Theresa Gongora, TSYS Merchant Solutions
When longtime TSYS finance executive Theresa Gongora was promoted to CFO and senior vice president of TSYS' Merchant Solutions unit last year, she was struck by the dramatic changes in the payments industry since joining TSYS 15 years ago.
“When I started at TSYS in 2004, the payments industry was fairly stale and complacent. Since then, payments technology has transformed this industry into one that’s constantly changing and evolving in the way consumers interact with merchants, their banks and with each other,” Gongora said.
Settling into her new role overseeing all the financial planning and decisions of the payment processing giant’s merchant solutions, Gongora draws inspiration from another woman in payments who used financial analysis to make her mark.
“I admire Sarah Friar, the new CEO of Nextdoor and the former CFO at Square, for her ability to think outside the box when it comes to the financial side of the payments business, and that’s hard to do when you’re dealing with numbers,” Gongora said.
While at Square, Friar excelled at connecting the company's financials to the execution of Square’s strategy, according to Gongora.
“She did this in a very simple and straightforward manner that resonated not only with investors and analysts but other market participants … she paved the way as a ‘strategic CFO’ in the payments industry,” Gongora said.
Gongora, honored as one of PaymentsSource’s Most Influential Women of Payments for 2019, is executing on her own strategic vision. During her eight years as head of corporate strategy and development at TSYS, Gongora played an instrumental role in TSYS’ $1 billion acquisition of Cayan, an acquirer and processor with a roster of 70,000 small and midsize merchants, in 2017.
Success is never the product of a solo effort, and Gongora has a strong appreciation for her colleagues and team members, taking care to listen and learn from them.
“All too often senior leaders become disconnected when managing a large team, so I make a constant effort to collaborate with all team members regardless of their position at the company. It’s essential that every member of my team feels they have a voice that is heard and they can openly approach me at any time,” Gongora said.
Gongora believes women are a vital positive force in the payments industry, and she has been active for years with Women’s Network in Electronic Transactions (Wnet), where she recently served as president and has mentored many up-and-coming female payments executives.
“When I get feedback from just one woman who has gone through the mentorship program and I hear how it has changed their life, it makes it all worth it,” she said.
Women in the workforce are also important—not only because they’re the “chief purchasing officers” in most of America’s households, but because they wield a significant amount of influence now as investors, according to Gongora.
But she’s concerned about some data suggesting only 15 percent of executive-level positions in fintech are held by women. She says the dearth of women in leadership positions contributes to a broader gender gap in technology roles.
“The female voice remains one of the most untapped business resources,” Gongora said, adding that too many middle-management women are leaving the workforce because of family responsibilities, which is costing companies valuable talent.
“If I were running a company, a key tenet of my talent strategy would be a career re-entry program for women who have been out of the workforce for a while," she said. "I’d provide them with the support and confidence they need to enable them to successfully transition back to the working world, with flexible schedules, skills training and a mentoring program to address their specific professional development needs."