Mobile Money

Albert Liu has made a name for himself in the technology industry, handling the legal needs of Turnstone Systems and Netgear. Now he’s turning that expertise into results at Verifone as the company moves into the mobile market.

As customers demand alternative and mobile options, VeriFone is rolling out new technologies and initiatives to take payments from the wallet to the smartphone

If you’ve bought paper towels in bulk or had paint mixed for your home office, chances are you’ve interacted with Albert Liu’s company. In fact, there are more than 20 million places you could visit in more than 150 countries to find one of his electronic payment terminals. Liu is executive vice president of corporate development and general counsel at VeriFone Systems. After starting his career at Turnstone Systems and Netgear, Liu joined VeriFone five years ago as its first in-house general counsel post VeriFone’s 2005 initial public offering. Today, he’s leading a 20-person legal team that will help guide the global leader in secure payment systems and solutions as the company attempts to leverage its 20 million devices for the mobile-payment revolution.

Born in China, Liu moved with his family to the United States at the age of nine and eventually attended Stanford University, where he completed a double major in computer science and political science. The unusual background gave him an analytical approach to problem solving. He added to that a law degree, which he used to help take Turnstone Systems public, in 2000, before agreeing to serve as its general counsel. From there, he continued to a private company offering integrated telecom and connectivity services to Netgear, a global provider of wireless networking solutions. Those jobs in the high-tech sector led to his role at VeriFone.

At each company, Liu found himself leading a new legal department. VeriFone had gone public in 2005, but had operated with outside counsel until Liu’s arrival in 2008. He was able to rely on his previous experience in building out a robust legal function and creating all proper policies and procedures. “My unique background has helped, because I can talk to engineers in the tech space and understand the business,” Liu says. “A lawyer’s ability to grasp the products and industry of his company is crucial.”

The legal team works to drive VeriFone’s growth by supporting sales, research and development, and operations. As a public company, VeriFone must also stay in compliance with the SEC. Liu’s role can’t be understated at what is an important crossroads in the history of VeriFone. “We’re starting to offer many new software and mobile products and services worldwide, because we recognize the changing payment landscape,” he explains. “We’re working hard to drive innovation in that space.”

As technologies emerge, consumer behavior is changing, and new desires are driving VeriFone to adapt quickly. In the Nordic regions, the company has successfully offered payment-as-a-service plans through which retail users pay a monthly fee to receive a payment device, software updates, support services, and maintenance. VeriFone also provides analytics on customer transactions and purchasing patterns to enable merchants to better target their customers. Such a managed service model is what VeriFone envisions rolling out all over the world.

The real revolution, though, is coming in the form of mobile payments. The demand for various payment alternatives from traditional credit and debit to PayPal and Google Wallet is higher than ever before, and consumers want all options available at the point of purchase. VeriFone is developing and testing technology that will enable a smartphone to communicate with a payment terminal and conduct any type of payment-settlement transaction, with the terminal routing the transaction to its appropriate settlement. “Our 20 million existing devices can scale up to conduct those transactions through our terminals,” Liu says.

Those terminals are already enabling alternative payment solutions like PayPal. VeriFone allows customers to enter a phone number and pass code on VeriFone terminals to select PayPal as a payment option at leading retailers such as Toys “R” Us, Footlocker, Abercrombie & Fitch, and American Eagle. VeriFone’s terminals act as routers to accept traditional or alternative payments, which limits the merchant’s needs to just the one piece of hardware.

And it’s not just consumers who stand to benefit from the mobile renaissance—merchants stand to reap similar rewards. VeriFone’s PAYware Mobile hardware—essentially a smartphone cradle with a built-in credit card reader and barcode scanner—allows for mobile check out. With the device in hand, retail workers are free to roam the store and answer questions or process payments on the sales floor. Additionally, employees can couple PAYware Mobile with a tablet device that runs VeriFone’s GlobalBay mobile-retailing software suite to engage customers, showing them other inventory or suggesting items to up-sell. “The solution really lets stores keep customers who are fleeing to online outlets like Amazon,” Liu says. “If someone is buying pants, you can show them a shirt that matches, and then process their purchase right there and then.”

At VeriFone, Liu’s legal team provides essential support in the race to capture the emerging mobile-payment market. They are deeply involved in all aspects of new initiatives to provide essential risk management and legal protections. The company stood at $900 million in revenue when Liu joined five years ago; during his tenure, he has led acquisitions that have added another $800 million. Now, the company is rapidly innovating and leading the way in alternative and mobile-payment solutions.