One would think an executive whose main job is managing risk initiatives might be overwhelmed by the task at hand, considering relentless efforts of cybercriminals.

But Ellen Richey enjoys her role as vice chairman of risk and public policy for Visa Inc. with a large dose of energy and optimism.

"Given my role, I think a lot about security," Richey said. "However, a large breach of payment data is not what keeps me up at night."

Breaches may happen, but the industry is investing enormous amounts to prevent them, Richey added. "I’m convinced that we’re on the right path."

Visa has been able to keep its fraud rates low, at about 6 cents of $100 transacted, by using advanced analytics, information sharing, and technologies such as EMV and tokenization to make stolen data less useful to fraudsters, Richey said.

"If we stay the course, I’m optimistic that we’ll put an end to the era of mass data breaches at merchants," she predicted.

However, Richey has been in the payments industry for 22 years and does not approach her job with blinders.

"Even as we eliminate one security threat, new ones emerge," she said. "We’re seeing more breaches of personal data, such as health records, voter registrations and university records, which can enable identity theft."

The growth of connected devices in the Internet of Things could bring payments to millions of new products, meaning millions of new entry points for hackers, Richey said.

In her nine years at Visa, Richey is most proud of her company's efforts to devalue data in merchant systems, including the introduction of EMV chip cards as part of that process in the U.S.

"We believed that making stolen merchant data useless for fraud had to be a critical element in the industry's security strategy," Richey said.

The biggest development facing the industry, Richey said, is the movement in China to open the country to domestic payments and international competitors. Visa views China as "the world's largest and most dynamic payments market," she added.

Visa operates financial inclusion partnerships in China with the China Foundation for Development of Financial Education and the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.

Women have to stay involved in programs like the Women in Payments Symposium to connect with peers, mentors and role models, Richey said.

"In the same spirit, I am interested in advancing the concept of helping women find sponsors," Richey said. A sponsor acting as a sounding board or to give advice takes a proactive interest in finding and advocating for opportunities and connections for women leaders, she added.

At Visa, Richey also leads the crisis management team at the executive level and is a member of Visa's executive committee.

Prior to joining Visa in 2007, Richey worked at Washington Mutual Inc. as senior vice president of enterprise risk management and executive vice president of card services. She also worked as vice chairman of Providian Financial Corp, working in risk management.

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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