One way to get a sense of Walmart’s massive transition to an agile omnichannel retailer is to examine the company’s mobile app, which bears the influence of Karla Allen, Walmart's senior director of mobile wallets.
Walmart Pay — the popular QR code-based payment approach Walmart introduced in 2016 — is the centerpiece of the retailer’s digital wallet, which also offers direct access to Walmart’s credit card and a host of other services. These features combine to support a seamless connection between physical stores and online shopping.
Allen joined Walmart in 2016 after a long career at companies including Gap Inc., Ericsson and Sprint PCS. Her career reached a turning point six years ago when she began to focus on mobile wallet startups, and while working at the Gap served on the executive board of the merchant coalition MCX, which piloted a mobile wallet called CurrentC.
“Today’s digital wallet innovation brings together all aspects of the digital relationship with customers, and it will greatly shift how shoppers interact with merchants … for many years to come,” said Allen, who is one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women of Payments for 2018.
The payments industry is at an interesting crossroads right now, with new forces targeting banking and fintech with rapid innovations that make direct payments easier, faster and more secure, Allen said.
“I’m fascinated by many aspects of fintech, including the use of blockchain to make cross-border consumer and supplier payments less complex and expensive, along with open banking regulations and democratizing access to bank accounts,” she said.
Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology originally developed to support bitcoin payments. Lately, many companies have sought ways to find uses for blockchain within their own operations.
But not all innovations are welcomed with open arms. One of Allen’s concerns is the way the U.S. payments industry handled the shift to chip-and-PIN card security.
“The investment in EMV technology and the associated disruption of the consumer payment experience was an ideal time to implement mandatory PIN entry," she said. Because the U.S. card networks did not universally require the use of PIN for all EMV card payments, "the result is a U.S. payments system that is more vulnerable to fraud than it should be,” she said.
Allen is also disappointed by the lack of female executives in the payments and technology spheres. “In my emerging technology career, I’ve been the only woman on the team far too often,” she said.
At Walmart, Allen has benefited from a team of strong female colleagues and mentors. One is Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, who was Walmart’s executive vice president and global treasurer when Allen joined the company.
“She leads with an inspiring mix of talent, strength, wisdom and insight, and what she has that I’m trying hardest to replicate is her ability to foster and bring out the best talent within everyone on the team,” Allen said.
There are still plenty of obstacles holding women back in the payments industry, and one that’s common in many organizations is the tendency for management to reward and promote leaders who score higher on individualism than collaboration, she fears.
“This can result in slowing some women in their move up, due to an organization’s lack of understanding of a highly collaborative management style,” Allen said.
Allen’s advice to women facing this kind of barrier is to study and understand the dynamics within their own organization and, if needed, shift to an approach that is rewarded.
“Until there are more women at the top, many of these issues will be difficult to address, so we need to be more effective at working within the existing systems to get there,” she said.
READ MORE: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2018