Karla Allen, Walmart
Walmart has a good grasp of where it sits among global retail giants, but its position among the financial services industry is still evolving.
While many companies in financial services are focused on stealing share from cash, Walmart has a different motivation: It wants to improve the payments process without alienating cash-carrying shoppers.
"At Walmart, we see democratization of digital payments as being a fundamental right for all consumers, and we are working to help our cash customers have easier access to digital services," said Karla Allen, senior director of payments innovation for the retail giant and one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019.
In her current role, which she has held for the past two of her four years with the company, Allen has focused on Walmart's mobile wallet developments.
Walmart worked for a few years in trying to craft a mobile wallet in the U.S. called CurrentC through the Merchant Customer Exchange joint retailer venture, but also opted to deploy its branded Walmart Pay app. Though Walmart was behind the MCX venture, that venture ultimately dissolved, demonstrating that a one-size-fits-all wallet app wouldn't necessarily work for everyone's customer base.
And even Walmart Pay wasn't the finish line for Walmart's mobile payment needs.
"In 2018, we launched Cashi, a cash-funded digital wallet, in Mexico to make it easier for our customers to pay for things like electricity, telephone and services such as Netflix or Spotify from the convenience of their phone," Allen said. "Cashi allows our customers to skip bill-pay lines, which are the alternative way to pay for underbanked customers."
As with any company or product development, Walmart requires an understanding and skill in team building to deliver products that will resonate in different markets.
"Since mobile wallets span across many areas of the enterprise, I direct my initial focus on connecting with senior leaders to come together on a common high-level customer vision," Allen said.
After leadership communicates a unified vision, it becomes easier to help team members understand their role in delivering on that vision, she added. "It creates opportunity for team members to excel."
Allen looks to other women in payments with an admiration that helps fuel her motivation. One that has caught Allen's attention is Hooi Ling Tan from Grab, a ride-sharing and financial services provider in Southeast Asia.
"I admire her thinking on diversity and inclusion as well as the approach to creating services that change and improve lives of consumers at scale across Southeast Asia," Allen said.
It has been interesting to watch Grab evolve from a taxi service "to become a platform company significantly disrupting payments and fintech in Southeast Asia in ways that enable customers to enter the digital payments ecosystem and provide better ways for small businesses to participate in the rapidly changing market," she added.
Prior to Walmart, Allen advised some of the world’s largest brands and retailers including Best Buy, General Mills, P&G and The Gap on their mobile strategies in commerce, advertising and payments. Earlier in her career, she headed product marketing at Sprint and Qualcomm.
She looks forward to advancing all she has learned in mobile payments and watching how it could apply to future security and customer identification technologies that will advance the customer checkout experience.
"We know from our Sam's Club Scan and Go experience that customers love to skip lines," Allen said. "The increased ability for customers to shop when, where and how they like, will drive more customers toward mobile payments and will change the payments experience and likely the payments players in significant ways."
And women should be fully aboard for such an adventure.
"I would encourage more women to attend and actively participate in fintech conferences and challenge companies to send diverse teams that are representative of their associates and customers," Allen said.
"We also need to encourage women to enter the space overall, which could include more investment for women-owned businesses," she added. "I'd encourage women to push their thinking forward and look for ways to get around, over or under roadblocks along the journey."