The chief executive of one of Atlanta‘s largest payments players is taking over as chair for a lobbying group that helped catapult the city into the global conversation on financial technology.
Elavon CEO Jamie Walker in July began leading the board of the American Transaction Processors Coalition, which started in 2013 and coined the term “Transaction Alley” to refer to Georgia, which boasts a presence by companies processing 70 percent of U.S. electronic payments.
The ATPC really started to build some momentum around 2015, when it helped coalesce an industry that employs upwards of 30,000 people in the state but remained largely unseen.
“We got our sea legs, the muscle memory is there, and we’ve accomplished quite a bit,” said H. West Richards, the ATPC’s longtime executive director, who estimates that the organization has held some 500 meetings with members of Congress (in Georgia and Washington) to boost visibility of the payments industry as “critical infrastructure” vital to the function and growth of the U.S. economy.
The ATPC also set up a payments-industry roundtable with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, helped bring International companies like Brazil’s Merchant e-Solutions to Georgia and created a high-level international forum called the P20 to link Atlanta and London together for the purpose of driving common standards in the industry. It has also held cybersecurity simulations and set up a cyber council where rivals in the payments sphere could trade notes on shared threats to the industry.
Mr. Walker said that function has been crucial in an era of changing threats, and COVID-19 has only underscored the need for a resilient and responsive payments sector.
Even with an unprecedented acceleration of digitization, e-commerce and contactless payments during the pandemic, the industry “showed up” to keep commerce flowing at a time of economic hardship, he said.
“We proved our worth and why we’re such and important industry from an infrastructure standpoint but also from an innovation standpoint,” said Mr. Walker, who has led Elavon, the processing arm of U.S. Bank, since 2017.
Mr. Richards said perceptions in Georgia really started to change when lawmakers saw the job-creation and -retention potential of fintech and payments, aided by the creation of the Georgia Fintech Academy, a University System of Georgia initiative which aims to ensure a pipeline of trained workers. Elavon is assisting in this regard; in 2019 it hired 120 new people in Atlanta, and in May U.S. Bank made a three-year $450,000 grant to the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, which is helping incubate Black entrepreneurs in Atlanta. Mr. Walker called the investment a “no-brainer,” as it allows Elavon to find early innovators while helping diversify the city’s payments workforce.
With Atlanta awakened to the promise of payments, ATPC plans to use its lobbying heft in other capitals like Tallahassee; Albany, New York, and Springfield, Illinois, Mr. West said, noting that Atlanta now has the ingredients to continue its march toward payments preeminence. He recommended that Fintech Atlanta, an organization spun out of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, become a “landing pad” for international investors in the space.
“It’s maturing as an organization, and I think they have a real opportunity to be the platform upon which countries interested in the U.S. marketplace wherever Atlanta comes to mind or gets on the radar screen,” he said.
Mr. Walker replaces Royal Cole of FIS in the board chairmanship.