David Rolf, head of Visa Ventures, is one of the 100 leading corporate venturing professionals in our 2024 Powerlist.

Before David Rolf took over as head of Visa Ventures in 2022, he led a number of the payment processing company’s M&A transactions. Since then, he has found no shortage of excitement on the venture side of the business.

“I do not see myself getting bored in this job anytime soon,” says Rolf. “I do not think there is a more vibrant space in the global economy right now than what is happening with payments and money movement.”

It is not just the innovation itself, but the rate of change that has been remarkable in the payment space. It is not just about moving money either, but all the related services that go along with it – fraud prevention, risk management, identity security, compliance and others – that have made big progress.

“There are hundreds of entrepreneurs and thousands of people who are working every day to try to make all these systems work better, so that people who do not have access to digital payments today can get access to them.”

I do not see myself getting bored in this job anytime soon,” says Rolf. “I do not think there is a more vibrant space in the global economy right now than what is happening with payments and money movement.

Cross-border money movements, mobile wallet technology and the surprisingly long way we have to go in the area of business-to-business payments are also keen areas of interest for the unit.“

You would be surprised to hear how much of that money still gets moved via automatic clearing houses, wire transfers and paper cheques, and there is very little visibility into where the money is,” says Rolf.

The recent near zero-interest rate environment created an explosion of business creativity, as the cost of starting a company and raising money was relatively low. Some companies have struggled in the tougher fundraising climate of the past two years, but the best have survived.

Innovation is also happening in multiple geographies, says Rolf.

“This creativity is happening in Brazil. Itis happening in Jakarta. It is happening in Lagos,” he says.

The rate of change in the world of fintech is remarkable, says Rolf, and has historically been enabled by technological advances such as cloud computing – which has dramatically lowered the barriers to starting a business by allowing anyone to start something new at any time, wherever they are. The advent and global proliferation of mobile devices has also been an incredibly strong catalyst, giving people the tools to run their projects or businesses from their phones anywhere they are, freeing them up to experiment and try new things.

Right now, the technology that feels as exciting and unknown as anything Rolf has seen in his career is generative AI, and the prospects of what it can do for commerce, payments and fintech more widely. Last year, Visa announced the launch of a $100mgenerative AI initiative, which the venture unit is leading.

His own experience of working at smaller companies – including an enterprise webservices software company and a mobile navigation software provider in the early to mid-2000s – on a tight budget, trying to find customers and make their experience a good one has made him deeply sympathetic to what startups have to deal with.

“It is very easy to intellectually say you understand what it is like to work in a startup, and the pressure of that and what you need to do and how many things you need to do. It is something else entirely to have lived it,” he says.

He would advise people coming up in the CVC world to always remember what it is that sets CVCs apart. While financial returns are crucial, your ultimate goal as a corporate VC is to bring value back to the parent in some way, and much of the time that will be some type of strategic benefit, and investments do not just exist in their own vacuum, detached from the corporate. Everything you do has to be tied back to the company’s strategy, he says.

Your reputation in the business is also something you need to remember gets updated with every interaction you have. “How you treat people will come back to you. It is an incredibly small world,” says Rolf.

Before joining Visa, Rolf had a five-year stint as executive adviser at tech-focused private equity firm Strattam Capital. He was also senior VP and head of corporate development at CA Technologies.

Powerlist cover

The Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist represents the 100
individuals spearheading the future of the corporate venturing industry.

These individuals excel in terms of their venturing approach and structure, number and quality of portfolio companies and in their contributions to the corporate venturing profession.

See the full 2024 Powerlist here.