Debra Rossi has been on the front lines of payments innovation since the late 1990s, when the world of e-commerce was still in its infancy.

Back then, the pivot from brick-and-mortar to digital was problematic — there simply weren’t the payment platforms out there to match requirements. At that time, Rossi worked at Wells Fargo, where she was given the opportunity to collaborate on a new solution that was going to enable tens of thousands of merchants to accept card not present payments for the first time.

Debra Rossi, Vice Chair, Payments, First Data Corp.
Debra Rossi, Vice Chair, Payments, First Data Corp.
“I wouldn’t say there are any true disappointments because even when a project fails we learn so much. Working around the internet and e-commerce I’ve seen hundreds of great ideas that fizzle out, and it’s not because they weren’t great ideas."


The result of these efforts was Billpoint, a venture in which eBay owned a 65% stake. This was to be the PayPal killer back when eBay was more interested in toppling PayPal than buying it.

“By listening to new innovative companies with a compelling vision for commerce, and partnering with some tremendous companies we built a very strong business case to develop Billpoint," said Rossi, one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2018.

Though Billpoint dissolved following eBay's 2002 purchase of PayPal, “it’s amazing to think about how that work helped shape an e-commerce industry that continues growing exponentially," she said.

Considering what happened to Billpoint, it may seem like a bittersweet point in Rossi's career. But Rossi doesn’t see failure as a bad thing — in fact, the iteration is often advantageous.

“I wouldn’t say there are any true disappointments because even when a project fails we learn so much," she said. "Working around the internet and e-commerce I’ve seen hundreds of great ideas that fizzle out, and it’s not because they weren’t great ideas. Some ideas fail because the timing isn’t quite right and others because the market may pivot in a new unforeseen direction, but in every instance we learn something new that helps us be more innovative in the future."

Billpoint was also a rare example of collaboration between two companies that might have seen each other as competitors or — at the very least — as strange bedfellows. Rossi still sees significant room for improvement in relations between separate stakeholders in the payments industry.

"Whether it is card networks, payment companies, or up-and-coming startups, I think our industry needs to change the existing models to be more collaborative," she said.

Another problem that needs to be overcome is gender bias. For that, Rossi has a three-step plan for women to break through the biases they encounter in their careers:

“1. Know your stuff – the easiest way to level the playing field is through knowledge and expertise. The smartest person in the room always has a huge advantage.

2. Create a vision – Create a strong vision for whatever you are doing and articulate that vision clearly to create the change you are looking for.

3. Look to lead – Seek out opportunities where you can be a leader, and don’t be afraid to lead your way when you get there."

When Rossi became president of the Electronic Transactions Association in 2015, "it was primarily male-dominated, and one of the first things I did was put a focus on diversity throughout the organization," she said. "Together, we helped women business owners and women executives start stepping into new leadership positions in the industry."

READ MORE: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2018

Nick Holland

Nick Holland

Nick Holland is a senior analyst at PaymentsSource. He has previously held analyst roles at Javelin Strategy & Research, Yankee Group and Aite Group.