Helena Mao, Green Dot

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Helena Mao has spent the past several years advancing real-time payments services for Green Dot. So much so that Mao, in her role as general manager of platform services, has a pretty clear idea of where this is all heading.

"I anticipate that the barrier between digital balance and physical cash will disappear," said Mao, an honoree in PaymentsSource's 2020 Most Influential Women in Payments. "Traditional banking features, modern-age P2P, international remittance, access to credit, loans and investments, will all be accessible to customers within a single destination."

Mao's been with Green Dot for 17 years, with the past year being her first in the platform services role in which her work is definitely important to creating those single destinations.

Read more: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2020

Prior to being in charge of Green Dot's money movement and banking-as-a-service platform, Mao was general manager of the company's money processing division since 2013. Ultimately, she was responsible for launches of Green Dot's real-time payment distribution platform in helping power Uber Instant Pay and Apple Pay Cash.

Now, her clients for banking-as-a-service include Apple, Uber, Intuit, Stash, Walmart, Wealthfront and others.

Mao has carried a philosophy through her career that made her realize the only way to approach a challenge is head-on.

Helena Mao, General Manager of Platform Services, Green Dot
Helena Mao, General Manager of Platform Services, Green Dot

Calling it the most memorable constructive criticism she ever received, Mao recalls being told "the grass is not greener on the other side, it's just a different shade."

"It was so simple, but so profound," she said. "Earlier in my career I thought the best way to overcome a challenge was to get away from it — thinking I would find an easier, more manageable path."

But the lesson about greener grass stuck with her.

"It made me realize the best way to overcome a challenge was to address it head on, rather than find a way around it or over it," Mao said.

Her climb through management has been fueled by an important trait in any endeavor.

"By simply caring," she said. "Caring about what I do and more importantly caring about who I work with and who I work for."

Management is not about moving up the corporate ladder, Mao added. Rather, it is about "how I can make a positive impact at a higher level on colleagues, partners and customers," she said. "It's also not just about me."

Her father, a retired three-star general, reminded her about something that has guided Mao throughout her career in terms of working with others. "Without them, there wouldn't be you," he told her.

Mao began her Green Dot career in 2003 as the director of payment solutions, and has continued in key roles that turned a company that focused on providing prepaid cards into one that brings multiple financial and payments services to clients.

From Mao's viewpoint, it didn't come without a risky career move. "Deciding that I could be both the mom I wanted to be and the career woman I wanted to be" represented the most risk, she said.

"It took tremendous support and understanding from the people around me, as well as expert juggling skills and forgiving myself once in a while when things weren't exactly perfect," Mao added.

As for how other women can make advancements to top jobs, Mao admits that many may not like or agree with her thoughts on that topic. Basically, she thinks that women may be holding themselves back from moving up the ladder.

"We think, behave and feel differently than our gender counterparts," she said. "But that's what makes us strong, albeit it in a different way."

In that regard, the challenge becomes two-fold, Mao believes. "Do we believe in our own strengths? And do we actually want to be in the C-suite roles?"

She admits to questioning whether she is capable or good enough for certain positions, and there are times when she hesitates at the thought of climbing higher because she doesn't want to spend more time away from her family.

"These thought processes stem from me, not anyone else," Mao said. "So, at least for me, it's me that's kept me out of the C-suite."

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Women in Payments