NMI’s Payment Playbook Podcast

Episode 13: Authvia CEO Chris Brunner

Step into the fascinating world of text-to-pay and conversational commerce with the trailblazing CEO of Authvia, Chris Brunner. Together, we travel through time, dissecting the evolution of text-to-pay, its plethora of applications, and the exciting prospects it holds for the future.

We discuss how Authvia has revolutionized payments with their innovative suite of solutions that enables merchants to accept payments over text messaging. This means reshaping the payment experience for consumers, ensuring it's not just about convenience, but also security. From pharmacies to vets, and even companies aiming to recover payments from late payers, the versatility of Authvia's solution is truly remarkable. Additionally, we venture into the importance of encryption, the role of cloud-based wallets, and the impact of COVID-19 on the rapid rise of text-to-pay solutions.

We also discuss how Authvia seeks to give consumers control over their personal data, and their right to choose which data to share with merchants. In the near future, text-to-pay will no longer be a novelty but an integral part of commerce. Join us as we explore the ever-evolving landscape of payments and conversational commerce.

Greg Myers: That was Chris Brunner, the CEO of Authvia, and he is my special guest on this episode, episode 267 of the Leaders in Payments Podcast, and I’m your host, Greg Myers. As we continue our deep dive into the Be Solid campaign brought to you by NMI, Chris and I discussed text-to-pay as part of our six-part series on anytime, anywhere payments. Chris and I talk about the history of text-to-pay common use cases and the future of text-to-pay, including how Authvia and their conversational commerce solution will capitalize on these trends. We’ve got a great episode ahead, so let’s get started. Hi, Chris, and welcome to this episode of the Leaders in Payments Podcast, where we’re going to be talking about anytime, anywhere payments, and specifically text-to-pay, which, of course, is a great example. So we’ll be diving into that topic today, so welcome to the show.

Chris Brunner: Greg, thank you for having me today.

Greg Myers: Absolutely so, if you don’t mind, tell our audience a little bit about yourself, maybe a little personal and professional background information.

Chris Brunner: Absolutely. I am a father of two teenage daughters. I am married for 25 years and I have been in the startup now for almost coming up on 10 years now. Not sure it’s a startup anymore.

Greg Myers: Could be. Could be. Well, let’s talk about it then. Tell us about Authvia and tell the audience what Authvia does.

Chris Brunner: So Authvia is what we believe to be kind of the operating system or the platform of the future of conversational commerce. So, what I mean by that is that it’s a platform that’s built and designed to leverage messaging, sms and chat channels, which we think are kind of the future of conversation, at least between businesses and consumers, and to be able to enable any business of any size to engage and transact, and I’ll get into that in a bit with consumers over those messaging lines.

Greg Myers: Okay, and I recently learned that you all secured a second patent in conversational commerce, so can you talk about what that means to the future of text-to-pay?

Chris Brunner: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think that there was three things that when I first started this business, I realized that we had to have and this goes back to about 2010. When I came out of kind of the wireless space, I’d been in Qualcomm, I’d been in Univision, all around mobile data, mobile data services, really sitting at the intersection between consumers and technology and realized that messaging was going to play a big role in the future of commerce. Right, much like you saw in 2000, you saw e-commerce emerge and that came after the web was launched, right. Then commerce came in. You saw companies like PayPal and Braintree really kick off and become billion-dollar companies. Ten years later, 2010, 2013, the same thing happened in e-commerce, right. So, you had all these apps out there and then suddenly commerce became a big part of the mobile app ecosystem and companies like Stripe and others emerged. And you have other players that really helped to refine commerce in a big way, like Amazon or Shopify. That brought other features, other functionality, other workflow to the space.

And really, we looked at the e-commerce space, and now we’re looking at c-commerce. And so, when we started to launch this platform years ago, I realized there was three things. There was going to be some fast followers, and we had to do three things very well, and that one was we had to build the best, deepest, richest platform out there that enabled any business to be able to engage, transact, do a whole lot of those workflow-type operations, but do it all over messaging and chat. And so, we’ve done that. We’ve built a world-class platform and that’s just a – it’s a testament to the relationships that we’ve secured via partnerships with the payments and messaging guys. They’ve looked at our platform and they’ve understood how deep and rich it is and how it checks all their boxes, and so we had to build that.

We had to secure all the on-ramps to what I think was this new conversational commerce world, and those on-ramps were going to be when I’m an SMB, when I’m an enterprise, when I’m a mid-market company and I’m looking for new and innovative ways to engage and transact and take payments and signatures, I’m going to go to either my payments partner or I’m going to go to my messaging partner. And so, I thought for us being a white-labeled beta b2b2c platform, we had to secure an anchor, those relationships, to make sure, as that wave came about, we were, first and foremost, really had that whole position in working with all these entities going forward, and we’ve done that. We’ve secured probably 80% of the relationships on payments and messaging today.

And then, lastly, and arguably not the least important, was to get patents, and patents are critical, as we all know, in emerging spaces and emerging technology, not so much to be offensive with them but to be defensive, to ensure that if you IPO, if you are acquired, that you are giving all of your partners, the companies that partner with you, the security and knowing that what you’re doing, you’ve got patents around that. And so that was a critical point about what we set out to do, and I think it speaks to our leadership and our innovation in space. I think part of being early to the space was our ability to kind of get a lay of the land, understand from the big stakeholders out there what was important today and what was going to be important in the future, and start to architect our platform in such a way and to file the appropriate IP to ensure that we had the safeguards in place as we grew.

Greg Myers: OK, let’s dive into text-to-pay at a broader level. And obviously you’ve been on, you know, involved since the beginning, so can you give us just a quick history of text-to-pay?

Chris Brunner: Absolutely so, the term text-to-pay, or pay by text, kind of got bastardized in 2007, 2008, 2009. So, if you were in the wireless space, there was an emerging business that companies called text-to-pay at the time, or people called text-to-pay. It was also called premium sms, and that was your ability to put any digital goods or services on your wireless carrier or phone bill. So, you might get a message that says, “Hey, you want to bill your New York Times to your Verizon bill for 9.99 a month? Reply yes or okay.” At the end of the month you’d get your Verizon bill and then there’d be a 9.99 charge from New York Times also in that same you know, mix of things were ringtones and wallpaper and horoscopes and games and anything out of the sun, and so what would happen is and that this became a very, very big business. In fact, one of my buddies had a business they were doing about 15 million a month in MRR and then come January of I think it was I forget the year right around 2010 or so, the entire industry was shut down, and it was shut down because so many people were having their kids go on and sign up for these recurring charges that you know, Mom or Dad wouldn’t notice for six or seven months, and then they’d call into Verizon and there’d be a long, drawn out battle over who was going to pay for it, and then, ultimately, the carriers had to give the money back, and so it just became a big messy hornet’s nest, and so it did a lot of damage to the thought or the concept around text-to-pay or pay by text, and so I think, as we started to launch this, it’s a very different play than what they were doing back then.

So today we work with all the traditional credit card, debit card, ACH rails, we work with Chase, with US Bank, with Fiser, with FIS – all the major processors, all the major messaging companies, but we had to go through and get certified. We had to go through and ensure that these transactional rails ran just like e-commerce channels, so very different from what was taking place in ‘07 to 2010. But it was text-to-pay. It was the name that we had to deal with. Right, we couldn’t come up with a different name because it really was still pay by text or text-to-pay, but we had to change the way the industry viewed it, and the industry in this case was the wireless industry and the governing bodies.

In that sense, it’s taken us years to get them comfortable with the fact that we have built and designed a platform that is the most compliant and the most secure platform in the market today. Not everybody does it the way we do it, but we’ve built it this way for the reasons being that we wanted to ensure the wireless industry that everything was being done within their code of conduct, within the way that they thought the world should happen around commerce, and then we’ve added to it and we’ve layered things on, but we’ve kept security and compliance at the top of it, and so it’s been a long, much longer route than people think about when you think about text-to-pay, but probably I’d say ’06-‘07 it started. I think today we’re coming to a whole new world around what text-to-pay and or conversational commerce means.
Greg Myers: But that’s, that’s a brief history on text-to-pay okay, and what are some common use cases that you see today?

Chris Brunner: So, for us, we’re a horizontal platform, right? So, we go to market through the primary from the largest payments companies and we go to market through the largest messaging companies, and so we don’t necessarily select the types of merchants, enterprise, SMB’s that work with us. However, we do have a suite of solutions that work for almost every merchant. So, you think, if you’re a company and you’re trying to take payments over the phone, right? So, that’s one use case that is critical, right? So, if I’m taking your credit card information or banking information over the phone, you’re probably in some form of PCI. You probably have some form of PCI compliance issues, right? So today they’ll kick you to an IVR, which is a pretty bad experience. They’ll send you a link to a website that you have to log in to make a payment, which can be a rough experience as well. Both of those have pretty high drop offs 40, 50, 60% or they’ll take your card right over the phone, like your local flower shop or, you know, coffee shop. So that’s one area that we work with a lot of companies, and almost any company that’s out there today has that use case. Another one would be slow payers or late payers, right? So oftentimes it isn’t that consumers don’t want to pay you. It’s that you’ve made it so hard for them to pay you. They either have to go old school and write a check, they have to spend two hours on a Saturday logging into the bank or logging into your website to make a payment you have to remember to do that or you’re sending them through some IVR or some other system to make a payment, whereas in our world, you know, you’ll simply just get a text from a merchant that you owe money to and you’ll simply reply with the four digit code that we give you to authorize the transaction or payment. That’s the second one. Other ones are, you know, line busting. You know you can work with pharmacies. To make sure that you know you can.

Maybe a vet’s a good example, right? So, you, you’ve got appointment today at three o’clock to drop Fluffy off at the vet. You confirm the appointment over text. You then get a text that says hey, you know we need to co-pay at $35. We need you to check a box to tell us that Fluffy’s here, you know, and sign to make sure we know that she’s had her vaccine. And then please give us some descriptive things around what’s wrong with her today. You know she’s got digestive issues and she hasn’t eaten for two days, and all of that data gets collected and pushed back into the veterinary front office and then you get a text that says, hey, the doctor’s ready to see you bring her in. So, the ability to understand kind of those whole, that whole workflow and how it removes all of that upfront back and forth with paperwork and waiting in an office and all that type of stuff. It enables you to kind of simply just make an appointment, go right in, and see the doctor and leave all that’s taken care of now over these new channels.

Greg Myers: Okay, and can you speak a little bit to how the actual process works? Like we all have phones, right, so we understand text, but do you have to sign up with Authvia as a consumer, or how does that whole workflow work?
Chris Brunner: Yeah, so we are a white label solution. We go to market through the enterprise, the ISV, a software provider, or the merchants themselves. So, the consumer is going to see a text that comes from a business that they’re doing business with right? So, pick a national retailer or something that says, hey, your prescription’s ready to be picked up, it’s going to be thirty-five dollars. You’re going to go ahead and reply, because that message is coming to you from a brand you know and trust already.

We don’t have issues with kind of unknown merchants or unknown businesses trying to solicit funds or anything.

Furthermore, if you’ve ever done a transaction with that business electronic transaction, you’ve given them a credit card.

At any point in time, we dip into the payment processor’s vault, we take that credit card that you have on file, we match it with a mobile number we’ve got on file and then we allow you to authorize or attest that transaction with the four-digit pin that we send to you. If you don’t, our system is smart enough to know that you’ve never made a payment there or you’ve never made a payment through Authvia, through our wallet we’ll send you a short little bitly link that’s branded from that national merchant and I’ll say please go ahead and enter your card information we’ll save that, we’ll then pass that credit card information back to the merchant or the payment processor via a token and that in your transaction will run just like it would in an e-commerce transaction. So, our system will either use a card you’ve already got on file, or we’ll get a new card from you and put that on file. But again, it’s always coming to you from merchant you know and trust.

Greg Myers: Gotcha, okay that makes a lot of sense, so I think you mentioned that Authvia started around 2014, so almost 10 years ago. What changes have you seen in this space in the last eight or ten years?

Chris Brunner: You know, it’s one of those things where you see something as an entrepreneur. You see something. It seems so self-evident to you as you dive in, and you get much closer to. For me, I came from the wireless side and really didn’t know the payment side, but as you dive in, you start to.
You look back now, and you realize all the things that had to happen that I don’t think we were aware of in the early days. Right, we thought, well, messaging is pervasive, consumers know how to use it, merchants are starting to use it, which was true, consumers know how to use it, but merchants really weren’t using it in 2016, 2017. It wasn’t until about 2019 that you started to get text messages from American Airlines and from Citibank and from Uber and from Amazon and from Marriott. You know your room is ready, all these types of one-way notifications. So that had to take place, right. So, merchant to consumer really had to pick up speed and had to become really adopted highly, and that really was largely driven by the companies like an Amazon and Uber and stuff like that, but the other companies picked up on that pretty quickly. That was really important. It was a critical piece that I think we might have thought was already there, but it wasn’t. The secondary piece and equally as important was when you think about what took place with Apple and their Apple Pay. At the time I don’t think I understood the relevance of it, but looking back now it was incredible what it’s done for the consumer and for merchants, for people and businesses to understand that having a card on file in the cloud or on an device didn’t matter. The idea of a cloud-based wallet right? So, Apple Wallet, Google Wallet, Samsung Wallet, Paypal all of these companies out there Consistently messaging with businesses and with consumers that it was okay, it was safe, it was secure. That had to take place before an opportunity like ours could really truly emerge. And then, lastly, I mean there’s a host of other things speeds of network, speeds of devices, encryption all of the security is taking place both on the wireless side, the payment side.

But lastly, probably the third item that happened that again probably missed it at the time, is COVID. When COVID first hit, as a young company, we were really nervous about it and I think within 30 to 45 days that nervousness turned to excitement. Not for COVID, obviously. That was a terrible experience globally, but as a young company we went from something that was we think we’d like to have this, we would kind of like to have it to a must-have. You know, went from number 20 on their integration list to maybe number two or three, and that was because the idea of swiping, tapping and dipping and standing in line and, you know, doing all the things that we were doing pre-COVID they didn’t think were things we wanted to be doing during and post COVID. And that has held true now. Even coming out of COVID, we have seen merchants and consumers just readily adopt and insist that there’s multiple ways to pay and give consumers the options to kind of be six inches, six feet or 600 miles.

Greg Myers: Right, which plays into the theme of our series that we’re talking about, anytime, anywhere, payments. I think most people that we talked to during this series they’re going to mention COVID as kind of an accelerator, because I think it really did accelerate. I mean businesses drove it, but consumers adopted being able to take payments outside of your traditional swipe and dip and all those things.

Chris Brunner: There’s no doubt. I mean, I look back and I think, absent, covid, I don’t think consumers would be there. I think consumers in the sense that if you don’t have to retrain consumer behavior and with text-to-pay and with chat to pay, you don’t have to retrain consumers, right, you’re just saying, hey, do you want to pay, with these ending a one, two, three, four, and they say, yep, right, it’s a very simple, intuitive way for a consumer to know, there might be, do I trust this or not, but you’re not changing the way they behave. Changing the merchant side of this was really hard because it’s a workflow issue, right, if I’m having somebody at that front desk, it’s used to getting a payment, used to getting a signature, used to filling out documentations and collecting data, and that all goes away. Suddenly I have to figure out well, how does this all work now? And so, absent COVID, I don’t think the business side of this would have adapted. I think it would have taken another five years before we started really see adoption takeoff.

Greg Myers: Yeah, yeah, that’s some good insights. Well, you mentioned earlier about the idea of PCI compliance. I want to dive a little deeper into that. So, it’s a big value prop, obviously for your business. So, can you speak to that and give us the details of what you mean by that?

Chris Brunner: Yeah, I think, just in layman’s terms, right, the easiest way to think about the implications of PCI generally would be like a call center, right? So, if I call in and I’m giving you my credit card information or I’m giving you my banking information over the phone and this again became a big issue during Covid, call centers got sent home. I’m calling in to have a new carpet installed and it’s going to be $3,000. And I’m talking to the lady at the call center and I have to give her my credit card or my debit card information over the phone and her cousin, Louie, is sitting on the couch next to her writing everything down that she’s writing down and then takes that card information because they’ve now got my full 16 digits, they’ve got my zip code, they’ve got my four-digit PIN and they go out and they fraudulently charge that and they might use that online somewhere or, however they do that, go ahead and run fraudulent charges. That’s a big issue and it’s not legal to do that and a lot of companies are being cracked down on doing that, and so I think again, Covid was a catalyst where in a call center, you could kind of control to a degree what was going on, even though a lot of that was still happening in call centers, they really became aware of it and became very prevalent during that period.

So, I think anytime that you can put the responsibility of those payment credentials and leave that on the consumer. So, if you send me a text, if you say, Chris, that card is $3,000, I say okay, I’m ready to pay, and you say, great, check your phone, there’s a text sitting there. I get a text and it says go ahead and authorize against card ending in one, two, three, four, because I’ve paid before. Or if I haven’t click this link and enter your card information, no one outside of myself ever sees my payment credentials, my banking credentials or anything. So, the person in the call center is just going to get a checkbox or a green light that goes on and says, hey, this payment has been made, the transaction was successful, go ahead and set up the installation for the new carpet. So, removing that, it’s a massive issue and it’s something that our system solves just seamlessly out of the box.

Greg Myers: Okay. Well, what’s next for this space? Where do you see text-to-pay headed in, say, the next five to seven years?

Chris Brunner: You know, I think I said it at the beginning which is we believe that we are the operating system for commercial commerce, and so I think the text-to-pay is a bit limiting. Right, because it makes us all think just about SMS. But if you think about a platform that we’ve built, right, there’s a wallet behind the scenes, there’s the tokenization and the vaulting of 200 payment processors and gateways that we can tap into. There’s all of the messaging channels that we connect to seamlessly today, whether that’s SMS, traditional text, chat, email, What’s App, Facebook Message or Google chat, it doesn’t matter. Right, the ability for consumers to engage and communicate seamlessly over any use channels to be able to drive transactions right, and that could be a simple as me putting a card on file so I can get a moving truck for the weekend. It could be me doing split payments over these channels, partial payments, donations, pushing money to consumers right, it’s this whole workflow, it’s payments and beyond right, capturing signature, collecting data. Tell me about, like I said, the dog’s health, and that all goes into the system. Can you go ahead and send us a copy of your health card, along with the co-pay and a signature, that you’ve been vaccinated.

Those types of things, right, these conversations, as we call them, right, it might be one of those items, it might be five of those items, right, that all come together in one package that enable a consumer to move from one point to the next point with them, with a business or the merchant, and to be able to do that seamlessly and do that instantly and, at the end of the day, to keep the consumer in control of their data. So, I, as a consumer, get to decide what data of myself I’m releasing into which merchant, so that’ll all sit reside in my central vault, and I can then decide yep, I want to let my give my latest blood work to this doctor, so they can do that and I can release that information. Right, I can do these types of things and control that data and ultimately that’ll expire. Ultimately, we’ll have other protocols around that, but I do believe that all the workflow that you’ve seen over the last 20 years has happened over the internet, whether it’s collecting data, whether it’s documents, whether it’s scheduling, whether it’s two-way chats, whether it’s finding ways to collect other data or do payments or do signature, push money. All those things are coming, and we’ve built that out today.

It’s just in the phase of now being adopted so that both merchants and consumers have much more efficient and streamlined way to do business together. And it really optimizes the workflow for the businesses. If you can take a $35 an hour pharmacy technician and have them not spend five minutes at the window collecting a payment and talking to you about your daughters you know last week at college and that pharmacist can then fill five more scripts in that five minutes right, the ROI for you goes through the roof as a pharmacy, small or large. So, all those things are coming. It’s an exciting time and I think the faster these in the networks are getting faster, devices are getting better, consumers are trusting this more and more. Security is getting deeper and more enriched and merchants are looking at this and seeing this as the new way to engage, because they know email doesn’t work, paper doesn’t work, phone calls don’t work. The only way to break through the clutter is to kind of reach consumers where they are and on the device that they’re on.

Greg Myers: Okay, well, let’s circle back to Authvia and you just gave some examples of things and some trends that are that are coming. So, let’s circle back to Authvia. On that part, what are you guys doing to take advantage of that and and how do you plan to do that? Whatever you’re willing to tell. Obviously don’t not your strategic secrets, but certainly how you plan to capture some of those trends as we move forward.

Chris Brunner: Well, for us, we’re in a fantastic position. We just did a whole new platform release that really enables all the things that I’ve just kind of articulated to you. So we believe that at a platform level, we are where we need to be and it gives us the flexibility to add in the modular components that we need going forward and right, so much of that comes to us from the partners and the merchants that we work with, really telling us like, hey, these are the types of things that we need going forward to you. You’ve got, you’ve got boots on the street out there telling you kind of what’s important and what’s critical to business, and you have to sift through that. You have to find the things that apply to all and not just a few.
But we are really thrilled with the latest release of our platform and what it enables us to do, and there is nobody in this industry right now that’s close to us in terms of just feature functionality in depth of the platform, and we know that because we’ve gone to RFP in the market with the major payment guys, major messaging guys against the competition, and we feel very, very confident about where we sit from a platform perspective.

So that’s probably first and foremost. I think patents are great. I think they help us as well, but ultimately, at this stage, really, it’s all about growth and revenue. To keep our focus on that’s where we need to be putting our energy right now. We’ve spent the time building a ton of product right and as a market was maturing, and the market is finally at the point where the largest of large enterprises, the fantastic mid-market use cases, are coming in and lots and lots of activity in SMB space. So, we’re excited that the market is finally catching up to where we are, and for us right now, it’s just the blocking and tackling of growing the business. But I think from a future perspective, we are sitting in a great position.

Greg Myers: Okay, well, Chris, we’ve covered a lot of ground, obviously, about Authvia and text-to-pay in general and kind of where the market’s heading. Is there anything else you’d like to cover before we wrap up the show?

Chris Brunner: No, I wanted to thank you for having us as part of this segment with NMI, and we are thrilled to be partnered with them and we’re very excited about the future of text-to-pay in the future of conversational commerce, and we’ve got a lot of exciting things coming here shortly, so we’ll stay in touch.

Greg Myers: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today. I know your time is very valuable, so I really appreciate you being here.

Chris Brunner: Thank you, Greg, have a great day.

Greg Myers: You too, and to all you listeners out there. I thank you for your time as well, and until the next story.

02:20 - About Chris Brunner

02:45 - About Authvia

03:17 - Authvia's Patents

06:35 - History of Text-to-Pay

09:45 - Common Use Cases

12:18 - How Text-to-Pay Works

13:59 - What Has Happened in the Last 10 Years

18:21 - PCI Compliance Concerns

20:35 - What Next?

23:50 - Authvia's Future