Ranjana Clark’s career has taken her from mainstream companies like Wachovia Corp. and Western Union ­to the top ranks of PayPal Inc., a company bankers often view as disruptive.

In many ways, her career reflects the trends in the payments industry overall, as it sheds its traditions and instead experiments with fresh and daring approaches to the age-old task of moving money.

“I think in our segment of the industry, consumer technology is changing significantly and that is driving significant change in consumer behavior in terms of how consumers shop and pay today and how they will shop and pay in the future,” Clark says.

In her position as the chief customer and marketing officer at PayPal, a unit of eBay Inc., Clark focused on global marketing, insight, and customer experience. She also oversaw customer insights, analytical capabilities and brand development.

Clark was one of the people eBay CEO John Donahoe singled out for her strong leadership skills when addressing the perceived vacuum left when PayPal President Scott Thompson abruptly left the company last year. The job went to David Marcus, but Clark remains a key player in her company's ranks.

Clark says she considered four criteria before deciding to join PayPal: She wanted to be a part of something transformational; she wanted a role that would be global in scope (PayPal operates in 109 countries); she wanted to be in a decisive and fast-moving culture; and she wanted to be part of a company’s thought leadership team.

PayPal—founded in 1998 to move money between Palm Pilots—later became more popular than eBay’s own payment system, Billpoint, which eBay developed with Wells Fargo. The auction site acquired PayPal in 2002, and after staking its place as a leader in Internet-based payments, industry insiders say PayPal now appears to be returning to its roots through it recent work on mobile devices.

“I believe this shift in consumer technology and behavior will drive a change in how merchants and retailers of all sizes will need to provide their offerings to consumers. Technology that they provide will have to change as well,” Clark says. “The digital wallet will become the primary way consumers pay and play.”

This new wallet will carry all forms of tender, including credit cards, bank accounts, gift cards, loyalty cards, airline miles, wish lists, and more. “Everything is in the cloud,” Clark explains, adding that how consumers access it will be a more personal decision. While some early adaptors will use digital wallets immediately, others will need something tangible, such as a plastic card.

PayPal introduced such a cloud-based account early last year, allowing consumers to pay at the point of sale by providing just a phone number and a PIN. PayPal also provides the option to use a plastic card, but 70% of in-store PayPal payments take place without the card, the company said in an October earnings call.

About 20 merchants work with PayPal directly to take PayPal payments, and a deal with Discover should open this option to a much broader range of retailers this year.

“We provide merchants of all sizes the ability to compete in a multi-channel environment and we don’t compete with them,” Clark adds.

Her previous extensive business and payments experience includes leadership positions at Western Union and, prior to that, Wachovia where — in her first foray into the payments sector — she moved into the bank’s treasury services division in 1999 as the head of product management and later went on to lead the division. Her career path is as dynamic as ever — after her interview for this story, Clark took on a new role at eBay, working alongside eBay CTO Mark Carges.

Before joining PayPal in 2011, Clark says she decided to take a brief sabbatical to think about her next career move. It was an impressive career to reflect upon.

Western Union had wooed Clark from Wachovia in 2009 by giving her the dual role of president of the company’s global payments business and head of global strategy. As the chief marketing officer at Wachovia, she developed a fully integrated marketing division focused on insight, innovation, brand development, customer loyalty and acquisition. During nearly two decades at the Charlotte, N.C. banking giant, Clark was a member of the operating committee and was the head of strategic planning as well as capital markets strategic development.

While at Wachovia, she was named one of the “Most Powerful Women in Banking” and later at Western Union made the list of “Top Nonbank Women in Finance.”

During her time at Wachovia, Clark worked on the bank’s successful “Way2Save,” an account that allowed customers to transfer $1 from their checking accounts into a special savings account each time they made a check card purchase or an electronic payment. At Western Union, she built partnerships with financial institutions that might otherwise have considered Western as an opponent in wire transfer, remittance, and bill-pay services. She also helped lead the company into expanded international payments, including business-to-business payment and foreign exchange operations.

Born in India, Clark earned a master’s degree in marketing at the Indian Institute Of Management in Ahmedabad in 1982, which led to a five-year stint at Deutsche Bank in Mumbai. Clark then left India for the United States where she earned her second master’s degree — this time in finance — from Duke University in 1989.

When not working long hours at PayPal, Clark enjoys running with her two dogs, practicing yoga, travelling, and reading. She recently finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs and plans to read the Dalai Lama’s Advice on Dying.

“That topic is deep on my mind,” she says. “There’s a lot we can learn about living through the process of dying.”

There's also a lot other payments executives can learn from Clark's career path. From her beginnings working for the most traditional of banking companies to now working on cutting-edge payments technology with an upstart like eBay, Clark has worked her way through the ranks of a truly dynamic industry. 

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