Donna Embry is perhaps the only payments executive who's worn a shark costume onstage at a regional acquiring conference. But her stunt worked.
At the Midwest Acquirers Association's annual conference four years ago, a lot of attendees were beginning to think of cocktails and dinner instead of presentations and exhibits. But Embrys shark costume captured the audience's attention for the trade group's first "Shark Attack," a showcase for new products.
She's president of the Midwest group but doesn't limit her industry service to that organization. She also has a strong presence at the other regional acquiring conferences.
Meanwhile, the trends she dissects at the shows keep her busy in her position as senior vice president of strategic development at Louisville, Ky.-based Payment Alliance International, where she's spent the last eight years of her 42 years in financial services.
"As the industry evolves and new disruptors enter the market, my role expands to cover those trends," Embry says of her job at PAI.
One key trend she sees is "the ever-changing role of the consumer in the past, issuers and card companies were the influencers of payments and determined how retailers adapted to payments acceptance. Now the influencers are the consumers," she says.
Consumers are wielding newfound power with the help of social media, mobile phones, tablets and applications such as Groupon, Retailmenot and direct retailer apps, she says.
It's one of the latest in a parade of changes Embry has engaged in the payments industry. A longer-term change has come in the role of women, says Embry, who was also recognized in PaymentsSource's 2013 Most Influential Women in Payments.
"Not only are women capable, but they are also empowered to form their own companies and be leaders as entrepreneurs," she says. "Organizations like W.net have also raised awareness to opportunities for women and have created the much-needed women's network to help spawn future leaders."
However, women and the industry as a whole face seismic change, Embry says.
"There will be new influencers that will be unencumbered by the legacy traditional rules of payments, technology and consumer-retailer acceptance," she says. We are operating in the 'Betamax' world, and I believe that VHS is right around the corner."
To prepare for the coming changes, women starting out in the payments industry should become informed and get involved, Embry advises.
She advocates taking courses offered by the Electronic Transactions Association, many of which are available online. Industry publications provide trends, statistics and compliance information, she notes.
"Be curious when reading these articles, formulate some questions and reach out to the authors and companies to drill further into the subject," Embry says.
Regional and national conferences afford opportunities to become better informed, she says.
Volunteering for industry associations brings benefits, Embry says. "It's a great way to network and contribute to the industry," she says.
See the full list of honorees for this year's Most Influential Women in Payments.