Daniel Thomason: A Journey Through Economics and Product Management

Article written by Marjorie Blankfort.

Daniel Thomason’s professional journey is a compelling narrative that intersects the worlds of economics and product management. His diverse career path, marked by stints in multiple countries and roles, reflects a unique blend of analytical rigor and entrepreneurial spirit. Currently, as the Senior Product Manager for Google Wallet Payments, Daniel is at the forefront of making financial transactions safer and more convenient for users worldwide.

From Central Bank Economist to Entrepreneur

Daniel’s career began in Australia as a central bank economist, where he analyzed how families’ spending decisions impact financial stability. “Working at the central bank was great for honing my business writing and analytical skills and learning how to understand complex systems,” Daniel recalls. This role required him to delve deep into economic theories and their practical applications, equipping him with a robust analytical toolkit.

However, Daniel sought more than the theoretical world of economics. His entrepreneurial itch led him to found an escape room company in Sydney, which has since become one of the top-rated escape rooms in the city. “Founding a business gave me a taste for bringing products to life,” he explains. This venture allowed him to apply his analytical skills in a practical, customer-focused setting, igniting his passion for product management.

Daniel’s transition to product management was a natural progression. “I’ve been a product manager for over seven years now, working in three different countries,” he says. His background in economics provided him with a unique perspective on product management. “Economics teaches you how to think about human problems in a rigorous and structured way,” Daniel notes. This structured thinking has proven invaluable in his role, particularly in the fintech and payments sectors.

In 2022, Daniel joined Google as the Senior Product Manager for Google Wallet Payments. In this role, he focuses on enhancing the security and convenience of financial transactions. “Payments is such an interesting space to work in because it is completely ubiquitous but also fades entirely into the background for the 99.9% of the time that it works without any problems,” he observes.

Daniel’s unique blend of economics and product management skills has given him a multifaceted approach to solving problems. “My secret sauce is a multifaceted approach to problems: my background in economics plus my wide range of interests, combined with broad PM experience in multiple industries,” he explains. This diverse toolkit allows him to generate innovative ideas for new features and strategies and quickly test and discard those that won’t hold up.

Leading Google Wallet Payments

At Google, Daniel’s work revolves around making financial transactions safer and more convenient. One of the key innovations he is working on is device tokens. “Device tokens use the strong authentication methods built into your device to verify that it is actually you making the transaction,” he explains. This innovation not only improves security but also enhances convenience by allowing users to make payments with their phones or smartwatches.

Daniel is passionate about the potential of device tokens to transform the payments landscape. “Rather than using the number printed on your card to make transactions, a device token has its own unique number that only works with one device,” he says. This added layer of security is crucial in an era where digital fraud is a significant concern.

The Future of Product Management

Looking ahead, Daniel sees product management becoming more cross-functional. “We’re going to see far fewer product managers who only talk to designers and developers and far more who work closely with marketing, sales, customer support, operations, etc.,” he predicts. This holistic, end-to-end view of the product will be driven by a tighter macroeconomic environment and a shift towards a more ROI-driven approach to product development.

Daniel believes AI will have a significant impact on the payments space, both positive and negative. “Initially, AI will make things less secure—the bad guys tend to move fast!” he admits. However, he is optimistic that AI will eventually lead to a new, safer equilibrium. “We’ll be able to analyze behavior and patterns in new ways, faster than ever before, that let us get out of the way of regular customers but step in at the right time to catch fraud,” he says.

A Global Perspective

Having lived and worked in multiple countries, Daniel emphasizes the importance of understanding local nuances when building products for different markets. “There really is no substitute for spending some time on the ground,” he advises. His international experience has taught him that there is no single best way of doing things, only different tradeoffs. This perspective has been invaluable in his career.

Daniel’s global background has also taught him the importance of adaptability. “The dominant lifestyle and management style in Germany is great for certain things and less adapted for others, same for Australia, same for Estonia, same for the US, same for everywhere,” he observes. This adaptability is crucial in a field like product management, where understanding and responding to diverse customer needs is key.

Looking to the future, Daniel is excited about the potential for easier, cheaper international payments, the phasing out of physical cards, and extending financial innovations to those without access today. “I heard someone recently say that payments is only 1% solved, and oh boy do I agree with that sentiment!” he exclaims.

Daniel envisions a world where international payments are as seamless as local transactions. “People want to travel to, buy from, work in, and generally be connected to other countries,” he explains. Companies like Wise, where Daniel previously worked, are making strides in this area, but he acknowledges that there is still a long way to go.

Phasing out physical cards is another goal close to Daniel’s heart. “There is an enormous amount of expense and waste associated with producing plastic credit and debit cards,” he notes. He is excited about the potential for device tokens to replace physical cards, leading to a more sustainable and convenient payments ecosystem.

Daniel is also particularly passionate about extending financial innovations to underserved populations. “There are huge segments of the population without access to the payments technologies the rest of us take for granted,” he says. He cites the example of food benefits in the US, which are still distributed on insecure magnetic stripe cards. “There is work being done right now to bring modern payments technology to these families, which will be a huge step forward,” he adds.

Mentorship and Development

In addition to his work at Google, Daniel is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of product managers. “It’s a tough field to get into, because most companies don’t have a dedicated process or training program for people who want to make a transition,” he explains. He spends a lot of time mentoring and teaching junior product managers, sharing his knowledge and experiences to help them navigate the challenges of the role.

Daniel’s mentorship focuses on both hard skills and soft skills. “Sometimes this is about the hard skills they need like prioritization or writing requirements, but often it is more about how to manage your own psychology as a PM,” he explains. He emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and self-compassion in managing the pressures of the role.

Daniel also sees AI as a transformative force in product management. “Basic tasks are going to become a lot faster,” he says. “Things like writing a good product requirements document or feature ticket, making a wireframe, crafting an FAQ. The amount of effort all of those will require will drop dramatically with generative AI.”

However, he also cautions that AI could disrupt the traditional roles within product management. “Initially that will be great, since it will supercharge existing teams’ output,” he notes. “But developers and designers are what economics calls complementary goods to PMs, and when demand for a complementary good declines then that also affects demand for what you produce.”

The Evolving Role of Product Managers

One of the current trends in product management is a return to its marketing and business roots. “Marketing in particular fell by the wayside over the last decade or two, but a stronger focus on go-to-market skills is becoming key again,” Daniel observes. He believes that product managers will need to develop stronger business acumen and cross-functional collaboration skills to succeed in the future.

Daniel emphasizes the importance of understanding the payments ecosystem to navigate its complexities effectively. “You can’t avoid becoming aware of how each of the players makes money and what value they provide,” he says. He recommends following the money step by step in different transaction scenarios to understand the roles and revenue models of various players.

He also highlights the value of academic and government research in the payments industry. “Read research papers from central banks,” he advises. “There are some lucid, thorough pieces of work out there that are just waiting for you to download them, and they’ll level up your understanding of payments enormously.”

Looking ahead, Daniel predicts a period of consolidation in the more mature areas of the payments space, such as card payments and checkout buttons. “There are pretty significant economies of scale and network effects in payments, which is what drives this push for consolidation,” he explains.

At the same time, he expects to see innovation in less mature areas, particularly in the B2B space. “There are still plenty of unsolved problems for businesses, and regulation tends to be less of a constraint,” he notes. He is particularly excited about innovations in expense management, which are making life easier for employees and saving businesses money.

The Future of Payments

Daniel believes that the payments industry will continue to evolve, driven by both consolidation and innovation. “The payments space is an enormous pot of value that is still growing at a healthy pace, and which isn’t even close to fully served or divided yet,” he says. He sees the potential for new entrants to bring fresh ideas to the space and keep incumbents on their toes.

Ultimately, Daniel envisions a future where payments are more seamless, secure, and accessible to all. “Thinking about the future of payments really is thinking about what sort of future we want for humanity,” he reflects. As he continues to drive innovations at Google Wallet Payments, Daniel remains committed to shaping a future where financial transactions are safe, convenient, and inclusive.

Daniel’s journey from a central bank economist to a senior product manager at Google Wallet Payments is a testament to the power of a diverse skill set and a passion for innovation. His unique blend of economics and product management expertise has enabled him to make significant contributions to the fintech and payments sectors. As he continues to drive innovations at Google, Daniel remains committed to mentoring the next generation of product managers and shaping the future of payments.