By Dale S. Laszig
What does the future hold for payments? This topic has sparked lively debate around boardrooms and dinner tables across America. Senior executives customarily look ahead, observing industry trends as they endeavor to bring timely solutions to market and move their companies forward. Merchant level salespeople also spend significant time thinking about the future, knowing first-hand that building a book of business requires skill sets and leadership qualities comparable to those needed to manage ISOs and other payments enterprises.
Science Fiction Design Intelligence (SciFiDi), a workshop hosted by Singularity University, offered techniques for imagining the future. Jody Medich and Carin Watson, Singularity University's Director of Design and Executive Vice President of Learning and Innovation, respectively, showed a diverse audience techniques for using science fiction as a "deliberate innovation tool" to "help solve complex challenges purposefully and creatively, experiment with unexpected variables, and embrace the future's ambiguity."
Deborah Reuben, founder and principal at Reuben Creative LLC, who attended the workshop, described an immersive, interactive experience that helped her visualize a future where life and virtual reality are seamlessly integrated and powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data. "Even though our imaginations were way out in the future, the exercise revealed new possibilities for near-future application of these technologies," she said. "I cannot wait to apply this technique and this level of thinking to the leasing and equipment finance industry."
A good way to begin thinking more creatively is to look at the future, then work your way back to today, so you can determine what areas to invest in, Medich and Watson stated. The Green Sheet asked payments industry leaders to imagine they could teleport themselves to the year 2026, observe payments' future landscape, and send postcards back to their current co-workers or to their present-day selves. What would they see? Here are their perspectives on our collective future.
There is no such thing as "merchant services reps" selling to single merchants using a Verifone machine or virtual terminal provided by a processor. Instead, merchants use niche software to operate more efficiently, and processing a payment is simply baked in as part of that service; that is, if you are a payment provider baked into popular business operation software, you win - BIG. If not, well, you are SOL!
– Laura Wagner, CEO, 8/4/26
In 2026, payments are predominantly digitized, and physical credit cards are only used in rare situations. The digital credit card is embedded in our desktop computers, laptops, smartphones tablets and wearables, so there is little need to ever take out a physical card from our wallet.
Apple Pay was a pioneer in mobile payments, but we have come a long way since then, thanks to many new advances. Bluetooth LE and beacon technologies have enabled payments to become completely seamless. Checkout lines are nearly nonexistent, as transactions have become truly frictionless and nearly instantaneous.
Payments are also more secure than ever. All consumer electronics now have a secure element and every payment is tokenized, so credit card fraud is nearly extinct. I am pleased to report that the future is bright for the payments industry.
– Jared Isaacman, CEO, 8/8/26
In 2026, physical plastic cards for payments and identity verification are a thing of the past. People have claimed ownership of their new online identities, regained ownership over their private data and authenticate transactions in ways that did not yet exist in 2016. Payments and identity verification have merged into the same type of very personal transaction that allows seamless interaction in a less-and-less brick-and-mortar world.
– Philipp Pointner, Vice President Product, 8/9/2026
Virtual! Everything will be virtual … no physical money, no plastic card … just virtual. For example, digital money certificates supported by blockchain technology will finally replace old paper checks.
– Mark Ranta, Head of Digital Banking Solutions, 8/10/26
No more plastic, very little cash, payments via our watch phones or verbal instruction via Goldtooth (the updated version of Bluetooth) to our vehicles (which might be Jetson cars), refrigerators or our Dick Tracy watches. To pay at brick and mortar retailers of all kinds, we will have NFC chips painlessly and safely implanted in our necks and be able to enter stores and leave without the hassle of dealing with checkout (what was that?).
– Jethro Felton, Vice President, Business Development, 8/10/26
I woke up today and realized I forgot to set my body chip alarm for the morning. A simple voice command activates it, but I fell asleep before I could enable it. Today is my wife's birthday; luckily I remembered to download the dream program last night for shopping. The 3 items I thought she'd like best are ordered and paid for in just a few seconds, with voice commands the minute I woke up. The turbo drones will have everything to my office, wrapped and ready when I arrive at 9 a.m.
Restaurant reservations are also done with voice commands. Everything is performed through the chip that was embedded under my skin about a year ago. There is still the potential for fraud of course, as crime never stops. But none of that is my concern in the world of today.
The use of the chip fully protects me and my family from fraud. Good luck stealing my identity with my unique heart rate pattern, Iris structure and voice recognition. I call this the trifecta of protection. I am free to shop, order and pay all about the world without anxiety. Now to order my coffee.
– Chris Bucolo, Director, Market Strategy, 8/10/26
What's in my wallet, you ask? Nothing! With cash and plastic cards a thing of the past, I'm free to pay anytime, anywhere, using my iBand, an indestructible wristband that can only be used when I'm wearing it, because it's triangulated to me using my wrist shape, location and DNA! Can't wait for you to get here!
– Joan Herbig, CEO, 8/10/26
Many significant fintech advancements and new technologies have been introduced over the past decade, but interestingly, nobody has been able to develop a worthy successor to credit cards. While technology has greatly evolved, there is still no alternative that improves upon credit cards in terms of consumer experience, customer care or merchant support. However, nobody uses the old-fashioned plastic cards anymore; instead, we store our card numbers on mobile devices!
– Oren Levy, CEO, 8/10/26
Ozvat! Dude, I am writing you from my augmented reality Vantiv desk 10 years in the future! (We also created the time machine).
You are now two years into the Vantiv acquisition of Mercury. At this time, you guys just released Vantiv ONE. Boy that was a game changer for developers of all sizes. I will not ruin your life experiences but, Vantiv ONE grew into something amazing that no one saw coming! By the way, it was difficult finding stamps, but thank goodness USPS joined up with the premier 3D printing and augmented reality companies. They innovated how humans receive notifications. Last but absolutely not least, don't forget to start planning for your 25th anniversary in 2017. (I screwed that up and our wife was not pleased.) Take care bud, I am excited to talk to myself. ~ Peace out, Oz from the Vantiv future.
– Matt Ozvat, Head of Developer Integrations, 8/15/26
Don't have a signal here on Kilimanjaro, so sending you this postcard instead. Here's the $200 I owe you for the gear. Just put this postcard next to your phone and the money will go straight to your bank account. Don't worry; this will only work for your phone.
– Joe Kleinwaechter, Vice President of Innovation and Design, 8/15/26
To my colleagues back at Cayan in 2016: Hello from 2026! In the last decade, the payments landscape has changed drastically. Today, consumers are shopping much differently, and the way they pay for goods and services has transformed to accommodate those changes in behaviors, not vice versa. Consumers do most of their shopping on their smartphones, which has led to the growth of hyper-local commerce.
More purchases are being made online; consumers are buying online and picking up in-store, and they're benefitting from same-day delivery on the local level. This isn't to say that brick-and-mortar stores don't exist anymore, but consumer interactions with them have changed permanently.
Though a lot has changed in the payments sphere over the last decade, the truth is that the biggest change around payments is that paying with your phone has absolutely become the norm – and that has allowed companies to build in great loyalty opportunities. Payment platforms like Apple Pay and Android Pay have really taken off, and consumers are now able to receive offers in new, different ways while always being able to rely on the convenience of their mobile phone as a payment option, no matter where they are.
– Henry Helgeson, CEO, 8/18/26
Hi all! It's amazing how much has changed in 2026, yet how much has stayed the same. Now, my ring takes care of most of my POS purchases; it's quick, easy and only works when I am wearing it. My phone is used for my online purchases; it needs my fingerprint or eye scan to activate it. In both cases, though, I still need to specify what account I used. Good thing I have secondary and tertiary accounts, since one of the networks went down. Also, I recently went to a store in the mountains, and good thing I still carried a card – their EMV terminal was circa 2018.
– Peter Davidson, Vice Chairman and Corporate Secretary, 8/22/26
Greetings from the future! Payments are getting really personal around here. Mobile payments are on the way out, and anatomical payments are the new rage. Biometric authentication is the new standard; it's no longer about wearable payment devices, now it's embedded chips … in an acrylic nail or a contact lens (I just paid for lunch by winking at the server – no joke!) I hear that payments-capable tattoos are in beta testing. It might be time for a new tattoo! #PaidByInk
– Georgia Stavrakis, President, 9/7/26
Greetings from 2026 where new technology and ubiquitous communications have replaced the Internet of Things, and it is now the fabric of everything! Paper checks, cash and credit cards have become antiquated forms of payment (they are in museums), and consumers now pay via biometrics and DNA readers (no more passwords or PINs). Fraud has not been eliminated, but it has been significantly reduced.
Phones are gone, so Apple is no longer a technology company. Instead, they sell fruits and vegetables, which my fridge orders and pays for by itself when needed via direct access to my accounts. Instead of phones, you use a communicator that's implanted in your arm. Amazon is still here, though they are now a government agency that simply manages the distribution of stuff. Transporters have replaced all forms of transportation on the planet (Mr. Spock was right). Cars are gone, which is OK because hover boards are way cool! Drones have replaced UPS and FedEx.
Wallets and purses are gone. The concept of shopping in stores has been replaced with real 3D holographic images that I can see wherever I am. These days, technology is even built into your clothing and surrounds you as you travel through your day. They have figured out the thing we haven't yet – that making everything open and able to communicate creates a myriad of opportunities and that how you pay for stuff is just part of the process that people don't need to bother with.
Transactions are now completely transparent; you see what you want, touch the biometric or DNA scanner and your account is charged correctly. 2016 you are moving in the right direction. Keep going … your dreams will all be realized!
– Jim Parkinson, Chief Information Officer, 9/8/26
Hello Payment Depot team! The future is bright in the payments world; cash transactions have almost completely gone away and mobile payments have taken over as the payment method of choice. The world is becoming more and more automated, and the human touch is quickly losing favor in most industries. We want to continue to buck that trend because at the core of payments are people.
Taking care of our customers and answering the phone with a cheerful live person is what got us to this point, and we need to continue to make it a focus. Technology will continue to advance and margins will continue to shrink, but customer service has remained the focus of what we do. The one thing we can control is how we treat our customers and that has to be the core focus of Payment Depot. Keep up the hard work!
– Randy Hayashi, Chief Operations Officer, 9/12/26
The changes coming to the payments industry in the next 10 years shouldn't really surprise you, since you predicted all of it in features posted in The Green Sheet's Spotlight Innovator online section in 2016. Credit cards are no longer the size of business cards but the size of key tags, like that small gym membership card you attach to your keychain.
There are no magnetic stripes on the cards any more, as EMV is now the de facto method of acceptance. Rather than using chip-and-PIN or chip-and-signature, it's now chip-and-thumb scan. All terminals are equipped with oleophobic thumb print scanners that clean themselves after every scan for tighter security to prevent fraudsters from being able to lift thumbprints from the scanners.– 2026 Sean
– Sean Chung, Assistant Director of Relationship Management, 9/12/26
I'm shopping in 2026, and the in-store retail experience has been totally transformed! It's not just a shopping center here, but more of a blending of retail and community. Also, I'm not just shopping in a store – it's a combination of physical and virtual world experiences.
There are no racks and shelves of products, but there are screens that can easily display endless racks of products to be experienced in a personal way. Big data mining has enhanced customer engagement beyond just discounts. I now get offers that are unique to my preferences and unique to the environment.
I no longer need a physical card, cash or device for payment. I have a virtual personal assistant that helps me handle payment decisions based on my purchasing power and planned spending activities.
Merchant sales partners have been transformed from payment professionals to technology experts in payments, marketing, data analytics, financing and software applications. They are true strategic partners for their clients, and act as key advisors for their success. They understand a retailer's needs, recommend and install solutions, and help the retailer grow. Their residual streams are larger than ever!
– Zavida Mangaru, Head of Product, 9/16/26
Mobile payments have become the payment of choice with credit cards a distant memory. In fact, most people no longer even carry wallets since everything is on our mobile devices. And no one is left out. Mobile devices have become affordable to everyone – even the underbanked.
Skyrocketing mobile payments have truly created a global economy. The borderless mobile payments ecosystem is leading toward currency compression. It won't be long before we see a single digital currency worldwide, which will streamline card-not-present payments.
To keep payments safer, the payments industry has upped its game with security measures, including biometrics and risk management. Wish you were here. Oh, I guess you will be here soon enough!
– Jacob Bennett, Vice President, Risk & Underwriting, 9/19/26
Compared to 2016, it feels like a whole new payments landscape. If you think about it, however, most of what I'm seeing was already developing in 2016:
Follow me on Twitter for more dispatches from the future: @PaymentPaul. Wish you were here!
– Paul Bridgewater, CEO, 9/22/26
Medich and Watson encouraged workshop attendees to think holistically about the future, because the journey ahead will be based more on a convergence of factors than on linear progression. Bringing a linear bias to our thought processes can sometimes make big ideas look like they won't work, they noted.
These postcards from 2026 remind us it's the choices we make day by day that will ultimately shape payments' future.
Medich and Watson said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." What is your vision of the future? The Green Sheet would like to hear from you at email@example.com.
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