This is not your parents’ Visa, and Ky Tran-Trong has played a pivotal role in guiding the sixty-three-year-old financial services company beyond credit, debit, and prepaid cards to staking its place at the forefront of electronic payments with innovative consumer products and services.
This was not the path his family had in mind, Tran-Trong says with a laugh. His mother was a chemist in France when she met his father, who was studying to be a doctor. “As an Asian kid, the assumption was that I would someday join the medical field,” he says. “But I was drawn to the liberal arts when I attended Duke University. I took classes in politics and economics and decided I wanted to pursue a policymaking role.”
Law school entered the picture on the advice of a prelaw advisor. “He told me that there was nothing better than law school to prepare me for working after I finished my studies,” Tran-Trong says. “He told me that, even if I wanted to pursue a career in something other than law, the analytical and communication skills I would learn would be great preparation.”
Prior to joining Visa in 2011, Tran-Trong clerked for a year for the DC Court of Appeals, after which he went to work for the federal government. Over the next decade, he was an attorney in the regulations section in the Federal Reserve Board’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, where he worked on consumer financial services laws.
During this time, he served as the regulatory team leader on consumer financial deposit and payment systems laws, including the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and the Truth in Savings Act. In this role, he led rulemakings implementing new consumer protections for prepaid cards as well as consumer credit card rights. He also worked on consumer financial privacy and credit reporting issues.
Tran-Trong compares policymaking and regulatory work to solving a puzzle. “You have to balance the interests of a wide range of stakeholders to achieve your objectives.”
He was excited to join Visa as its first regulatory lawyer. In this role, he has not only managed Visa’s relationships with key federal agencies but has also had the opportunity to shape the role.
For instance, Tran-Trong has focused on getting engaged on the product side, “rolling up my sleeves and working with the product team and across the organization to bring the vision of new products to market,” he says. “I still get excited when I turn on the television and see Visa commercials for products that consumers trust and know that I had a hand in helping to build them from the ground up.”
“It’s been a privilege working with Ky over the years, from his time at the Federal Reserve to most recently at Visa on the Currencycloud transaction,” says Donald J. Mosher, partner and chair of the bank regulatory group at Schulte Roth & Zabel. “Ky has seen the evolution of payments firsthand. He is a problem-solver, is detail oriented, and never loses sight of the big picture.”
Over the past decade, as Visa’s vice president and associate general counsel of regulatory affairs, Tran-Trong has been instrumental in developing and introducing a wide range of new products and services, helping the company better serve consumers, businesses, and financial institutions. This is in addition to his primary role supporting the company’s relationships with regulators and policymakers “to help them understand and better appreciate how electronic payments keep the economy running and to build trust in our products,” he says.
Additionally, this is “a new era in payments,” Tran-Trong observes. Visa is exploring tomorrow’s payment flows, such as cryptocurrencies and central bank digital currencies, and the emerging “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) space, where Visa is working with banks and credit unions to give their credit card customers more flexibility in how they pay for their purchases. For example, BNPL options can allow cardholders to pay for a $1,000 TV in four equal installments rather than all at once, allowing them more options on how they manage their spending.
The company is also looking to make business-to-business payments more efficient. For this initiative, Tran-Trong helped craft the operating rules and requirements for Visa B2B Connect, a new cross-border, business-to-business, high-dollar payment service that Visa has launched across one hundred different countries.
“This has been an extraordinarily rewarding project,” he says. “It has been a lot of work coordinating with a truly global set of stakeholders, but also a terrific opportunity. You come to realize how global a company Visa is and how much of a positive impact we can have. It’s also exciting to work with brilliant banking lawyers from around the world.”
Tran-Trong leads a team of four people. He cites lessons learned from mentors as influences on his own leadership style. His first mentor, he says, was Judge Vanessa Ruiz, a senior judge on the District of Columbia’s highest court. He clerked for her following law school. “From her, I gained an appreciation for the law, [the fact] that there is no issue too small to matter, and that everyone deserves to be equally protected,” he says.
Another influence on his leadership style is Visa General Counsel Julie Rottenberg, who hired Tran-Trong. “This was my first corporate job after more than a decade of government service,” he reflects. “From her, I learned the importance of always actively supporting and advocating for my team and really placing an emphasis on collaboration. She also modeled for me her deep commitment to developing a diverse and inclusive team.”
According to Tran-Trong, both public service and the corporate environment present unique challenges, and unique rewards. “Regulators are driven by important policy goals, but they’re not as close to the product or the business realities of meeting the immediate needs of clients and consumers—especially during an inflection point like the COVID-19 pandemic,” he notes. “On the other hand, regulators can really focus on the big picture, and it’s incredibly inspiring to be directly involved in public service, working for the greater good.”
Rick Fischer, a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP, attests that Tran-Trong is in the right place. “Ky is an exceptionally talented lawyer with the intelligence and experience to enable him to think strategically and ‘outside the box,’ which makes him the perfect regulatory advisor for an innovative company like Visa,” Fischer says.
Tran-Trong has been married for eighteen years. He met his wife when they were both clerks at the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. They were married at the courthouse by the judges for whom they were clerking. They have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is “a big fan of live theater,” he says. Family nights often involve board games.
In reflecting on his time at Visa, Tran-Trong also looks to the future. “Our mission is to be a network working for everyone as we emerge from the pandemic,” he says. “It’s an opportunity and an honor. I like to think the work I do benefits consumers and businesses every day.”
Morrison & Foerster LLP:
“Ky is an exceptionally talented lawyer with the intelligence and experience to enable him to think strategically and ‘outside the box,’ which makes him the perfect regulatory advisor for an innovative company like Visa.”
–Rick Fischer, Partner
Schulte Roth & Zabel:
“It’s been a privilege working with Ky over the years, from his time at the Federal Reserve to most recently at Visa on the Currencycloud transaction. Ky has seen the evolution of payments firsthand. He is a problem-solver, is detail oriented, and never loses sight of the big picture.”
–Donald J. Mosher, Partner and Chair of the Bank Regulatory Group