Glenda McNeal, American Express

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Just a few years ago, the thought that American Express cardholders could ask Amazon's Alexa to provide information about account balances and special offers on their cards would not have crossed Glenda McNeal's mind.

Or maybe it did.

As president of enterprise strategic partnerships at American Express, McNeal has been right in the middle of developing the technology and use cases for Amex to advance in a digital and virtual payments world.

"We are increasingly using and relying on artificial intelligence, such as virtual assistants and voice-enabled technology in our day-to-day lives," said McNeal, one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019. "Many are starting to use devices like Amazon’s Echo to set and turn off their alarm clock, ask it about the weather and then play their favorite music while they get ready for their day."

That sort of hands-free activity lends itself to the “card free” trend that is extending to payments, McNeal said.

"As more consumers opt for automated payment options, from digital wallets to universal online payment buttons, it only makes sense that payments integrate with the benefits of AI to improve the seamless nature and security of the experience," McNeal added.

It's the type of technology helping American Express translate "the high-touch customer experience we are known for in the physical world to the digital space," she said.

For McNeal, technology inspires her work in developing Amex strategy and leading negotiations for key partnerships with the largest e-commerce, travel, technology and retail companies.

"We always strive to deliver an experience that goes beyond a payment transaction," she said. "A payment can spark a travel experience for a card member or new business for a merchant. Whatever the experience, we are looking for ways to make it better — more seamless, secure and rewarding."

She's no stranger to Amex and what that brand stands for, having started with the card company in 1989 with positions in card issuing and network businesses, sales and client management, business development, marketing and strategy.

"If you ask almost anyone at American Express, they will tell you that we are more than a payments company," McNeal said. "Payments are at the core of our business, but what I most enjoy is that we are really an experiential lifestyle brand that spans many industries and passion areas."

While her job is to build relationships with innovators in areas from travel to tech, and identify emerging companies along the way, McNeal is also successful in establishing relations with long-standing brands, such as Apple.

"Our relationship with Apple is centered around a seamless customer experience with innovative products and payments," she said. "I’m drawn to Angela Ahrendts’ ability at Apple to innovate within an industry, inspire creativity and lead with a strong focus."

Ahrendts revealed in early February she was leaving Apple after five years of heading its retail initiatives.

McNeal especially admires Ahrendts' retail executive background and being a self-proclaimed “nontechie.” Still, she was able to reimagine and revitalize Apple’s retail business through technology, McNeal added.

Much of McNeal's knowledge about where the latest innovations are taking place comes from being active in various industry councils and boards.

She is on the audit and corporate governance and public policy committees for RLJ Lodging Trust, and is a board member of the World Travel & Tourism Council, the America Hotel & Lodging Association, the Montclair Film Festival and the United Negro College Fund.

McNeal is also a member of the Executive Leadership Council and has prior board experience with U.S. Steel Corporation, Vente-Privee U.S., and the PepsiCo Multicultural Advisory Board, among others in medical, arts and retail.

In that manner, she has a voice in many different venues while representing Amex at the same time.

"As women, we need to make sure we speak up, show up and bring our unique viewpoints to the innovation table," McNeal said. "We should seek out mentorship from women and men who inspire us, and prioritize mentoring others from diverse communities and perspectives."

This perspective makes her end goal clear: "The technology we collectively create should reflect the lives of all consumers."

READ MORE: THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN PAYMENTS, 2019

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