Citi Retail Services' clients face stiffer competition, and the Citigroup unit is forced to shift to a more data-driven model as it adapts. It's up to Leslie McNamara to keep Citi's clients on board during this transition.

"Citi Retail Services is in an exciting position as we form a nexus between traditional payments and a new data-driven analytics that help keep our partners one step ahead," said McNamara, managing director of partner management for Citi Retail Services.

The unit is a substantial component of Citi's overall business. For the first three quarters of 2014, it provided a quarter of the net income for all of Citi's global consumer banking business and third of the revenue  of all of Citi's consumer banking business in North America.

For McNamara, who held her current role for more than three years, the changes mean engaging businesses wary about security and providing strategic council when engaging their own customers.

"As U.S. retailers continue to see a dramatic upswing in the number of data breaches and growing sophistication of cyber security attacks, information security will be the main concern for all businesses, including our partners, in the foreseeable future," McNamara said.  "Today's 'payments company' does more than just enable payment transactions and provide credit services."

McNamara's high-profile role coincides with a trend toward more women reaching foundational roles for C-suite positions, she said.

"The differentiating factors in ensuring women get the roles — and recognition — they deserve are the ability to drive change, think innovatively and build consensus. These, combined with the so-called 'soft' skills commonly associated with women, create a clear roadmap for the future of our industry and will allow women to leave a legacy of inspiration," McNamara said. 

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