Credit card visionary Dee Hock dies at 93

Dee Hock, a college-educated banker who turned the Visa credit card into a global financial behemoth, died July 16 at his home in Olympia, Washington. He was 93 years old.

His son David confirmed the death.

The credit card industry was in an early and difficult stage of development in 1967, 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 its BankAmericard.

At the time, the company was plagued by bad debts and fraud, and the cards themselves were primitive: they lacked the magnetic stripes that would later encode customer information; transactions requiring bank authorizations took a long time; and the information embossed on it – customer name, card number, expiration date – was clumsily copied onto the receipts with a heavy printer.

“In 1968, I was extremely concerned that the industry might sink and our bank’s investment with it,” Mr. Hock told Plazma Portland, Oregon-based arts and politics magazine in 2013. “I was attending a meeting of all BofA licensees, which quickly became a shambles of arguments and accusations.”

He became the head of a committee of bankers whose institutions authorized the BankAmericard, which was first issued in 1958. The mission of the panel: to determine the future of the card. (The American Express card debuted the same year; eight years earlier, Diners Club had issued what is widely considered to be 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 card-issuing banks. Mr. Hock was named President and Chief Executive Officer. In 1976, after an internal competition, the company was renamed Visa.

As Managing Director, 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 mandated to add the magnetic stripe to their cards.

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

In a tribute, Alfred Kelly Jr., CEO of Visawrote that Mr. Hock envisioned a “world of frictionless commerce where anyone, anywhere could trade value 24/7 with absolute reliability.” .

This vision, long realized, 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), 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 lineman. His 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 he pursued a career in banking after graduating in 1949 from Weber State College (now University) in Ogden.

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

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

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

“Mr. Hock is a magnificent, perhaps even brilliant strategist,” electronic funds transfer consultant Helene Duffy told The Times in 1981. payment, and has not deviated from this fundamental objective.

In addition to his son David, Mr. Hock is survived by one 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 – among his employees and among the banks that authorized the credit card. Rather than running the business through a traditional hierarchical management system, he sought input from the bottom up.

It was a fitting way to run a business whose member banks compete for customers but must at the same time cooperate for Visa to operate efficiently. But, he conceded to Fast Company magazine in 1996, Visa implemented only about 25% of what it called its “chaordic” management concept – a balance between chaos and order.

This concept, as he explained, 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 began consulting organizations about his chaordic ideas.

In “One From Many”, he recalls talking to bands and asking them what they thought was a manager’s most important responsibility.

All of the answers, he wrote, were “pointed downwards – related to the exercise of authority, the selection of employees, their motivation, their training, their evaluation, their organization, under their direction and control.

He added: “This perception is completely wrong. In chaordic organizations it must be placed on its head, as it should be in all organizations.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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