Kristy Carstensen, U.S. Bank
During her seven years at U.S. Bank, Kristy Carstensen has always been a creator.
After all, she had to define what her job would be when she accepted what was an entirely new role at U.S. Bank five years ago, that of senior vice president and chief financial officer of the Payments Group.
Carstensen, who is one of PaymentsSource Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019, quickly created a function within the U.S. Bank Payments Group for developing and aligning current and long-term business strategy for payments.
Carstensen had been down a similar road a few times — all since joining U.S. Bank in late 2011.
Over time, she came to be known as the company executive who could take on new roles at the bank, as well as create roles for others when building her teams.
Those jobs have been senior vice president and strategic capital management executive; and a previous senior vice president and CFO role for the bank's Community Development Corporation.
She's been able to focus on what she wanted out of a career — helping people and making a meaningful difference. But initially she went to college to be a pediatrician.
"I've always had a special place in my heart for children," Carstensen said. "Ultimately, I graduated with a degree in accounting (from University of Iowa) and found a job in banking. I quickly discovered that the field may be different, but my opportunities to do good and to help people are the same."
Carstensen believes the payments industry represents a perfect landing spot to focus on that mission.
"Payments is the intersection of finance, technology, strategy and innovation, where change is driven by the needs and dreams of everyday people," she said. "That's why I don't just like working in payments; I love working in payments."
Prior to working at U.S. Bank, Carstensen worked for eight years for the Federal Loan Bank of Des Moines, with her most recent role being vice president and comptroller. She was also an auditor in public accounting for KPMG for five years.
All of it has been a training ground for developing and carrying out leadership skills.
"Every great team is rooted in great leadership," Carstensen said. "I view leadership as a privilege, a real opportunity, and a responsibility to show you believe in passionate and authentic leadership."
In her leadership role, Carstensen said it is important to treat all team members with the same level of respect and acknowledge the unique contributions of each.
"I take full responsibility and cast a clear vision, holding us all accountable," she added. "I make time to listen and truly engage with each team member and I do not forget to celebrate successes, both personal and professional."
She has much admiration for her colleague, Shailesh Kotwal, the vice chairman of payment services at U.S. Bank. Kotwal has inspired her to reach for high goals.
"I truly admire his obvious passion for this industry," Carstensen said. "His thinking is big and bold, and he challenges his team to drive the bank's leadership in the industry."
With that sort of philosophy and support, Carstensen said "innovation is part of our DNA" at U.S. Bank.
Though her life is devoted to payments now, Carstensen does not let her love of helping children drift too far from her heart. And that passion goes beyond she and her husband volunteering and coaching, keeping strong connections with their three daughters' activities.
She had to endure a traumatic experience to add more fuel to her belief that an education system cannot push away at-risk youths, and not acknowledge the "great disparity in outcome" for many students who overcome adversity caused by artificial barriers such as gender, race and economic status.
"Five years ago, on my way to mentor children at a public Montessori school where I was a board member, I witnessed a drug-fueled shooting that resulted in the death of a young black man," Carstensen said.
It sparked an idea in her mind that people, employers, corporations, schools and communities could come together to "disrupt the systemic cycles that get in the way of opportunity and outcome for our youth."
"I wish that no one ever witnesses what I witnessed, and that our youth will no longer see violence as the only option and answer," Carstensen said. "I also wish that disparity in outcome turns to parity across all divides, and I believe finding the disruptor will drive change, increment by increment, benefiting all humankind."