Frank Bisignano has spent decades working his way up the ranks of the country's biggest banks. But what he says he really wants to do is direct — a payments company.
The new chief executive of payments processor First Data leaves JPMorgan Chase (JPM) as co-chief operating officer and potential successor to longtime boss Jamie Dimon, a man Bisignano calls a mentor and a friend. But Bisignano sounds thrilled to be leaving big banks for pure payments, the banking industry's nerdier, more tech-savvy sibling.
"It's a great day, I'm doing super," Bisignano told American Banker shortly after landing in Atlanta, the home of First Data, on Sunday evening. "I love processing companies."
At First Data "there's tremendous international opportunity along with domestic opportunity. It's a tech company really at the heart of it, versus banking that's different businesses," he says.
His own resume is heavy on the tech and payments side, though he also had broader banking experience as JPMorgan Chase's head of mortgages and in his most recent role as co-COO. He joined that bank in 2005 as chief administrative officer, a role he also held at Citigroup's (NYSE:C) corporate and investment bank. He also spent three years running Citigroup's heavy-hitting global transactions unit, and was also its deputy head of technology and operations. (While at Citigroup he worked with Ajay Banga, now the head of MasterCard (MA), and he also worked there and at JPMorgan with Charlie Scharf, who became the CEO of Visa (NYSE:V) in November.)
Bisignano, 53, says that even his days as JPMorgan's mortgages chief helped prepare him for his new role: "The mortgage company ... really is a processing company in a lot of ways," he says. First Data "just feels like a great opportunity for myself, doing something that I love to do, with a fabulous, fabulous board."
First Data, an Atlanta unit of private-equity firm KKR, helps merchants accept credit and debit card transactions. "Frank is known for managing technological innovation in customer-focused businesses, and can now apply his skills and experience to leading the largest transaction payment processing company in the world," Chairman Joe Forehand said in a press release.
Bisignano steps into the role vacated in January by Jonathan Judge, who stepped down as First Data CEO because of health reasons. Since then Ed Labry, its retail and alliance services president, has served as CEO on an interim basis; Labry will remain with the company, and Bisignano says he looked forward to working with him.
"Ed Labry and the team have done a great job. We're going to be able to get a lot done here," Bisignano says.
He is about to embark on a 60-day global tour to visit First Data's customers and employees, to "reach out to the people in the organization and spend time understanding what priorities they're working on … and to spend a lot of time listening to customers, figuring out ways to innovate in those partnerships."
Bisignano leaves the country's largest bank at a time when it faces mounting scrutiny over trading losses, its size and its governance. Dimon promoted Bisignano to co-COO in July, in a sweeping management reorganization after the worst of the London Whale trading losses had passed. But Dimon appeared to give more crucial operational oversight, including that of regulatory matters, to co-COO Matt Zames, who will now become the sole executive with that title at JPMorgan.
Bisignano's decision to leave the bank happened relatively rapidly — he says he started talking to First Data less than a month ago. While he followed Dimon from Smith Barney and what became Citigroup to JPMorgan Chase, he says he did not consult his longtime boss before deciding to accept the job at First Data. Nor did he directly answer questions about whether the Whale fallout and other scrutiny of JPM had influenced his decision to leave.
"JPMorgan Chase is a fabulous company," Bisignano says. But "I think this [payments] space is a space that is for the future. Even when I told Jamie about it, he said it's got a long runway."