Eight thousand miles removed her South Asian youth, Shazia Manus has found a home in Silicon Prairie, a section of the upper Midwest where technology disruption happens quickly, and can come from a source as simple as an imaginative young person's bedroom.
"It's really hard to invent something, but when you talk about innovation, it's not necessarily something that didn't exist … it can be how to take something existing and use it in a new way, or give it a new purpose," said Manus, CEO of TMG (The Members Group). "And that can come from anywhere."
Manus has been finding a new way since her childhood in Bangladesh to her current home in Des Moines, where she's led TMG for the past four years, addressing the challenges and opportunities of the digital age of payments.
There's a cultural shift that's necessary for some companies, Manus said, noting that for many organizations, past success is the biggest threat to a healthy future. Repeat business and loyal customers can feed a resistance to change, leaving the doors open to challengers, she said.
"New financial market entrants want to own the consumer relationship," Manus said. "They’re looking at how data can help them. The competitive stakes for TMG’s clients, community financial institutions, are high. Yet, they have the wealth of data – not to mention consumer trust – to give retail giants, tech conglomerates, wireless providers and fintech startups a run for their money."
But for Manus, before it was about analytics and optimizing the impact of EMV, tokenization and digital payments to ward off disruptors, it was about leveraging sixth grade science lessons for business opportunity. At 17, Manus founded a tutorial business, giving math, English and science lessons to middle school students.
Manus started the business with her brother, and it didn't involve reinventing the wheel, but rather recognizing a need and the best path to solve a problem. "A lot of the kids did not have the access to the knowledge that they needed, and they needed help beyond the school system," said Manus.
And that was just the start. Other businesses followed, including a food service.
"We noticed the public schools in Bangladesh had a lot of food vendors outside, where you didn't know about the quality or the safety," she said. "So with our mom we developed a box lunch business."
Later, while in college, Manus opened a boutique store with a group of friends.
Manus faced ample challenges along the way, working within a culture where the massive gender gap made the basic task of gaining an education difficult.
"Growing up in Bangladesh was not easy for an individual like me," Manus said, adding the support of her grandfather was crucial—he insisted she have the same opportunity as his grandsons. "Women were relegated to second-class citizens and not encouraged to pursue a higher career. As a young woman, I worked hard to earn scholarships that would allow me to continue my education."
After attending the University of Dhaka, Manus came to the U.S. to study at Iowa State University and launched a career in financial services that led to her current role as TMG's CEO. In four years, the company has tripled revenue growth; it also increased staffing by nearly 30% in 2015 alone. TMG now serves seven of the 13 largest credit unions and has expanded to support banks. It has also launched a Canadian line of business called Collabria.
"There are things we can learn in the Canadian market," Manus said. "They're a lot more EMV savvy."
The company has also collaborated with COOP Financial services, a credit union service organization, and Dwolla, another Des Moines-based financial company that provides discount automated transaction rails.
TMG is seeking merchant uses for technology that's quickly growing from experimental to maturity, such as wearable computing, Web-connected devices and marketing technology.
"New technologies, such as geo-fencing, can deliver custom alerts and marketing campaigns based on a consumer’s behavior," Manus said, adding TMG is accelerating its investment in data analytics and predictive modeling. "As consumers increasingly demand real-time messaging from their financial institutions and self-control, financial institutions utilizing this technology will quickly gain consumer loyalty."
At the same time, Manus is tackling gender equality issues in the U.S., drawing on her experiences in Bangladesh.
"It is a heightened sense of self-being of how compassion, empathy, and inspiration not only play a role in making you a more effective leader," Manus said. "It helps you become a better human being. Mindfulness has given me the tools to become more self-aware and better tune into the needs of others."
There are opportunities for women to advance their careers in payments, she said, such as by participating in industry conferences and forums and pursuing designations and certificates, like the Certified Ethical Hacker.
"Perhaps what we need, however, is to also focus on helping females understand their own self-worth," Manus said. "Financial support is also critical. Three practical methods for injecting financial support into the lives of promising young women across the globe are scholarships, microfinance and supporting equal pay."
Beyond diversifying leadership, there is also a business case to be made for increasing the number of women in leadership roles, Manus said.
"Women are responsible for 70% to 80% of all consumer purchasing," Manus said, noting that Deloitte predicts that by the end of the year, fewer than 25% of digital jobs will be held by women. "It’s only logical the payments industry would look to female leaders to drive engagement with this influential consumer segment. However, that is not often the case."