Based in London, Cairns is responsible for the management of all MasterCard markets and customer-related activities outside of North America. She is also a member of the company's executive committee.

The most interesting event happening in her segment of the industry is the replacement of cash, she says.

Though 85 percent of consumer transactions are still in cash or paper form, "sweeping changes are happening around the globe," according to Cairns.

"Governments are adopting biometric solutions to pay benefits and create financial inclusion," she notes, adding that the South African government is increasing security on its benefit cards with voice recognition and thumbprints to authenticate some 10 million people using them.

Consumers are also using contactless cards to pay for everything from coffee in Australia to bus fares in Poland. Meanwhile, e-commerce is accelerating around the world as consumers purchase products domestically and internationally.

In five years, Cairns predicts that the payments industry will see the beginning of a "fully integrated shopping experience as the digital and physical worlds converge." She notes that children are now starting to use tablets at the average age of 10 months and then wonder why their television screens don't also respond when touched.

"As these kids grow up, their interaction with the world will be different and the payments business will have to respond by acting as a seamless one-touch process in their everyday lives," she says.

Before joining MasterCard two years ago, Cairns was a managing director and head of the Financial Industry Services group for Europe with Alvarez & Marsal, a consulting firm specializing in turnaround and interim management. (She led the European team managing the bankruptcy proceedings of Lehman Brothers Holdings.) She has also worked at ABN Amro and Citigroup Inc.

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