Sue Kelsey, Mastercard

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Studying food science doesn’t point immediately to a career in payments, but for Sue Kelsey it’s been key to her job driving financial inclusion at Mastercard.

“Understanding consumer needs is foundational to helping people trapped in a cash-only economy find their way into the digital world, starting with a bank account,” said Kelsey, executive vice president for global prepaid and financial inclusion at Mastercard, and one of this year’s Most Influential Women in Payments.

Since joining Mastercard five years ago and landing in her present role in 2018, Kelsey has seen huge gains in Mastercard’s goal of bringing 500 million previously unbanked people into the formal economy by the end of 2020. Examples include digitizing payrolls for garment industry workers in Egypt and Cambodia, and extending bank-account access to individuals, small merchants and micro-businesses in impoverished zones.

Read more: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2020

It’s particularly gratifying to Kelsey — who spent much of her career in consumer product marketing — that women often benefit directly from financial inclusion efforts. One example is Mastercard’s partnership with Levi Strauss & Co. to pay apparel workers in emerging countries via prepaid cards.

“Nearly 70% of garment factory workers are women, so digitizing the payroll reduces their exposure to cash theft and gives them more control over their wages so they have access to savings and other financial tools,” Kelsey said.

The international marketing experience Kelsey gained in nearly two decades working in Britain, Australia and the U.S. — including 14 years with GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Health Care — were an ideal background for working in financial inclusion, she believes.

Sue Kelsey, Executive Vice President, global prepaid and financial inclusion, Mastercard
Sue Kelsey, Executive Vice President, global prepaid and financial inclusion, Mastercard

Majoring in science in college, Kelsey knew she didn’t want a “lab coat” job. It was during a couple of summer jobs collecting consumer opinions with a clipboard at shopping malls that she became fascinated by the science of marketing — what people think and why.

“Marketing science gives us insight into consumers’ emotions around products and money, which helps us understand how to create a better version of cash for them,” Kelsey said.

Working in three different countries for a couple of different consumer product corporations showed Kelsey how trying new things leads to new skills and job opportunities.

“Get the broadest experience you can as early as possible. If you’re doing a country-specific job, go global. If you have deep technical knowledge, develop your soft skills. Live in different countries,” Kelsey advises.

When she began to take on leadership positions, Kelsey had to unlearn the habit of doing everything herself.

“I'd leveraged my control-freak nature to get things done when I was an individual contributor, but to be an effective manager I had to collaborate. Letting go of thinking it was all about me and my work was necessary and hard,” she said.

Kelsey has observed that organizations are more successful when they take a proactive stance toward diversity.

“We need to attack unconscious bias, first by acknowledging that it exists," she said. "From the entry-level hiring stage, leaders must guard against unconscious bias and be held accountable for ensuring gender balance in companies from top to bottom, including whether bias is occurring in corporate-succession planning."

But employees are in charge of their own careers.

“Don’t wait for miracles. Be clear about what you’re asking for and why. What’s the worst that can happen? Whatever the result, you’ll probably be invigorated for the future and you’ve got new information you can use to make your next career decision,” Kelsey said.

In her own working life — which includes balancing a family with kids — Kelsey has also learned to pace herself.

“A career should be like interval training. Sometimes you need to sprint and other times you need to walk. When you’re walking, take time to recover. This approach gave me the courage to confidently ask what I wanted for myself from my career,” she said.

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Women in Payments