For Kristy Cook, group manager of bankcard strategic projects at Target Corp., there couldn't be a more exciting time to lead the payments team at one of the nation's most forward-thinking retailers.

Consumers have made it clear that they want to shop and pay through many channels, and whether it's on a mobile phone, tablet, PC, in the store or—eventually—through wearables or the emerging Internet of Things, Cook said it's her job to make sure Target is ready.

"We're moving toward more of an on-demand shopping experience, where payments must be seamless and they must also deliver value," Cook said.

Leading a team of about 20 people handling all aspects of payments at Target's Minneapolis headquarters, Cook exudes infectious excitement for managing day-to-day operations for the company's 1,792 stores and its mobile and emerging omnichannel operations, as well as planning for payments' future.

Her job calls for working on a number of fronts at once. Target is a high-profile participant in the Merchant Customer Exchange's CurrentC mobile wallet pilot in Columbus, Ohio, and Cook is closely involved in the project.

Within CurrentC, Target is integrating several things, including the retailer's Cartwheel shopping app, its proprietary REDcard debit program and employee discounts, she explained. "When consumers pay with CurrentC, all those features, along with the 5% automatic REDcard discount, are applied in one transaction when the app is scanned," Cook said.

But Cook says it's still early days for mobile payment development, and she isn't ready to predict any winners. "We expect there will be several strong solutions in this space, and we're looking to see which ones consumers adopt and why they choose one over another," Cook said.

Cook also has been leading Target's transition to EMV technology, which is still in progress. "We were operating with EMV in its stores before the Oct. 1, 2015 liability shift, and we'll soon complete the conversion of our REDcard credit and debit card portfolios to EMV," she said.

To keep an eye on where payments innovations are headed, Cook is looking for opportunities at the Target Open House, the retailer's connected home lab and retail space in San Francisco that opened last July. This is where Target tests such things as a self-replenishing dog food bowl.

"It's a bit too soon to see how some of these innovations will play out, but it all comes back to how consumers want to use them," Cook said. "It's important now to get in and test, and be flexible with what we're seeing, so we can shape things around consumer preferences."

But developing new concepts for payments within some of the industry's existing systems is a constant challenge, Cook said, pointing to the need to balance customer convenience against managing fraud risk in a bankcard environment that's still defined as either card-present or card-not-present.

A common example is when a customer makes one purchase that generates multiple shipments of merchandise from different locations or at different times.

"Bankcard rules are slowly changing around these processes, and because our goal is to create a seamless payments experience all the time, we've been working with the card industry to better support that experience," Cook said.

Cook loves embracing new projects and leaped at the chance to lead the payment acceptance aspects of Target's expansion to Canada in 2013. It was a "tremendous opportunity" to lead the strategy for and rollout of payments at more than 130 stores. Though Target retreated from Canada less than two years later, it fueled Cook's interest in taking on new challenges. "Target encourages that kind of creativity and leadership, and it makes it a lot more fun."

Cook moved into her role more than three years ago, after beginning at Target on the finance and accounting side nearly 11 years ago, and particularly welcomes opportunities to participate in cross-industry collaborative forums, she said. With a solid background in retail from a previous position at Minnesota-based Supervalu, Cook worked as an auditor prior to that, getting broad exposure to diverse industries.

That perspective has enriched Cook's experience as she's participated on key committees for payments industry initiatives, including the EMV Migration Forum, EMVCo and the Merchant Advisory Group.

"Participating in these meetings and on committees has been incredibly interesting. You might see fewer women than men in certain settings, but I really find there are a lot of women working in payments, from technology to operations to IT," she said.

But what's most interesting for Cook as she meets with other payments industry representatives is the chance to bring a retailer's view to discussions with banks, processors and card networks.

"I find I can bring a different perspective that's welcomed. There are things each side can't see about the other, and that's why coming together through industry collaboration is vital. We have a lot of work yet to be done on how we protect against fraud moving to card-not-present environment with the shift to EMV," she said.

One of the reasons Cook was drawn to Target in the first place was the opportunity for leadership she saw there, and a growing community of female executives that's only expanded since her arrival.

"Target is a uniquely collaborative company and we have a great group of female role models in executive positions and throughout the company," Cook said.

Those include Janna Potts, chief stores officer; Cathy R. Smith, chief financial officer; Jackie Hourigan Rice, EVP and chief risk and compliance officer; Laysha Ward, chief corporate social responsibility officer; and Jodeen Kozlak, chief human resources officer.

Cook sees no limits on what women can do in payments. Her advice to others is to be authentic and follow your passions. "I think it's important that women lead with their unique gifts and style, and seek out roles which are a fit, both personally and professionally," she advises others.

Though Cook's work is demanding, she makes time to have fun with her husband, who works at another retailer—building materials merchant Menards–and her 13-year-old son, who's avidly involved in youth baseball.

"We weren't huge baseball people but this is something my son has loved all his life, and we've embraced it," Cook said.

While Cook's husband handles a lot of the team scheduling, she participates as one of the team's photographers. "I enjoy inspiring the team by capturing their great moments," she said.

This article is part of PaymentsSource's 25 Most Influential Women in Payments feature. Follow these links to see a full list of all honorees or a slideshow of the featured executives.

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