Ask Carleigh Jaques to build a new digital payments system, and there's a very good chance she'll turn to her "inner architect" and deliver the goods.

After all, the senior vice president and global head of digital products for Visa has designed and built three houses — in her spare time.

If she had to choose another career, "I would be an architect," Jaques said. "It makes most people crazy, but I find it relaxing, since it is so different from my day-to-day."

Carleigh Jaques, Senior Vice President, Global Head of Digital Products, Visa
Carleigh Jaques, Senior Vice President, Global Head of Digital Products, Visa
"The vicious circle is that until we have more diversity in the room, it is hard for folks to see the benefit of that diversity of thought."


That same passion for creativity comes into play for Jaques in a fast-paced payments landscape. "It's been one of my most critical skill sets," said Jaques, an honoree in this year's Most Influential Women in Payments.

It's a good skill to have, considering the challenges presented in digital payments.

Mobile payments represent the biggest surprise and disappointment in Jaques' mind, though she has a positive view of the technology.

"Having spent so many years in technology, a theme that recurs is that often we are overly optimistic about speed of adoption and then, perversely, underestimate the total size of the market at scale," she said.

"I can think of so many examples; from literally personal computers, to search, to voice-over-IP," she added. "I think mobile payments is going to be huge, but the complexity and dependencies of the payments ecosystem have driven a fragmented consumer experience and confusion for the merchant."

As the industry overcomes those issues, there will be a sea change in mobile payments, with contactless payments at the point of sale in the U.S. being a key foundation for that shift, Jaques said.

Visa has done much to advance its position in digital payments in the past few years, promoting tokenization, opening its network to application developers and adding mobile efficiencies at the POS to complement chip-card technology.

"Earlier in my career in payments, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ecosystem from a macro perspective and that was very valuable," Jaques said. "Candidly, I probably didn’t think enough about the point of sale—and for a lot of years, it was pretty static."

Jaques now believes the most exciting and innovative part of payments and fintech is taking place at an integrated POS.

"We have contactless, mobile, integrated commerce, offers and loyalty, lending and installment products all converging there," she said.

In addition, there are consumer experiences in which the POS "completely fades into the background too," Jaques added. "The opening up of the payments system architecture is driving all of this, and I think in 20 years we will look back at many of today’s POS experiences and they will feel like the days of the 'knuckle busters.' "

Earlier in her life, Jaques planned to be an international lawyer, and entered her job search equipped with a political science and French degree. Ultimately, she ended up interviewing to become a technology investment banker. She says she "fell into an opportunity — and it was a great fit."

Her 20 years of working in tech mergers and acquisitions led her to Visa, where she founded the corporate development and mergers and acquisitions team.

"After a couple of years, we added strategy to the role, since they are so tightly linked," she said. "And without that experience, I wouldn't be in a position to lead our digital merchant products."

Now, she intends to continue moving Visa forward in digital commerce while celebrating the diversity she can bring to the business table. That's an area she'd like to see expand as well.

"Until we have room for diversity of thought, across all variety of different groups of people, we won't have diversity of representation and opportunity," she said.

"The vicious circle is that until we have more diversity in the room, it is hard for folks to see the benefit of that diversity of thought," Jaques added. "These more ingrained and unconscious bias traits are much harder to identify and correct, but until we get there, we won’t build the best businesses to be had and our communities will be the worse for it."

READ MORE: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2018