As she directed the credit and debit card portions of Walmart’s ahead-of-the-curve adoption of EMV chip technology, Kara Kazazean was motivated by more than just technical know-how.
Kazazean’s ability to drive collaboration across diverse teams was equally important, and will be a critical asset as she faces Walmart's ambitious shift to omnichannel commerce this year. Walmart Pay, the mega-retailer’s proprietary mobile payments app, is set to roll out this year and Kazazean has been an active part of its development.
"Walmart Pay is a great example of how we plan to address the blurring of traditional shopping channels, leveraging the Walmart app on a customer’s device, linking online payment credentials and enabling in-store payments," said Kazazean, who joined Walmart in 2011 and moved into her current role three years ago.
The shift to digital payments and away from traditional plastic cards may, in turn, create opportunities to improve payments at their core, Kazazean suggested.
"The lines between ‘card present’ and ‘card not present’ transactions also will continue to blur," Kazazean said. "The Federal Reserve recently used the term ‘person present payments’ and ‘remote payments.' I think that’s a refreshing perspective that may necessitate rethinking the traditional structure, labels and risk rules that have been in place for decades for payments."
Kazazean knows those details from the ground up, having spent her entire career in payments.
She began as an industry analyst at Radiant Systems (now NCR), before moving to RaceTrac Petroleum, a gas-and-convenience store chain with more than 600 locations where she rose to be director of payment systems, overseeing all aspects of credit and debit card acceptance, including managing its payment card portfolio. A graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Industrial Engineering, Kazazean also earned MBAs from Emory University and the University of Arkansas.
In addition to playing a key role in Walmart’s implementation of EMV credit and debit card acceptance months ahead of Oct. 1, 2015 EMV liability shift deadline, Kazazean has participated in cross-industry committees to help drive broad payments initiatives.
Based on that experience, she says industry collaboration will be required to resolve some of the trickiest security challenges facing the payments industry.
"With the technology available to us today, no company should be in the headlines because of a data breach, but no company can change the current infrastructure alone," she said.
Women also can work together to advance their careers, Kazazean said. She gives credit to Walmart’s Women’s Resource Council, which matches female Walmart employees from different departments as mentors and mentees, helping develop one another’s strengths in areas like strategic thinking, judgment, adaptability, influence and planning.
Kazazean sees plenty of opportunity for women to advance their careers in payments by participating in industry events and reaching out to peers.
"There are no collegiate degree programs that I’m aware of teaching people the payments industry," Kazazean said, but conferences and seminars can go a long way to further women’s education about payments and they can also be a source for finding new resources and mentors within the payments industry.