Linda Mantia, Royal Bank of Canada's executive vice president of digital, payments and cards, refuses to get distracted by Near Field Communication-based mobile payments.

Instead of latching onto the same contactless payment technology used by Apple Pay and Google Wallet, she looks to the bank's consumer surveys, which tell a different story about where mobile technology is headed.

Financial institutions are "all very focused on getting the payment to work on the phone ... but especially in Canada payments are very seamless at the point of sale. There's not a huge value proposition," Mantia said.

A couple years ago, RBC began to ask what clients actually wanted — and it found some interesting takeaways.

Mantia and her peers were surprised to learn that the faster customers could provision cards into the bank's mobile wallet, the less secure they thought the application was. Because RBC moved payment credentials to the cloud, it could load cards in seconds.

RBC "really debated whether to slow that process down or show a big lock on the phone screen to show [customers] it's secured," she said.

This reinforced the need for banks to move only as fast as the consumer wants to move.

The bank also found a set of customers that would check their balance right before and directly after a purchase, plus regularly transfer money between accounts. Although the bank's first thought was that these customers were lower income, it found that they were "very affluent clients that really wanted to engage with the bank," Mantia said. Young people were also in this segment.

"Just watch people at Starbucks. People like getting their star and seeing their balance after," Mantia said.

With this data, RBC designed its mobile application to display balance information as soon as it launched. After seeing these balances, customers can swipe money from one account to another.

The "road testers" — those surveyed by the bank — were a mix of consumers, internal employees and staff from the bank's merchant clients.

Banks have to "develop for everyone, the tech-savvy and not, old and young, etc.," Mantia said. The whole payments industry gives banks a hard time, but the market they serve is large, complex and diverse, she said.

Many banks are still trying to figure out how to digitize the physical experience.  When a customer walks into a physical branch, the teller can view body language to tell whether that person is stressed or angry. RBC is in the first stages of testing whether there's a way to make the same determination by observing how customers maneuver through the online banking site.

And if the customer is stressed, there may be a way for the bank to offer them advice. But providers walk a fine line between being helpful and being offensive, said Mantia.

Last year the bank decided to combine its payments and digital business channels to encourage innovation, increase agility and speed, and leverage best practices. "Payments and digital are highly interconnected and both are rapidly evolving growth areas that are critical to serving the needs of our clients," said Mantia.

RBC has been a market leader in digital payments solutions, with mobile growing significantly. Forty-three percent of electronic transfers are initiated on mobile devices, Mantia said. And digital peer-to-peer payments are growing 61% year over year, she said.

In her role, Mantia juggles many tasks. She has global responsibility for RBC's personal and business credit cards, rewards and partnership programs. She also handles merchant strategies and Moneris, a joint venture of RBC and the Bank of Montreal. Online and mobile banking are also within her purview. She also manages enterprise payments, strategy, regulatory matters and innovation.

Mantia has held her current position for two and a half years, out of a total of 17 years in the payments industry. She was also recognized last year as one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments.

In the year ahead, Mantia expects technological innovations to continue to change how RBC and other banks operate.

"For example, blue chip to startup companies have unknowingly attacked the industry with over 2,500 'payment apps,'" she said. "These apps were designed to ease the way of doing business but by including a way to pay, they have disintermediated the transaction between the consumer and the card-issuing bank."

While disruption and the innovations that come from it should be positive, this chaotic environment is one of the things holding women back in their careers in payments, Mantia said.

According to a report from the Conference Board of Canada, men are more aggressive than women when applying for positions for which they don't have the requisite skills or experience. "With this way of thinking, when there is disruption like what is happening in mobile, men generally speaking will gravitate to the role, whereas women will step back," said Mantia.

Being willing to learn new things and make opportunities is key for a woman's success in career. "The reality is that there is no perfect role when looking for the next career move," she said.

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