Dee Hock, a banker with a junior college degree who shaped the Visa credit card into a global financial behemoth, died July 16 at his home in Olympia, Wash. He was 93 years old.
The death was confirmed by his son David.
The credit card business was in an early, rocky stage of development in 1967, when Mr. Hock was named to run the credit card division of the National Bank of Commerce in Seattle, which was licensed by Bank of America to issue its BankAmericard.
At the time, the business was plagued by bad debt and fraud, and the cards themselves were primitive: They didn’t have the magnetic stripes that would encode customer information; transactions requiring bank authorizations took a long time; and the embossed information on them – customer’s name, card number, expiry date – was calmly copied onto receipts with a bold printer.
“By 1968, I was very concerned that the industry might go under and our bank investment with it,” Mr. Hock told Plazm, an arts and politics magazine based in Portland, Ore., in 2013. “I was attending at a meeting of all BofA licensees, which soon became a shambles of arguments and accusations.”
He became the head of a committee of bankers whose institutions licensed the BankAmericard, first issued in 1958. The panel’s mission: to determine the future of the card. (The American Express card made its debut that same year; eight years earlier, Diners Club issued what is widely considered the first credit card.)
The committee’s solution was to create a new body, National BankAmericard, to be separate from Bank of America and be under the control of the banks that issued the card. Mr. Hock was named president and chief executive. In 1976, after an internal competition, the company was renamed Visa.
As chief executive, he oversaw the development of the first electronic authorization system and the first electronic interbank 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 did: A global system of ‘electronic value exchange’ could soon be built with computers and telecommunications that would enable customers to pay for goods and services instantly ‘anywhere’ be with you. ,’” wrote David Stearns, author of “Electronic Value Exchange: Origins of the Electronic Payment System” (2011), in an email. (The company does its name in all capital letters.)
In a tribute, Alfred Kelly Jr., Visa’s chief executive, wrote that Mr. Hock had a vision of “a world of frictionless commerce where anyone, anywhere, could exchange value 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to completely. reliability.”
With that vision, long realized, Visa is the world’s leading credit card network, with 3.9 billion cards issued and a total purchase volume of $13 trillion.
“It’s undeniable: he made credit cards work,” Joe Nocera, a former New York Times columnist wrote about Mr. Hock in his book “A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class” (1994). . ), said in a phone interview. “He took a fallen system and said, ‘Follow me, I will 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. His mother, Cecil (Dawson) Hock, was a homemaker.
As a boy, Dee thrived on biology and ecology in rural Utah, but pursued a career as a banker after graduating in 1949 from Weber State College (now University) in Ogden.
Over the next 17 years, Mr. Hock was manager of two branches of the Pacific Finance bank; assistant manager of public relations and advertising for the Pacific; general manager of the Columbia Investment Company; and a supervisor at CIT Financial (now the Group). He was hired by the National Commercial Bank in 1966. But before he joined, he had “basically quit,” his son said in an interview.
“When people left him alone, he was usually the most successful part of the organization,” said David Hock. “But when they they wanted to fix it, they usually messed it up.”
Inspired by his work with Visa, Mr. Hock moved the company into offering fdebbit cards, which gave cardholders access to checking accounts, as well as a premium card and money market fund.
“Mr. Hock is a brilliant strategist, perhaps even a genius,” Helene Duffy, a consultant in the field of electronic money transfer, told The Times in 1981. “He was always determined that Visa was the primary payment system, and it hasn’t strayed from that original goal.”
In addition to his son David, Mr. Hock is survived by a daughter, Lynette Elze; seven grandchildren; and seven children. 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 approved the credit card. Rather than running the company under a traditional hierarchical management system, he sought input from the bottom up.
It was an appropriate way to manage a business whose member banks compete with each other for customers but at the same time must cooperate for Visa to operate effectively. But, he admitted to Fast Company magazine in 1996, Visa had implemented only about 25 percent of what he called the “disorderly” concept of management—a balance between 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 Chordic Age” (1999) and “One From Many: VISA and the Rise of Chordic Organization” (1999).
Mr Hock resigned from Visa in 1984 to become a watchman, but eight years later he began consulting with organizations about his cardiac ideas.
In “One From Many,” he recalled speaking to groups and asking them what they thought was the most important responsibility of a manager.
All the answers, he wrote, were “looking down – it has to do with the exercise of authority, with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, evaluating them, organizing them, directing them and control.”
He added: “That view is completely wrong. In disorderly organizations, it must be stood on its head, as it should be in all organizations.”