Sandra Pianalto encourages women entering the payments industry to "embrace uncertainty, and take charge of your career by raising your hand for the tough assignments."

As a 35-year veteran of the Federal Reserve System – and president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland for the past 11 years – Pianalto can say she has lived by that mantra.

Four years ago, she raised her hand to chair the Federal Reserve's financial services policy committee and lead an effort to improve all aspects of the U.S. payments system. That work has led to the banks updating their strategic direction for payments and last year releasing a public consultation paper for payment system improvement.

Even though she is retiring from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on May 31, Pianalto is confident she is leaving her work in good hands — and many women will play a part in that work. Her successor, Loretta J. Mester, is the executive vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, which she joined in 1985.

"Within the Federal Reserve, including the payments area, there is rich representation of women in leadership," Pianalto says. "They are all certainly making their mark as experts within the Federal Reserve and more broadly within the entire payments industry."

It is an exciting time to be involved in payments, Pianalto says. "New technologies are expanding possibilities in ways that seemed unimaginable only a decade ago."

To make the most of those new technologies, Pianalto has long pushed for improving the speed and efficiency of payments, while maintaining security in the face of growing threats.

"I continue to be intrigued by the success of the Faster Payments Service initiatives in the United Kingdom, for example, and hope that the U.S. can find a way to improve its nation's payment system," Pianalto says.

The Federal Reserve Banks believe collaboration and engagement within the industry is "the foundation of any enduring strategic improvements to the U.S. payment system," she adds.

The Fed has a vision that most payments will be executed in real time over the next decade or longer, she says. "This would mean that any consumer or business would be able to make an immediate payment to anyone, electronically and conveniently."

In that future view, consumers will be able to send and receive real-time payments from a mobile phone. Future generations will expect that any payment a consumer initiates in any manner will be executed immediately, Pianalto says.

And for those who want to play an active role in guiding the payments system to this future, Pianalto has a little more advice.

"Be forward-thinking and ensure that your individual goals align with those of the organization," Pianalto says. "It is good advice, I believe, for all leaders, both men and women.

See the full list of honorees for this year's Most Influential Women in Payments.

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