The Most Influential Women in Payments 2019

Our annual Most Influential Women in Payments feature, now in its seventh year, highlights the women who are creating change and opportunities in the payments industry. They represent startups, investors, retailers, banks and payment networks from across the globe.

For many, their path to success wasn't a straight line, and they credit their mentors with setting a clear example.

Payments executives from all backgrounds can draw lessons from the diverse initiatives spearheaded by these leaders. BillingTree’s Christine Lee, for example, is bringing her digital acumen to bear on the still often archaic world of healthcare payments while Walmart’s Karla Allen is steering the retail giant toward a completely new approach to mobile payments. And in a reflection of the global nature of the payments community, list newcomer Kikelomo Lawal, who was born in Nigeria and earned her law degree in the U.S., is driving a seismic shift at leading Canadian payments firm Interac.

For the first time, the editors of PaymentsSource have also recognized one woman for lifetime achievement: Ellen Richey, Visa Inc.'s chief enterprise risk officer, who plans to retire after a 40-year career in law and risk management.

As you read below, please follow the links to our full profiles of each of this year's honorees (presented in alphabetical order).

Lou Anne Alexander, Group President of Payments, Early Warning

Lou Anne Alexander, Group President of Payments, Early Warning

Driving rapid consumer adoption of faster payments and the bank-run person-to-person payment network, Zelle, has been a core role for Early Warning’s Lou Anne Alexander over the past decade.

Alexander has been the chief market development officer for Early Warning since 2009 became group president of payments in 2016. She played a key role in the company’s acquisition of clearXchange, which provided important infrastructure for Early Warning to launch Zelle as a real-time P2P service and network offering.

“The most exciting thing about payments is the impact it has on the life of every human on a daily basis. If you work in payments, you can observe the impact that you make every day. Payments enable almost every facet of life,” Alexander said.

READ MORE: Lou Anne Alexander, Early Warning
Karla Allen, Senior Director of Payments Innovation, Walmart

Karla Allen, Senior Director of Payments Innovation, Walmart

Walmart has a good grasp of where it sits among global retail giants, but its position among the financial services industry is still evolving.

While many companies in financial services are focused on stealing share from cash, Walmart has a different motivation: It wants to improve the payments process without alienating cash-carrying shoppers.

"At Walmart, we see democratization of digital payments as being a fundamental right for all consumers, and we are working to help our cash customers have easier access to digital services," said Karla Allen, senior director of payments innovation for the retail giant.

READ MORE: Karla Allen, Walmart
Janet Bannister, Partner, Real Ventures

Janet Bannister, Partner, Real Ventures

A good way to gauge the future is to watch where technology money goes, and that makes Janet Bannister one of fintech’s best barometers.

Name an innovation that’s changed retail payments—mobile, e-commerce, AI—and Bannister has been there from the start.

She’s worked as consultant, investor, board member and mentor. As far back as 2001, Bannister was director of category development at eBay, helping to grow the giant digital marketplace from a collectibles venue to a multimillion-dollar marketplace in books, clothing, home and garden, and jewelry. Later, Bannister became one of the best-known innovators in Canada.

READ MORE: Janet Bannister, Real Ventures
Kim Bynan, Senior Vice President, Head of EBT and Valutec, FIS

Kim Bynan, Senior Vice President, Head of EBT and Valutec, FIS

One of the things that excite Kim Bynan most about her job is seeing firsthand how new payments technology changes our everyday lives.

Hurrying to the supermarket to keep up with a busy job and a family of four, Bynan reached the checkout point and realized she’d forgotten her wallet. She quickly discovered the woman standing in line behind her was an Apple Pay aficionado. Her new friend paid Bynan’s grocery bill, and on the spot Bynan sent funds to cover the cost with her phone.

The deal was done in seconds.

“It truly was one of those moments when I was proud to work in the payments industry, seeing how new innovations are positively affecting people’s lives on a daily basis,” said Bynan, senior vice president and head of EBT and Valutec at FIS.

Kristy Carstensen, Senior Vice President and CFO, Payments Group, U.S. Bank

Kristy Carstensen, Senior Vice President and CFO, Payments Group, U.S. Bank

During her seven years at U.S. Bank, Kristy Carstensen has always been a creator.

After all, she had to define what her job would be when she accepted what was an entirely new role at U.S. Bank five years ago, that of senior vice president and chief financial officer of the Payments Group.

Carstensen quickly created a function within the U.S. Bank Payments Group for developing and aligning current and long-term business strategy for payments. Carstensen had been down a similar road a few times — all since joining U.S. Bank in late 2011.

READ MORE: Kristy Carstensen, U.S. Bank
Diane Faro, CEO, JetPay

Diane Faro, CEO, JetPay

In a career spanning four decades, Diane Faro has led one payment company after another through major transitions to successful outcomes.

It happened again three years ago, when Faro took over as CEO of JetPay Corp. after serving on its board of directors for a couple of years. She immediately directed fresh investment into management, technology and new products, driving growth across all business segments, and leading the company to its acquisition last year by NCR Corp.

“Payments is an incredibly exciting, ever-changing industry,” Faro said, reflecting on a career path that took her from a rising star at National Bancard Corp. (NaBanco, later absorbed by First Data) to several other leadership positions, including president of First Data Global Merchant Services and a five-year stint as CEO of Chase Merchant Services.

READ MORE: Diane Faro, JetPay
Claire Gates, CEO, Paysafe Pay Later

Claire Gates, CEO, Paysafe Pay Later

When Claire Gates joined the Paysafe Group two years ago, she was determined to demonstrate to payments industry leaders that bringing fresh ideas into fintech is gender agnostic.

Early in Gates’ career she started working in executive roles for companies including American Express, Citibank Europe and GE Capital. She then went the startup route with a managing director role at Virgin Money, followed by a managing director position at Then she briefly moved to Mastercard before founding her own consultancy, Efficient Business Growth Ltd. It was from her consultancy that she joined the Paysafe Group.

In her current role with the Paysafe Group as CEO of Paysafe Pay Later, Gates is melding her knowledge of consumer finance, merchant needs and capitalizing on the online installment lending trend that has become so appealing to millennials.

READ MORE: Claire Gates, Paysafe Pay Later
Theresa Gongora, CFO and Senior Vice President of Finance, TSYS Merchant Solutions

Theresa Gongora, CFO and Senior Vice President of Finance, TSYS Merchant Solutions

When longtime TSYS finance executive Theresa Gongora was promoted to CFO and senior vice president of TSYS' Merchant Solutions unit last year, she was struck by the dramatic changes in the payments industry since joining TSYS 15 years ago.

“When I started at TSYS in 2004, the payments industry was fairly stale and complacent. Since then, payments technology has transformed this industry into one that’s constantly changing and evolving in the way consumers interact with merchants, their banks and with each other,” Gongora said.

Settling into her new role overseeing all the financial planning and decisions of the payment processing giant’s merchant solutions, Gongora draws inspiration from another woman in payments who used financial analysis to make her mark.

READ MORE: Theresa Gongora, TSYS Merchant Solutions
Taira Hall, Vice President of U.S. Partnerships and New Initiatives, Visa Business Solutions

Taira Hall, Vice President of U.S. Partnerships and New Initiatives, Visa Business Solutions

Understanding how the payments ecosystem works is a basic tenet for anyone aspiring to work in the industry. Visa's Taira Hall has that understanding, plus she has a trait many others may not have — she has experienced what happens when there is no accessible payments system in place.

"My passion for the payments ecosystem was ignited early in childhood, as I spent several formative years in Malawi, Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world," said Hall, the vice president of U.S. partnerships and new initiatives for Visa Business Solutions. "There, I witnessed firsthand the multiple adverse impacts of no standardized financial system."

It was a crash course in how people struggled to meet even basic needs when unbanked or lacking access to credit.

READ MORE: Taira Hall, Visa
Carolyn Homberger, President of Global Sales, ACI Worldwide

Carolyn Homberger, President of Global Sales, ACI Worldwide

The payments industry is a complex ecosystem, one that Carolyn Homberger is happy to navigate.

And she's not kidding. As president of global sales for ACI the past seven years, Homberger views the payments industry as akin to "a supersonic airline driven by some of the most skilled pilots in the business."

Fueled by advancing technology, payments have the potential to "connect people to places they never dreamed of visiting," said Homberger, who considers that type of setting as providing "a truly rewarding 12-plus-years career for me."

READ MORE: Carolyn Homberger, ACI Worldwide
Martina King, CEO, Featurespace

Martina King, CEO, Featurespace

The past six years have been a whirlwind for Martina King, who had no experience in the payments industry before becoming CEO of Featurespace, the fast-growing U.K. startup enabling banks to use machine-learning technology to block payment card fraud.

Founded in 2008, Featurespace’s core technology risk-scores transactions to detect potential fraud globally, and King took the helm in 2012, overseeing its U.S. expansion and a key partnership with TSYS in 2016. Featurespace opened its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta in late 2017.

Early this year Featurespace raised $32 million for international growth, and expanded into Asia by launching services to Singapore banks.

READ MORE: Martina King, Featurespace
Kikelomo Lawal, chief legal officer and corporate secretary, Interac Corp.
Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Interac and Acxsys Corp.

Kikelomo Lawal, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Interac

Kikelomo Lawal didn’t know a ton about the payments industry when she arrived at Interac more than a decade ago, a particularly daunting perch given the transformative change in Canadian payments and for Canada's debit system.

“I did not ‘grow up’ in payments as many in the industry have, so certain nuances, ecosystem relationships and technological capabilities were new to me,” said Lawal, chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Interac Corp. and one of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019. “Add to the fact that I am a Nigerian-born, New York-bred, U.S.-trained lawyer, a woman—and a woman of color—in what has historically been a male-dominated industry, and it paints a picture of the steep learning and social curve I had to climb.”

Lawal has scaled that curve and well beyond, helping to drive a seismic shift in how Interac works, which means an evolution of how payments happen for Canadians. While Interac has been a pillar of the Canadian financial system for decades, the pace of change is accelerating.

READ MORE: Kikelomo Lawal, Interac
Christine Lee, CEO, BillingTree

Christine Lee, CEO, BillingTree

Women are being driven from high-technology jobs by lingering male-dominated culture, and Christine Lee is calling on colleagues that have high profile positions to take responsibility for fixing this culture.

"Isolation, male-dominated work environments, ineffective feedback and a lack of effective sponsors are factors pushing women to leave" science, engineering and technology jobs, said Lee, BillingTree's new CEO and a financial services veteran with ample experience leading teams at several organizations.

Lee is also president-elect and a board member of the Electronic Transactions Association. She is also a board member of Wnet, a professional association for women working in payments. Lee hopes these organizations will help encourage future leadership.

READ MORE: Christine Lee, BillingTree
Deborah Liu, Vice President of Marketplace, Facebook

Deborah Liu, Vice President of Marketplace, Facebook

Facebook’s brand power and massive audience make it a lot like Walmart and Amazon, in that just about everything it does draws attention and a response.

Marketplace is becoming a major part of Facebook’s influence. Since its introduction in 2016, Marketplace has become a global venue for buying and selling, and launching a business, making transaction execution vital as new users come on board.

“Payments is one of the most important and difficult challenges in building products,” said Deborah Liu, vice president of Marketplace for Facebook.

READ MORE: Deborah Liu, Facebook
Glenda McNeal, President of Enterprise Strategic Partnerships, American Express
Portrait of Glenda McNeal. 8/23/16 Photo by John O'Boyle

Glenda McNeal, President of Enterprise Strategic Partnerships, American Express

Just a few years ago, the thought that American Express cardholders could ask Amazon's Alexa to provide information about account balances and special offers on their cards would not have crossed Glenda McNeal's mind.

Or maybe it did.

As president of enterprise strategic partnerships at American Express, McNeal has been right in the middle of developing the technology and use cases for Amex to advance in a digital and virtual payments world.

READ MORE: Glenda McNeal
Jennifer Miles, Executive Vice President, North America, Ingenico

Jennifer Miles, Executive Vice President, North America, Ingenico

Merchant terminals—the longtime bedrock technology of the payments industry—are rapidly evolving, and few people have a better view than Jennifer Miles, executive vice president of North America for France-based payment terminal maker Ingenico.

In a 20-year career spanning top roles at two of the world’s biggest terminal companies, Miles has navigated fierce competitive pressure, shifting regulations and requirements and the rise of an increasingly global merchant base, placing her among PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019.

Miles spent 16 years at payment terminal giant Verifone—where she rose to president—before moving to Ingenico in 2017, where she’s charged with expanding the company’s North American business at a time when startups are chipping away at incumbents and new technology is creating opportunities for all players.

READ MORE: Jennifer Miles, Ingenico
Amy Parsons, Senior Vice President of Global Acceptance, Discover

Amy Parsons, Senior Vice President of Global Acceptance, Discover

In her 27 years working at Discover, Amy Parsons has always found herself in the right place at the right time. Or, more likely, decision makers at Discover have made a habit of putting Parsons right where they need her to tackle the hottest trends in payments.

It explains why the company chose Parsons to head a global Pulse ATM network initiative 10 years ago, at a time when ATMs were critical to the company's growth and its impact on the newly acquired Diners Club International.

In the same manner, Discover turned to Parsons two years ago to serve in her current position as senior vice president of global acceptance. It's a job that essentially put her at the forefront of Discover's growth in global digital payments.

READ MORE: Amy Parsons, Discover
Julie Pukas, Head of Commercial Product Integration and Merchant Solutions, TD Bank

Julie Pukas, Head of Commercial Product Integration and Merchant Solutions, TD Bank

Julie Pukas can blame her innate curiosity about people for her success in the payments industry, where she’s used her keen listening and networking skills to help solve one gnarly problem after another at large organizations.

Armed with a degree in psychology, Pukas was hired to handle product marketing at several smaller banks before beginning a rapid rise as a payments executive. Over more than two decades at Citi and now at TD Bank, Pukas has held many pivotal roles at large organizations, and this year she's also honored as one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019.

Pukas, now TD's head of commercial product and merchant solutions, believes payments is the most exciting place to be in financial services.

READ MORE: Julie Pukas, TD Bank
Shubhi Rao, Chief Financial Officer, Dosh

Shubhi Rao, Chief Financial Officer, Dosh

Shubhi Rao is not the kind of person who looks to back down from a challenge. In deciding where she wanted to spend her career she did something no woman in her family had done before.

“I’m the first woman in my family to be in corporate America,” said Rao, chief financial officer at Dosh.

Rao joined Dosh in August 2018 after having been a vice president and treasurer at Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc.; group treasurer at British grocer Tesco PLC; head of treasury, risk and capital financial services at PwC; vice president and assistant treasurer at Tyco and assistant treasurer at Ford of Europe.

READ MORE: Shubhi Rao, Dosh
Prashanthi Ravanavarapu, Director of Product Architecture for Financial Participation and Health, PayPal

Prashanthi Ravanavarapu, Director of Product Architecture for Financial Participation and Health, PayPal

While a career in payments can allow a person to touch on many different aspects of payments services, PayPal's Prashanthi Ravanavarapu can say her focus has remained quite clear.

In her 12 years at PayPal, including her most recent role as director of product architecture for financial participation and health, Ravanavarapu can point to financial inclusion as her key motivator.

Through that lens, she has been involved in bringing together human-centered product design, lean product management and behavioral economics to drive PayPal's innovation.

READ MORE: Prashanthi Ravanavarapu, PayPal
Mia Shernoff, Global Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, First Data
Credit Line Required: © Matt Greenslade/

Mia Shernoff, Global Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, First Data

First Data’s transformation over the past few years has involved much more than transaction automation, and has relied heavily on the creativity and ingenuity of executives such as Mia Shernoff.

“At First Data, as in most B2B companies, marketing is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ function but a high contributor to the business, accountable for driving both customer acquisition and brand perception,” said Mia Shernoff, global head of marketing and corporate communications at First Data.

There’s been a lot of changes at First Data, which has grown from a merchant acquirer to a broad-based merchant services and technology company. Some of that change is coming through deals, with First Data on both sides of big mergers that are adding breadth, products, new markets and new clients.

READ MORE: Mia Shernoff
Melissa Smith, CEO, WEX

Melissa Smith, CEO, WEX

Over five years as CEO of WEX, Melissa Smith has led the international corporate payments company through several quarters of growth through organic expansion and acquisitions. One of her signature moves is the artful use of partnerships to extend WEX’s payments technology in the fuel card, health care and travel sectors.

“To accommodate the fast-paced nature of the payments industry, larger companies are shifting to a model with greater emphasis on partnership or co-investment,” Smith said.

The latest examples include GasBuddy, which helps drivers find the nearest, lowest-priced gas; OnDeck, which provides funding to small businesses to gain quick access to new services; and a global partnership with Chevron.

READ MORE: Melissa Smith, WEX
Jenifer Swallow, General Counsel, TransferWise

Jenifer Swallow, General Counsel, TransferWise

Jenifer Swallow has been here before, feeling the excitement of being in in an industry that was about to change commerce forever.

“I was working for Yahoo between 2005 and 2010, just as the tech giants were having their Big Bang moment, and it feels like fintech is on the brink of a similar tipping point,” said Swallow, general counsel of TransferWise.

TransferWise’s “borderless account” has given the London-based payment company’s balance sheet a boost, and has provided a tool to compete in the expanding international payments market by luring business away from banks.

READ MORE: Jenifer Swallow, TransferWise
Colleen Taylor

Colleen Taylor, Executive Vice President, New Payments, Mastercard

To successfully create new payment forms and uses, it’s critical to have a highly functioning team developing and promoting their ideas — something Colleen Taylor has fully embraced at Mastercard.

“The hallmarks of a great team are the spirit of generosity, the sense of sharing and a common sense of purpose,” Taylor said. “And, to create that, wins need to be collectively celebrated and failures collectively owned.”

Taylor firmly believes that that it’s important as a leader to get folks excited about the prospects of winning. The process of getting a team excited about winning creates a common goal and serves as a reminder of the group's purpose. It gets the team motivated about the journey and opportunity toward development, both as a team and as individuals.

READ MORE: Colleen Taylor, Mastercard
Debra Tenenbaum, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Yapstone

Debra Tenenbaum, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Yapstone

When it comes to finding the right talent for a position, Debra Tenenbaum knows a few things about how to set someone up for success — even when the needs of the business change.

Yapstone has grown over the years from being a startup focused on digitizing the monthly paper rent check to an international company that processes over $20 billion in transactions for vacation and rental properties, powering marketplaces and much more. A key element of its success has been Yapstone’s ability to attract, grow and retain talent for its U.S. and overseas operations.

Leading the charge in building and developing the Yapstone workforce is Tenenbaum, its executive vice president and chief people officer. She joined the company in 2015, just in time to lead its recruiting efforts for a new international headquarters office, which opened in Drogheda, Ireland, in 2016.

READ MORE: Debra Tenenbaum, Yapstone
Ellen Richey speaks during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.
Ellen Richey, chief legal officer of Visa Inc., speaks during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Target Corp., testifying about a data breach affecting millions of customers, told lawmakers it had clues about the attack weeks before responding and is exploring why it took so long to react. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Ellen Richey

Lifetime achievement honoree: Ellen Richey, Visa

Two years ago, Ellen Richey became Visa's vice chairman and chief risk officer, propelled to this role by more than a decade of work that fundamentally changed how the average consumer makes a payment. Richey plans to retire this summer, ending a 40-year career in law and risk management.

In her time at Visa, Richey set out to erase the mindset that its network was a Fort Knox that needed to be protected with stronger walls. Most data security researchers were fascinated with building a firewall that criminals could not get over, Richey said.

Instead of simply defending Visa's data, Richey chose to devalue it. Her goal was to make sure that any payment card information — whether held by a bank or merchant, or written to an individual consumer's card — became worthless if it was ever stolen.

READ MORE: Ellen Richey, Visa