How do you get to the top of the payments stack at one of the nation’s preeminent digital-forward banks? You reach for every challenging opportunity you see, according to Reetika Grewal, head of payments strategy and solutions at Silicon Valley Bank.
Throughout a long career beginning in bank product management and strategy, Grewal made big leaps forward by taking chances, leaving secure positions at large financial institutions to explore new frontiers at payments-related startups because she wanted to be part of things that would have a bigger impact, she said.
At startups like Pay By Touch, where she helped develop biometric payments technology in the years before the "fintech" category really existed, Grewal gained a deep understanding of the payments ecosystem, and her own role within it. Pay By Touch shut down 10 years ago, but its ideas live on in the era of Touch ID and fingerprint-based mobile payments.
"Being in a less structured startup environment allowed me to challenge myself to think more broadly about these companies and how I contributed,” Grewal said, noting that while she eventually went back to banking, she had an entrepreneur’s vision of the big picture for clients, partners, financial institutions and for herself. This mindset earned her the recognition as one of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments for 2018.
These days it’s hard not to be fascinated by the promise of distributed ledger technology, Grewal said. “There are so many use cases that could mean vast improvements to the way information and value is exchanged, but the nascence of the technology also leads to uncertainty with many people questioning its true value.”
Many aspects of payments technology are surprisingly are still stuck in the past, Grewal said.
“The U.S. remains the world’s biggest user of checks, and in some ways advances like check scanning and remote deposit capture have actually removed some of the urgency to get rid of checks,” she said.
But real change could finally be around the corner as venture capital momentum builds around new business-to-business payments technology, Grewal says. “Perhaps we’ll see a tipping point if these solutions take hold more broadly.”
A steady source of inspiration for Grewal is Christine Larsen, chief operating officer at First Data, a friend who’s provided both affirmation and guidance at critical intersections of Grewal’s career.
“Christine is not only a very successful woman in payments and banking, but also a genuine person who brings her whole self to every encounter,” Grewal said of the past Most Influential Women in Payments honoree.
“Whether it’s a strategy meeting or a dinner catch-up, she’s always present and listens, and draws on her own experiences with great advice,” Grewal said.
Women have come a long way in the workforce, but there’s lots of work still to be done for women to be thought of as leaders and equals, according to Grewal.
“This past year alone I had a couple of instances that really stood out in my mind and reminded me of how much further we need to go to achieve a workplace free of gender bias,” she said.
There may be no single solution to drive change, but Grewal advises women to gather advocates around them—whether it’s women or men—and work closely with them. “Find others that can ensure your voice is heard, and it’s heard clearly and that it can be amplified,” Grewal said.
To stay energized, Grewal pursues diverse activities, from healthy cooking to hiking, biking and following college football and the indie music scene.
If she could hit the reset button, or had more time, Grewal might take a bigger role in local politics and activism. “Regardless of your political association, being able to listen to different perspectives and challenge the way we think about relevant issues is very important, and I’d like to focus on creative ways to find solutions,” she said.
READ MORE: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2018