has worked at is the use of technology to build tools that help level the playing field and allow businesses to compete with bigger organizations more effectively. Square is obviously no exception to this rule and Vigrass talks more to this point, as she hopes to continue making commerce easier and more accessible to all in Canada.

"Sellers express appreciation in having an affordable, quick and easy way to accept card payments anywhere, anytime."

What has been the response from Canadian customers since your launch in the market 5 years ago?

We have seen a phenomenal response with hundreds of thousands of individuals and businesses in Canada having accepted payments using Square. We have representation across every province, every territory, every size of the business and across different industries from contractors, to professional services, coffee shops and retail stores. Sellers express appreciation in having an affordable, quick and easy way to accept card payments anywhere, anytime. We are encouraged by our ability to help Canadian sellers grow into their ambitions.

How has the Canadian financial services industry responded?

"On the industry side, Square is not an island, we are part of the financial services ecosystem, so we work closely with our Canadian partners to bring innovative technology to sellers across Canada."

On the industry side, Square is not an island, we are part of the financial services ecosystem, so we work closely with our Canadian partners to bring innovative technology to sellers across Canada. One of the interesting things about our Canadian sellers is that over 70% are new to accepting card payments, they were typically cash only businesses before, which really speaks to how much our payment and business tools service an underserved segment of the market. This is something our industry partners appreciate and are enthusiastic about working with us on.

It is important to remember bank customers are also our sellers, so they are a key collaborator for us. The way we think about this is; we help sellers get started in taking card payments, who otherwise would not be able to access the financial ecosystem. And this is typical because they have been seen as too small, too risky, and don’t have the credit history to be able to get a card terminal with more traditional players. Due to our ability to serve this segment of business owners, we play a key role in driving ubiquity of card payments, which is good news for issuing banks in terms of helping card payments displace cash.

Outside of acceptance, what is the biggest impact of Square on the merchant experience?

For Square, it’s not just about helping sellers make the sale. The next most critical need Square helps sellers with is running their business. Business owners have to stitch together all of these different processes and systems to handle basic business operations and often end up turning to pen and paper. Square is focused on making business operations digital, real-time, and connected to provide business owners with holistic information about their business. It’s not just about payments but also inventory levels, customers and employees. This allows sellers to make informed decisions; it’s amazing how many sellers when I visit them, the first thing they’ll do is pull up their analytics and show off their dashboard. It is really interesting hearing the decisions they have made off of the data we provide.

"Iit’s not just about helping sellers make the sale. The next most critical need Square helps sellers with is running their business."

For example, there is a Square seller in Vancouver called Birds & the Beets, and the co-owner, Matthew, said every time he refreshes the Square app, it is like he is refreshing his understanding of the business. He knows the days after a long weekend will be different from a sales perspective, and rainy days mean the coffee rush will happen later, so by taking all that data and looking at it in a holistic way, he is able to make adjustments to his preparation levels, to inventory and staffing, to ultimately better serve his customers. And that is a very typical example of how we are able to help sellers with running their business.

Are you seeing technology shifting the way that merchants can provide marketing and loyalty programmes to their customer?

There is a lot happening with premium credit cards and an increasing focus on the points you can get when you spend with a credit card. But, when you think about it on a local business level, the loyalty drivers are less transactional, or points are driven, and more around delivering a personalized and seamless experience.

One feature we released in response to this trend is Square feedback, which is a direct customer service tool for local businesses. This allows a conversation between business owners and their customers through the Square digital receipt, allowing businesses to resolve issues directly in real-time and in a private forum, which works better than a public dialogue on an online review or on social media.

With payment innovations, such as contactless and mobile, do you believe this is being driven by the merchant or the consumer?

It is interesting the latest trends in payments are not yet a standard across smaller, local businesses, as they are for larger retailers. Because we have been able to make contactless payments affordable and accessible for local businesses, it is a delightful experience when a local business can accept payments with a mobile device like Apple Pay – it cements in the customer’s mind that this is a forward-thinking business and it creates a halo effect on the brand and reputation of the local business.

"At Square, our goal is to always be one step ahead, to make sure local businesses can future proof for the next wave of payment technology like we have allowed for with our newest reader accepting mobile device payments."

When thinking about who is driving payment innovation, it is a ‘chicken and the egg’ situation. You need customer demand, but you need the merchant experience and one definitely drives the other. At Square, our goal is to always be one step ahead, to make sure local businesses can future proof for the next wave of payment technology like we have allowed for with our newest reader accepting mobile device payments.

What are some of the technologies you are backing that could transform the industry?

We are very bullish on the ability of machine learning to have a big impact on the risk side but also on the experience side. A lot of that will be the not be visible to the seller but will create a more seamless and delightful experience from behind the scenes.

What do you love most about your job?

"To meet our sellers and hear about their entrepreneurial journeys is both inspiring and humbling"

I love talking to our sellers. To meet them and hear about their entrepreneurial journeys is both inspiring and humbling. Hearing Square is truly making a difference to them; that’s my favourite thing.


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