As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Olsen.
Kevin Olsen is the Senior Vice President of Payments Solutions at VSoft Corporation. Kevin, also known as the Payments Professor, has been working in the payments industry since the late 1990’s. Throughout this time, Kevin has obtained many certifications such as Accredited ACH Professional (AAP), National Check Professional (NCP), and Accredited Payments Risk Professional (APRP). His previous experience includes previous roles at ePayResources, EastPay Inc., and Jack Henry & Associates. After years of participation in the rule making, certification process, Kevin returned to the software industry eager to assist in the creation of the next phase in the evolution of Payments as faster Payments begin to find their place in the United States. His passion for Payments and lessons learned are not to be lost for the Payments Professor strives to share through his unique style all he has acquired over the years with everyone in the industry. Kevin received a BS in Technical Studies from Valdosta State University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I began my career teaching IT at a technical college where I eventually got laid off due to budget cuts. Unsure of where to go next, I landed a job in the electronic payments industry working in customer service and tech support. The deeper I got into the field, the more natural it felt for me. Digital payments made sense to me and the tech behind it was a language I understood, which quickly fueled my passion for helping others adopt these solutions and reap the benefits. As I explored different aspects of the industry and worked for various companies supporting their digital payments initiatives, I also explored the educational side — hence my title as the “Payments Professor.” This propelled me further into the regulatory side of the industry where I assisted in the development and execution of new rules and policies. All of this has led to where I am now: Senior Vice President of Payments Solutions for VSoft, where I help oversee the company’s payments offerings as well as provide educational courses and trainings as the “Payments Professor.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
There is a long list of mistakes that I have made, and that’s ok! I’ve never been afraid to make mistakes because I do not necessarily believe in failure. I believe in learning opportunities that help you move forward. That said, early in my career while I was in the aforementioned tech support position, my peers kept mentioning “offsets.” I kept wondering what an offset was until my mentor approached me and tried to explain, but I still didn’t understand. Finally, she had a group of us form a circle and begin exchanging dollar bills to demonstrate the concept just so I could understand. Suddenly, it clicked, and I realized we were making payments processes more complicated than they should be. The moral of this story is: never be afraid to ask a question, even if it involves admitting a mistake. This turned out to be a pivotal learning experience for me.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I am an extremely avid reader. In fact, I average about one book per week; however, one book that I reread every year is “High-Performance Habits” by Brendon Burchard. It is one that I recommend to everyone, especially to those looking to evolve within their professional career. The book inspired me so much that I actually became a certified high-performance coach after offering what I learned to others within my own organization, including peers and even superiors. Through this experience, I’ve been able to help others become highly productive individuals in whichever industries they are in and whichever dreams they have to pursue.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your career what was your vision, your purpose?
When I began my career decades ago, I was young. I had just lost a job and simply needed to provide for my family. That said, I took what landed for me, which in the end came naturally. Now, through my dual role as an SVP and the Payments Professor at VSoft, I strive to help people understand the aspects that have been convoluted and complicated for so many years. It is my vision and mission to further modernize the payments industry by offering engaging courses that are easy to understand in addition to my product-focused role at VSoft. Ultimately, as we continue to move toward a cashless society, I feel that I have a purpose to help make digital payments solutions inclusive and accessible to everyone.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of leading in your business/career?
The principle that guides me is “stick to your purpose.” I know what my purpose is, who I am, and what I want to do — and anytime I am faced with an opportunity or even a challenge I always ask myself if it supports my purpose in life. Regardless of how much I have on my plate, if an opportunity inches me toward becoming a better version of myself or allows me to help others, , I figure out a way to work it in. My advice to others would be to find your purpose. Find what it is that you have a passion for — what truly motivates you or where you want to make a difference — and stick with that. If you can do this, the rewards will be endless.
Thank you for that insight. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Overall, I’ve tried to view the events of this year as a complete reset for society. There’s a level playing ground where everyone has the opportunity to show up and do things differently. Personally, it’s been challenging to simultaneously work from home and parent a 10-year-old. I can’t count how many times my son has come into my room saying “Dad, I’m hungry. Dad, I’m hungry. Dad, I’m hungry.” while I was in the middle of an online conference or webinar. Being able to find quick breaks and tend to family without anybody noticing has been a challenge for probably every working parent out there. The most impactful thing I’ve done to create more of a work-life balance for myself is build an at-home studio. It has really enabled me to work at a higher capacity for longer periods of time without having to leave my home and risk being exposed to the virus. All of this to say, while there is no doubt that I’ve faced challenges this year, the possibilities for what might come are exciting for me.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of my main responsibilities at VSoft is to serve as a support system for our customers and ensure they are set up for success. A large part of this was holding on-site meetings, which, of course, are no longer an option. However, I have found that there are best practices that can be implemented in order to bring a holistic, engaging presence online, and I work diligently to share those with my colleagues and customers as well. In fact, VSoft has allowed me to provide multiple trainings on how to optimize your online presence as society continues to move forward virtually. For example, I recently started a series specifically around controlling noise, controlling sound, and improving overall online communication so that remote workers can work as efficiently and professionally as they were in-person.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
A personal philosophy that I have always believed and held close is that this too shall pass. In time, I believe that we’ll look back on this year and reminisce on the lessons we’ve all learned. I often encourage my family and friends to remember to not only let themselves feel the uncertainty that sneaks in some days, but to also let it go and hold onto their hope for the future. While the news and the realities we are facing can be overwhelming at times, I know that this way of thinking has the ability to contribute to a better future. In the meantime, I believe we must ask the question: how can we better prepare for that better future, now?
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
When it comes to the financial sector, I believe the opportunities will be abundant. As a result of the demand to go 100% digital, the industry is making an accelerated shift toward modern payments solutions. Society is realizing its necessity and the industry has gotten more creative. At VSoft we believe in offering solutions that are truly scalable — in-person or online — so banks and credit unions don’t feel the brunt of societal swings such as those we’ve experienced during the pandemic. Modern payments solutions have already gained momentum, especially in other countries, and I believe that it will continue to gain traction in the U.S. as we see more and more people look for ways to go cashless.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
As for the money side of things, people have been forced to use their phones as an alternative, and many have come to prefer it. As a result, I think we will continue to see companies innovate solutions that will enable a more streamlined and efficient digital society. Regarding general human behavior, I think people are more conscientious of their actions and how they spread germs. In the banking industry, contactless payments is at the center of innovation right now — and I think other industries will also soon digitize under the same concept for a cleaner society.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
While there have been many setbacks, the pandemic has allowed me to grow personally and professionally. Before pandemic, I had a number of online courses ready to go and in the making — many of which I was able to release early as a result of work-from-home policies. It felt good to be able to expedite online training on digital payments during a time when the industry needed it. For example, we were able to quickly complete and release a course on pandemic planning because disaster recovery was something I had experience with from my previous roles. As a 20-year veteran in digital banking, VSoft strives to serve as a resource for banks, businesses, and consumers alike as the industry moves forward.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
In the finance industry, specifically, the pandemic has highlighted areas where it’s imperative to be digitally proficient. Businesses and individuals lean on their financial institutions for stability, and even more-so during times of crisis. The pandemic has only proven the value of banks and credit unions — especially for small businesses and unbanked and underbanked individuals — as we’ve seen an uptick in new account openings industry-wide. As society moves toward a post-pandemic economy, my ultimate piece of advice would be for the industry to work together to enable financial inclusion as we continue to advance digitally and move toward a contactless world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Overall, I’m a very positive person and have many quotes I keep handy, but there are a few specific quotes that keep me going every day. One of them is “you should look at everything in life as if it’s the first or last time you ever will.” This quote has served as a reminder for me to always be fully present and never take any moment for granted. I believe that you should do everything with everything you’ve got because it may be the last time — or the only time — you get to do it.
How can our readers further follow your work?
My work can be found at the Payments Professor website at paymentsprofessor.com or on Youtube under that same name. I can also be found on LinkedIn as Payments Professor or just Kevin Olsen and on Twitter as @PaymentsProf.