Deborah Liu’s career in the payments industry has included roles at some of the best-known Silicon Valley giants — including eBay and PayPal — before her current job leading payments at Facebook.
But for a California tech firm, Facebook is drawing a lot of its influence from overseas.
At the social network, Liu spent the past five years overseeing billing and consumer payment systems, as well as Marketplace, Facebook’s portal for connecting consumers and small businesses. She cites the payments revolution in Asia as the most exciting thing happening today — echoes of which can be seen in Facebook Messenger's transformation into a platform for commerce.
“These payments markets … leaped to mobile payments directly. This innovation has unlocked new businesses and opportunities for people," said Liu, one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2018.
In many markets without a mature banking ecosystem, consumers started using mobile networks as substitute banks. They would send airtime minutes as a form of digital currency, and mobile P-to-P systems developed from these roots. Thus, to a large audience, payments and communication systems are deeply intertwined.
Payments are integral to enabling greater opportunities, particularly in developing economies, Liu said.
“The ability to pay unlocks connections between people and businesses and enables transactions to happen at scale and with trust," she said. "Emerging markets need access to means for savings and credit. ... Economic enablement is critical to well-being and financial independence.”
Liu points to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, as a significant influence on her career even before she took a role at Facebook.
“In 2009, I was debating joining Facebook," she recalled. "I had been at PayPal and then eBay for seven years, working part time with extremely flexible hours and I had recently returned to work after my second child was born. During my interview with Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg spoke to me about how to think about my career as a female leader. These concepts were later published in her book, 'Lean In.' She encapsulated my ambivalence about work and motherhood so aptly and asked me to not let that hesitation slow down my career.”
While Liu has been an influential leader, even she has experienced endemic gender bias working in the payments industry.
"The most insidious part of gender bias is that it's unconscious and invisible," she said. "It is when you go to a conference with a male colleague, and everyone meeting with us directs all of their attention and questions to him by default.”
Her solution: “Call it out. Don’t let it live in the shadows; shine a light on it. Each time we let stereotyping go by without calling it out, we miss the opportunity to create mutual acknowledgment of what occurred and the opportunity to address it in real time, and tacitly agree that stereotyping is OK."
READ MORE: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2018