Some executives have a trademark outfit, like Steve Jobs' black turtlenecks or Mark Zuckerberg's hoodies. Jan Estep, president and CEO of Nacha, has a trademark gesture.
"Probably half the time when I speak to a group, I do this motion where my hands go up and down like two sides of the scale, saying 'We need balance,'" said Estep, who has held her current role at the electronic payments association for the past seven years. "Balance is so much of what I do and what we as an organization do every day."
Estep's penchant for weighing the competing interests of different stakeholders has proven crucial as Nacha, which sets the rules for the automated clearinghouse network, works to launch its plan for faster payments.
The industry-owned group put forward a proposal for same-day ACH settlements in 2012 only to be shot down by the big banks worried about the plan's profitability. Estep and her team spent the following year talking with banks and credit unions of all sizes, along with regulators, payroll companies and other organizations that could benefit from faster-clearing transactions. In 2014, Nacha announced a new proposal that aims to satisfy all of its voting members.
"The functionality is much more robust than what we envisioned back in 2012," Estep said. The plan, slated for a vote in the second quarter, would raise the number of settlement windows during which transactions can clear each business day from one to three. It also attempts to address banks' concerns about the cost of implementing the plan with an interbank fee that would require originating institutions to pay receiving institutions 8.2 cents for each transaction.
Of course, no plan is immune to criticism. The Federal Reserve Board expressed some trepidation about the interbank fee in a February comment letter, worrying that banks would pass the costs onto customers, who would in turn be less likely to make use of the same-day option. Nacha has not yet indicated whether it will adjust its proposal to take the Fed's concerns into account.
But while Estep naturally seeks out consensus among banks, regulators and other parties, she understands that total accord is not always possible.
"In a world that requires balance, you should not expect 100% of people or companies or constituents to be 100% pleased and happy," she said. "If you're trying to take into account different needs and desires and requirements, that's the best you can hope for."
Estep, who is being honored for the third year as one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments, said she's made a career out of being "open to input and open to change." After graduating from college with a degree in economics and psychology, she was recruited by IBM. "They had decided they had too many engineers," she said.
Estep rose through the ranks at IBM after completing a year-and-a-half-long training program in technology. Fifteen years later, she moved to an environmental laboratory and eventually landed at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis, managing its merchant acquiring and transaction services divisions.
When she got a call from Nacha seven years ago, she confessed that her experience in the industry did not cover the organization's focus. "They said it might be good to have someone who doesn't live and breathe ACH," Estep said.
"I think it's that background in a liberal arts education that allowed me to move fluidly from one industry to another," Estep said. And because she's always eager to learn new things, "I really like asking the question 'why.'
"I ask cascading 'whys,' and if you ask 'why' enough you'll get down to root causes and factors that really help you to understand environments, opportunities and situations," she said.
Estep said that many women in the payments industry share this quality.
"When you think about good listeners who are able to understand change and adapt to that, I think those skill sets are very important in payments," she said. "Being able to determine the facts behind a topic and figure out what's needed in that regard are skill sets that I think we see in many women."
As a result, she said, the number of women in the payments industry is growing"and will only continue to grow."