Consumers hear about data breaches so often these days, they start to believe payment card credentials are never safe. This shifting mindset threatens the trust that is fundamental to the growth of payments, said Ellen Richey, vice chairman of risk and public policy for Visa Inc.

But it's not all gloom and doom, and protections are in place, said Richey, who has been in her current position for five months. Previously, she led both the risk and legal departments at Visa as executive vice president and chief risk officer.

Electronic payments remain much safer than carrying cash, but news about large data breaches can "exaggerate their impact" and lead consumers to the opposite conclusion, Richey said.

For the U.S. payments industry, the migration to chip-based EMV cards to improve security makes 2015 a critical turning point, Richey said. Visa expects more than 50% of cards and terminals in the U.S. to be chip-enabled by the end of the year.

In addition, Visa will further develop its tokenization service, which has "the potential to prevent mass migration of fraud from face-to-face environments to e-commerce," after EMV drives fraud away from the point of sale, Richey said.

Richey has represented Visa at various security meetings and presentations in Washington, D.C.

"At Visa, we'll continue to work with law enforcement and government agencies throughout the world to better deter criminals," Richey said.

Richey has watched women advance and make a difference in the workplace, but feels payment companies should view the accomplishments of women as they do any other corporate goal.

"Where diversity is viewed as 'nice to have' or is addressed on a project basis, we can expect progress to be slow and sporadic," Richey said.

Many senior women would consider it ideal if gender were truly irrelevant in the workplace, making it unnecessary to "call attention to ourselves as women or to promote women's causes," Richey said. Until that happens, it is vital for women in management to "make themselves part of the solution" by setting an example and mentoring or sponsoring women coming up through company ranks, she added.

Overall, the payments industry is filled with opportunities for any participant, she said.

"It's a great time to be a payments company," Richey said. "An industry that some may have considered to be synonymous with conservative, slow-moving tactics is embracing the innovations of the digital age."

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