In financial services, there are always opportunities for disruption. Women can advance their careers through decades of experience, but they can also come in from new points of entry such as technology development, venture capital and retail.
The Most Influential Women in Payments are the ones taking risks with new ideas and investments, and developing the technology that will forever change the way people handle money. Not only do they set an example for their peers, they are unafraid to learn from newcomers and are diligent about encouraging a freshness and diversity of ideas.
This year's 25 honorees, presented in alphabetical order, represent an increasingly varied range of companies guiding the evolution of the payments industry.
Diana Adachi, Accenture
In financial services today, it seems everyone is interested in how blockchain can be used. Diana Adachi's one of the people making it happen.
After the distributed ledger technology was mostly regarded as the "technology behind Bitcoin," banks are warming up to blockchain to improve more mainstream activities, such as cross-border payments and mobile transactions.
While the true benefits of blockchain and its best uses may not be known for years, Adachi's management style suggests there's nothing left to chance; nothing left to develop on its own without careful nurturing.
"A vision without a plan is a hallucination,” said Adachi, quoting Will Rogers. "This belief is the foundation of my ability to execute and get to 'end of job.'"
In a financial services career that dates back to 1983, Lou Anne Alexander has experienced many upheavals of the status quo of payment technology.
But few have had more meaning for the group president of payments at Early Warning than her current focus on younger consumers.
"One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned revolves around the preferences our younger generation have for technology experiences," said Alexander, who has been named one of PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments. "Growing up digital, they expect fast, simple and safe solutions."
Studying the likes and dislikes of younger consumers has helped Alexander and her team shape major payments products.
Venture capital often moves like a tide. Janet Bannister seeks opportunity that's just a bit farther out.
"I like to find that areas that are undervalued, where nobody is looking, where there are better opportunities," said Bannister, a general partner at Real Ventures in Toronto and one of PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments. Bannister's role at Real Ventures puts her in a position to determine which companies will change the future of payments.
Take mobile point of sale. For the past couple of years, huge investments have gone into software and hardware that enables tablets and mobile phones to accept credit cards. But a lot of that money has gone in a very narrow area, according to Bannister.
"They're going after micro merchants, and that's a pretty crowded market. I found a company that doesn't do what they do," said Bannister, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario's Ivey Business School.
MoneyGram's Kamila Chytil is assuming a new position at the company amid major changes.
This year for MoneyGram could not be more dynamic. The company's about to play a key role in the expansion plans of one of the world's largest e-commerce companies — Alibaba's Ant Financial — and the money transfer industry could soon bear little resemblance to what it looked like just a few years ago.
Kamila Chytil, one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2017, will be at the center of it all. Named MoneyGram's chief global operations officer in May, she'll be responsible for tasks as varied as global servicing, partner integrations, financial paper products, contact centers and strategic operations.
Alongside Chytil's own changing role, MoneyGram is poised to become a part of Ant Financial, the payments affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and the operator of Alipay. Ant has announced plans to acquire MoneyGram for $880 million.
Early in her career, Monica Eaton-Cardone had to deal with the tough part of being a retail entrepreneur — constantly being hit with chargebacks on card payments — to ultimately develop an idea to help retailers navigate that unpleasant part of payment acceptance.
"I realized that other organizations were suffering from the same problem but that no one really knew why or how to resolve the issue," Eaton-Cardone said.
Rather than continue to accept financial losses through chargebacks as "business as usual," Eaton-Cardone went after the problem despite lacking formal technology training.
"I helped develop a program that solved universal problems related to measuring risk and tracking secure payments, which has since been adopted by banks and other merchant companies," said Eaton-Cardone, the chief operating officer and co-founder of Chargebacks911. "I’ve needed to be fearless from the very beginning and I find it helps me as both an international businesswoman with clients across the globe and as a mother with my children back home."
Pulling out her driving iron to tee off with a group of men on the golf course is always an interesting experience for Suzan Denoncourt, managing director for Ingenico in Canada.
Golfmates expecting something else are often are caught off-guard by her powerful drives. “I can nail a 150-yard golf drive fairly consistently,” she said, noting that she plays almost exclusively with business contacts and typically she’s the only woman in any foursome.
“Expectation for a repeat occurrence is low, but by the time I’ve nailed a few solid drives, I’ve earned a little more respect—and that goes a long way in business,” Denoncourt said. (Like many golfers, she points out that the rest of her golf game could use more work.)
Denoncourt also has earned respect from colleagues in the payments hardware industry. Arriving at Ingenico in 2005, Denoncourt rose steadily through the company’s sales channels before being promoted to her present role in January 2016. This year she’s making her first appearance as one of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women of Payments.
Janet Estep has been one of the most visible figures in the faster payments movement, battling for years to get reluctant banks on board with this vision.
Estep, the president and CEO of the electronic payments association Nacha and one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2017, scored a major breakthrough in that battle last year. The Fed set its same-day ACH plans to match Nacha's, in effect making "faster payments" a reality after years of stagnation in the U.S.
But Estep, who has frequently spoken and written about the banking industry's global migration toward faster payment processing, also possesses a keen sense of balance, knowing that a faster society also brings new challenges.
"Frustration is caused by wanting to read and absorb everything, and simply not having the time to do that," Estep said. "The best lesson I’ve learned from a younger colleague is to practice patience. Patience, combined with close listening, can actually help an individual take action more rapidly than if patience is not practiced."
If money is power, speeding up access to funds is one way to empower millions of struggling consumers, according to Cecilia Frew.
As senior vice president and head of North America Push Payments for Visa Inc., Frew plays a vital role in improving consumers’ financial lives by leading the payment network’s strategy for faster payment delivery through Visa Direct, its platform for push payments to cardholders.
“I believe we can solve many financial problems for both consumers and small businesses with business-oriented solutions,” said Frew.
Frew may not be directly involved in Visa’s financial inclusion initiatives in emerging nations and in low-income sectors of the U.S., but her job supports those missions.
Executives in the payments industry know the key to future technological advances rests solely in the hands of the consumer. Without consumer adoption, advances in payments quickly collect dust.
Reetika Grewal understands this reality particularly well, because of her background in consumer research that has been a major driver in her job as the head of payments strategy and solutions at Silicon Valley Bank the past four years.
"One of my first jobs out of college was as a user-centered design consultant at a boutique consulting firm that was focused on leveraging ethnographic research to help design products and services," said Grewal, who has been named a 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments honoree by PaymentsSource for the third time.
"Our research process entailed observing and interviewing consumers in their most intimate environments to understand the drivers behind their behaviors," she added. "This approach allowed me to develop a deep and holistic understanding of the customer."
The concept isn't completely outlandish — many stores already have a few self-checkout lanes, and the Amazon Go concept demonstrates how to operate a whole store this way — but grocery stores serve a wide range of consumers who are very much set in their habits. This means balancing the needs of traditional, check-writing shoppers with those of impatient, digitally savvy customers.
Many retailers are watching Amazon Go as a test case for their own innovations. But from the perspective of Kroger payments chief Kathy Hanna, it's Amazon that can learn from her.
"It's a very interesting idea," said Hanna, senior director of Enterprise Payments & Store Support for the Cincinnati-based grocery chain and one of PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments. "They're all trying to do what we are already doing, which is using digital to make it faster and easier to shop. They're just taking a different approach."
This year will mark 10 years since Martina Hund-Mejean was named chief financial officer of Mastercard, and it has certainly been an eventful decade.
Hund-Mejean arrived in the fall of 2007, during what turned out to be the calm before the storm. Mastercard was settling into its new status following its IPO the previous year, and card purchase volume was rising steadily.
That all changed a few months later when the global economic crash hit, triggering a sharp slide in Mastercard’s payments volume and widespread fallout for card issuers worldwide. By 2010 Hund-Mejean had a new boss, with CEO Ajay Banga charting an aggressive path for Mastercard to embrace mobile and digital payments in response to Silicon Valley’s rising tide of fintech and payments startups.
Hund-Mejean was the perfect fit for this mix of challenge and change, and she continues to bring tremendous energy to the role as she makes a return appearance as one of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments.
Even during the busiest days, Carol Juel has learned the power of pausing to look at the big picture.
Zooming out—even for a moment—can trigger a new idea or a different perspective, which is essential in Juel’s role as chief information officer at Synchrony Financial. A few years ago when Synchrony was at the height of preparations for its IPO and spinoff from former parent GE Capital, Juel was handed a sheet of paper that stopped her in her tracks.
It was a questionnaire entitled, “All About my Mom,” completed by Juel’s 4-year-old son, informing her that she likes to be silly. She likes puzzles and she’s “really good at LEGOs.” She loves watching movies and her favorite meal to make is popcorn.
Juel keeps the questionnaire framed on her desk for inspiration and jolts of joy.
For decades, the payment processor TSYS had been nothing if not a rock of stability, touting a senior management team dating to the 1970s, a reliable processing record and years of steady growth.
But the age of mobility has turned the entire industry on its head, requiring a nimble response in a world where transaction processing and scale have become commoditized. It's a world that required TSYS to make fast and meaningful changes. It's spent billions of dollars on acquiring TransFirst and Netspend, and perhaps more importantly, made substantial adjustments to its management team to accommodate retirements.
It also lured longtime U.S. Bank exec Pam Joseph out of retirement to help steer the company's evolving business strategy as it morphs into a multi-channel merchant services provider.
"I feel that I’ve learned more in the last five years than I did in my first 20, and it’s all because my younger colleagues have been able to successfully keep pace with the rate of change," said Joseph, TSYS' president and COO, and one of this year's Most Influential Women in Payments. "Moore’s law (which states that computing power doubles every two years) has opened our eyes to the exponential growth and progress we’re going to see from technology."
For Walmart's Kara Kazazean, the sound of success is very much like that of a clarinet.
"While it is a skill completely removed from the payments industry, the fact that I can play the clarinet is a skill with a tremendous impact on my career," said Kazazean, one of PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments honorees.
In high school, Kazazean joined the marching band and competed to be a leader for the clarinet section. As part of the selection process, aspiring section leaders participated in a rigorous leadership training program.
"This was my first exposure to servant leadership, and the concept that leaders don’t win unless those around them are successful," said Kazazean, who has been at Walmart for six years.
In her work as a data scientist for several payments startups, Afra Khan's key skill is leveraging fast-evolving technology tools to analyze consumer financial behavior and block fraud before it strikes.
“The power of the information tools we have now, using sophisticated artificial intelligence and bots and algorithms, is quite mind-blowing,” said Khan, 32, who worked at nonprofits and several other fintech startups as a data scientist before launching her own micro-lending company called PaidUp.
"So much information is becoming available to us—through data about consumer financial behavior and devices' details—that soon fraudsters around the world are going to have a very difficult time making a living,” Khan forecasts.
Data science not only holds the keys to diverting fraud, but it can also help companies decipher important nuances about how people behave with money, she believes.
There’s no substitute for standing in the other person’s shoes in a bank-customer encounter, says Heather Lamont.
Lamont has held several different senior-level jobs at different companies in her 15 years working in the payments industry, but at her first management job at the former MBNA Canada Bank, she picked up one of her most powerful insights.
Once a month, MBNA managers were required to work shifts on the bank’s front lines in customer service, telephone sales, collections and retail lending, giving Lamont an indelible lesson on the different perceptions managers and customers have of their interactions.
“I think it’s made me a better strategist, because I have the perspective of how the best plans made at headquarters can fail if the end-to-end process doesn’t work for customer touch-points,” Lamont said. “I can speak from a firsthand experience about the trials and tribulations of customer service, and at every subsequent company I’ve worked for, I’ve incorporated the voice of the customer—to one degree or another—with my teams.”
Curiosity may not be the best approach for a cat, but Christine Larsen finds it to be a lifesaver in her role as executive vice president and chief operations officer for First Data.
"I have always been a very curious person," said Larsen, one of PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments honorees. "In my job you have to take what appears to be negative or adversarial and dig into what is going on."
Combining that natural drive with a keen ear for listening to clients always helps obtain all of the essential facts needed to solve an issue in a business situation, Larsen said.
Since coming to First Data nearly four years ago, the company has essentially transformed from a payment processor to a technology innovator. In that time, listening and asking a lot of questions are skills that have served Larsen well.
What could theatrical training offer a person preparing for a career in financial services?
Plenty, according to Citi Retail Services’ Leslie McNamara, who returns this year to PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments because of her critical role advising some of the nation’s largest retailers on their omnichannel and payments strategies.
“Oddly enough, acting and singing on stage in high school has served me well in my professional life,” McNamara said. “I learned how to take on new roles, how to connect with an audience in a presentation setting and how to project confidence—even in situations that might be outside my comfort zone.”
In her role at Citi, McNamara is helping retailers adapt to fast-changing mobile commerce and payments technology to connect to consumers shopping online and in stores. Private-label and cobranded credit card programs under McNamara’s umbrella at Citi include The Home Depot, Best Buy and Sears.
Even though Racy Morgan may have learned about financial services, payments and management as part of her education, her career's foundation is more firmly set in her real-life experiences as an immigrant from India living in the U.S.
It's been a 17-year journey with plenty of challenges, but one that has landed Morgan a spot as one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments this year.
"My heritage, history and journeys have influenced who I am today," said Morgan, the head of payment strategy and execution at U.S. Bank for the past 14 months. "I was the only girl born to my family in a small conservative town in India."
With support from her family, she came to the U.S. for higher education at the age of 20 and, despite having lived in other parts of the world, she admits "nothing had prepared me for the experience."
As senior vice president of global commerce for Discover, it is no surprise that Amy Parsons says "my desk is in whatever country I happen to be in."
Her workspace is more digital than physical: Parsons makes extensive use of her phone to communicate with others around the world, takes photos of new innovations she encounters and, mostly, tries out the various new mobile wallets and payment platforms.
"It helps me to speak to our business partners and understand their concerns and excitement about the changes in the way consumers are paying for items," said Parsons, who is being recognized as one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments in 2017.
"Whenever I hear about a new application that facilitates a part of the payments process, I download it and immediately begin exploring it," Parsons added. "This is how I can experience my job, allowing me to more effectively communicate across the industry."
Throughout her payments technology career, colleagues have pointed to the steady hand of Archana "Archie" Puri as one of her key traits.
As the senior director of product management for payments and platform products at PayPal's Braintree, Puri has needed that consistency in her work to stand out as a 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments honoree.
It's more than a metaphor.
"During the summer between high school and college, I taught myself calligraphy," Puri said. "It’s a skill that I became good at and it required a very steady hand."
For one of her bank's largest and most important forays into digital transaction technology, JPMorgan Chase's Jennifer Roberts turned to the people most in tune with the next era of financial services.
"It was very important to get input and feedback from our younger colleagues as we developed Chase Pay," said Roberts, president of strategic alliances and loyalty solutions for JPMorgan Chase and one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2017. "Digital solutions are second nature to the millennial generation, so it's important we listen."
A lot is riding on Chase Pay's success. It's a big play for the financial services giant, as it seeks to fill the void in the merchant-focused mobile wallet market left by the Merchant Customer Exchange's suspended CurrentC mobile payment system.
An unlikely turning point in Paulette Rowe’s journey to become a top payments executive came many years ago, during the summer she spent working with a group of men in the engineering division of a French piston manufacturer, feeling completely out of her depth.
“It was tough, coming to grips with such a complex product and doing it all in a foreign language,” Rowe recalls. “But it also shaped me at a critical time in my life by teaching me to hold my own as a young woman in an almost exclusively all-male environment.”
After her brief stint working with engines, Rowe followed her interests in technology and data to a career in financial services in the U.K., where she’s steadily risen to top roles in banking and retail payments, earning her a spot on the 2017 list of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women in Payments.
Rowe’s engineering background continues to power her success in payments in many surprising ways.
Serena Smith isn't sure if her personality trait of "never taking no for an answer" is a skill to take pride in.
But the senior vice president, head of international payments and chief administrative officer at FIS is certain about one thing: "It does demonstrate my passion and perseverance when faced with obstacles that need overcoming."
That sort of drive has helped Smith earn a spot on PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments list.
"It is very scary early in your career to step out on that often narrow branch and be the sole voice that is pushing back and asking to move forward when the popular answer is to stop," said Smith, who has been in her current role at FIS for a year and part of the company's executive team for 14 years.
One thing Susan Sobbott has learned in a long and successful career at American Express Co. is that when you're working to drive innovation, fear of failure can paralyze you.
“Trying new things and planning to change them based on real-world experiences is how important breakthroughs can be achieved, because innovation is all about iteration,” said Sobbott, who was named Amex’s president of global commercial payments less than two years ago, propelling her to join PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments honorees.
A new idea doesn’t need to be perfect when it goes out the door, as long as it’s constructed well enough to learn from and improve, Sobbott said. “Don’t overanalyze an idea into the ground. Give an idea wings and get it out there, because when truly innovating you’re trying to model something you have no experience with.”
This combination of optimism and energy has helped Sobbott steadily ascend over 25 years to her current role, after serving as the company’s president of global corporate payments and before that, president of American Express OPEN, the company’s small-business division.
The pandemic and subsequent economic crisis have raised the stakes, since the government’s role in recovery and how stimulus is delivered — and policies impacting the goals of card and technology companies — will be largely determined by the philosophy of leadership.
The Trump administration has barred the use of TikTok and WeChat inside the U.S., including a direct ban on WeChat Pay, setting up potential retaliation against U.S. companies that could interrupt international payment flows.