Dee Hock, credit card visionary, dies at 93

Dee Hock, a banker with a college degree who built the Visa credit card into a global financial giant, died July 16 at his home in Olympia, Washington. He was 93 years old.

His son David confirmed the death.

The credit card business was in an early and difficult stage of development in 1966 when Mr. Hock was appointed to head the credit card department of the National Bank of Commerce in Seattle, which was licensed by Bank of America. to issue your BankAmericard.

At the time, the business was plagued by bad debt and fraud, and the cards themselves were primitive: They lacked the magnetic stripes that would later encode customer information; transactions that required bank authorizations took a long time; and the information engraved on them (customer name, card number, expiration date) was clumsily copied onto receipts with a heavy printer.

“By 1968, I was extremely worried that the industry would go under and our bank investment with it,” Mr. Hock told Plazm, a Portland, Oregon-based art and political magazine, in 2013. “I was attending to a meeting of all the BofA licensees, which soon turned into a chaos of arguments and accusations.”

He became the leader of a committee of bankers whose institutions authorized the BankAmericard, which was first issued in 1958. The panel’s mission: determine the future of the card. (The American Express card made its debut that same year; eight years earlier, Diners Club had issued what is considered the first credit card.)

The committee’s solution was to create a new company, National BankAmericard, separate from Bank of America and controlled by the banks that issued the card. Mr. Hock was named President and CEO. In 1976, after an internal competition, the company was renamed Visa.

As CEO, he oversaw the development of the first electronic authorization system and the first interbank electronic clearing and settlement system. The banks would issue the cards, not Visa, and they were ordered to add the magnetic stripe to their cards.

“Dee Hock realized something in the late 1960s that few really understood: computers and telecommunications would soon make it possible to build a global ‘electronic exchange of value’ system that would soon allow customers to pay for goods and services. ‘anywhere you want to be’. ,’” wrote David Stearns, author of “Electronic Value Exchange: Origins of the VISA Electronic Payment System” (2011), in an email. (The company presents its name in capital letters).

In a tribute, Visa CEO Alfred Kelly Jr. wrote that Mr. Hock had envisioned “a world of frictionless commerce where anyone, anywhere could exchange value 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with absolute confidence.” reliability.”

That vision, realized long ago, has made Visa the world’s leading credit card network, with 3.9 billion cards issued and a total purchase volume of $13 trillion.

“What he did was undeniable: he made credit cards work,” Joe Nocera, a former New York Times columnist who wrote about Mr. Hock in his book “A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class” (1994). ), he said in a telephone interview. “He took a system on the brink of collapse and said, ‘Follow me, I’ll take you to the promised land.'”

Dee Ward Hock was born on March 21, 1929, in North Ogden, Utah. His father, Alma, was a utility lineman. Her mother, Cecil (Dawson) Hock, was a homemaker.

As a child, Dee fell in love with the biology and ecology that surrounded him in rural Utah, but pursued a banking career after graduating in 1949 from two years at Weber State College (now University) in Ogden.

For the next 17 years, Mr. Hock was manager of two branches of Pacific Finance Bank; a public relations and publicity assistant manager for Pacific; general manager of Columbia Investment Company; and supervisor at CIT Financial (now Group). He was hired by the National Bank of Commerce in 1966. But before joining, he had “essentially retired on the job,” his son said in an interview.

“When people left him alone, he was usually the most successful part of the organization,” added David Hock. “But when they they wanted to fix it, they usually messed it up.”

Buoyed by his work at Visa, Mr. Hock had the company offer debit cards, which gave cardholders access to checking accounts, as well as a premium card and a money market fund.

“Mr. Hock is a magnificent, perhaps even brilliant, strategist,” Helene Duffy, a consultant in the field of electronic funds transfer, told The Times in 1981. “That basic goal.”

In addition to his son David, Mr. Hock is survived by a daughter, Lynette Elze; seven grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. His wife, Ferol (Cragun) Hock, died in 2018. Another son, Steven, died in 2012.

At Visa, Mr. Hock encouraged innovation and experimentation, both among his employees and among the banks that authorized the credit card. Instead of running the company under a traditional hierarchical management system, he looked for information from the bottom up.

It was an appropriate way to run a business whose banking members compete with each other for customers but at the same time must cooperate for Visa to function effectively. But, he admitted to Fast Company magazine in 1996, Visa implemented only about 25 percent of what he called his “chaordic” management concept: a balance of chaos and order.

That concept, as he explained it, applies to organizations and businesses where power is widely distributed. He wrote two books about it, “Birth of the Chaordic Age” (1999) and “One From Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization” (1999).

Mr. Hock resigned from Visa in 1984 to become a rancher, but eight years later he began consulting organizations about his chaordic ideas.

In “One From Many”, he recalled talking to groups and asking them what they thought was the most important responsibility of a manager.

All the answers, he wrote, “looked down: they had to do with the exercise of authority, with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, evaluating them, organizing them, directing them and controlling them.”

He added: “That perception is completely wrong. In chaordic organizations, it must be upside down, as it must be in all organizations.”

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