American Banker is proud to honor the next generation of leaders in the payments industry with our second annual Most Influential Women in Payments, Next — recognizing women under 40 who have demonstrated a strong talent for leadership and an expertise in their respective fields.
This award builds on the Most Influential Women in Payments listing that has run since 2013, and the Most Powerful Women in Banking, Next, which honors rising stars in the banking industry.
The women featured here represent mainstays in the banking, payments and retail industries such as Mastercard and Walmart, as well as the many fintechs and payment processors innovating behind the scenes.
They also demonstrated talent for finding — and thriving in — new markets. In crypto, for example, "men don't have years ahead of us in the space, so there's a real opportunity for women to innovate at the same pace, or faster … to become true pioneers," Gabriela Viera, senior vice president of compliance for dLocal, said in her application.
This year's honorees are presented in alphabetical order.
Sarah Arnio, Walmart
Director of International Payments & Financial Services
Years in Payments Industry: 7
What She Does: Arnio is responsible for implementing global payments and financial strategy in Walmart's Latin American markets
Arnio has led negotiations and signed partnerships with banks and issuers over the past year, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in annual cost savings for Walmart. She also negotiated four co-brand credit card deals. Arnio led the team that enabled stores in El Salvador to accept Bitcoin as tender, finishing a project that involved point of sale upgrades, compliance, back-end accounting and reconciliation in three months.
The IT crowd
In a prior role at Walmart, Arnio launched Walmart's first in-store technology services product as a competitor to Best Buy's Geek Squad. This Walmart unit is forecasted to be a $250 million yearly business for the big box chain. At a previous point in her career, at the fintech Paymentez, Arnio created the go-to-market strategy for an early prepaid card in Brazil.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg Nidhi Arora, American Express Vice President of Risk Management Years in Payments Industry: 15 What She Does: Leads checking product's acquisition strategy, as well as the fraud servicing and dispute strategy Checking In After Amex expressed interest in establishing a checking account, Arora set up a banking risk team to hire experts and also played a pivotal role in developing the core platform for the checking product. She also consulted with the firm's risk management teams to spot the best partners for the product. The challenge allowed Arora to share her expertise on best practices, a task that led her to adopt many leadership roles, including educating business units on the types of risk involved. Home base The acceptance of remote work has increased, according to Arora, who adds there is a mutual understanding of the benefits that come to an employee with remote work. Within Amex, there have been several leadership positions with virtual roles, and this has been a strong driver of building diversity of thoughts and experience, she said. Arora also views mentoring as a dialogue and a path to identify one's own challenges and solutions, adding the strongest mentor relationships are those that stem from the mentee navigating their question from a broader perspective, rather than trying to find a singular solution.
collin fatke Karen Buell, Payveris Senior Vice President of Operations Years in payments industry: 5 What she does: Oversees the operations, financial institution onboarding and implementation of Payveris’ technology, which banks and credit unions use to streamline bill payments and account transfers. Spotting opportunity As point person for operations, Buell saw the need for a customized real-time fraud-prevention solution and led its creation in-house. She was also one of the first to spot key operational affinities with bill-payment partner Paymentus, which recently acquired Payveris. Hands-on leader Based on her experience choosing her own mentor among colleagues she admired, Buell encourages people to ask for what they want. “Karen leveraged her extensive network to build a strong and diverse management structure [in her unit], and brought banking expertise that the company — and most fintech startups — sorely lacked,” said Ron Bergamesca, Payveris’ CEO.
Ali Davis, Fiserv Vice President, Merchant Service Delivery and Relationship Management Years in payments industry: 14 What she does: Oversees a team of 150 people handling card acceptance for tens of thousands of merchants, from mom-and-pop stores to the largest retailers. Taking charge After helping direct a smooth migration of a large portfolio of merchants from the joint venture Fiserv operated with Bank of America over to Fiserv’s management in 2020, this year Davis was promoted to run the whole unit. Her new responsibilities include providing customer service to every merchant while expanding Fiserv’s reach and revenue, building on skills honed during the pandemic when merchants and consumers rapidly adopted contactless payments. In her own voice “Communicating clear, consistent messages while being accessible to your team is imperative,” Davis said. Despite balancing a demanding job with three kids at home, Davis still finds time to volunteer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a mission that particularly resonates because of her son’s congenital heart defect.
Sukhmani Dev, Mastercard North America Senior Vice President, Digital Payment Products Years in payments industry: 5 What she does: Leads Mastercard’s digital payments team, developing and advancing technology to support secure, end-to-end payments across all types of commercial environments. Accelerator Since being promoted to oversee Mastercard North America’s digital payments business last year, Dev has boosted the use of technologies like EMV 3D Secure, EMV Secure Remote Commerce and EMV tokenization, so that the number of network-tokenized and Click to Pay transactions on Mastercard’s network doubled during the year ending June 30. Power of perseverance Rolling out secure new remote transaction protocols during the pandemic was challenging, prompting Dev to adopt an “infinite mindset” that envisioned not just beating the competition but outlasting them, Dev said. “By picking a strong motivating cause, I was able to prioritize my team’s time and apply previous learnings to ultimately lead a successful go-to-market approach.”
VINCENT GENE Shannon Huether, Central Payments Vice President, Project Management and Implementation Years in Payments industry: 10 What she does: Manages all fintech projects and payments implementations for Central Payments, an eight-year-old startup based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota specializing in issuing and embedded finance (operating as a subsidiary of Central Bank of Kansas City). Utility player From an unlikely academic background in turf management and a stint as groundskeeper for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, Huether eventually pivoted to work in the prepaid card industry at The Bancorp. Joining Central Payments seven years ago, Huether now oversees a team of six that averages at least eight new fintech partner launches a year, and a similar number of existing partner enhancements. Leaning in Working at a firm where 65% of the executive team are females, Huether believes in training her team members to be confident and independent — ideas reinforced through her membership in the EmBe Women’s Leadership program. Building such trust helps Huether enjoy life with her husband and two young boys when she clocks out of work.
Tiffany Johnson, Railsr Head of Product North America and Global Head of Credit and Loyalty Years in Payments Industry: 15 What She Does: Scopes and helps lead all new products in North America Change agent Railsr enables businesses to prototype, build and scale financial use cases globally through a suite of application programming interfaces. As head of product for Railsr North America, Johnson leads the team responsible for driving all new products in the region, including banking, payments, debit and "as a service" offerings. She is also responsible for the global credit strategy and a new generation of embedded credit products across multiple financial services. Revolutionary "We believe we are on the precipice of a revolution in payments," said Stuart Gregory, Railsr's chief product officer, who nominated Johnson. "Tiffany is behind the scenes powering the product that is helping us drive the revolution."
Kristen Kines, Evolve Bank & Trust Vice President and Business Development Director Years in payments industry: 5 What she does: Consults with fintechs that use Evolve Bank’s open-banking platform to shape the goals, use cases and scope of projects that drive recurring revenue for the bank. Inventive Kines’ granular knowledge of the fast-changing financial data-aggregation industry helps her dream up solutions that streamline processes for fintechs and generate bank revenue. Early this year she led negotiations for a major new partnership with digital card-processing giant Marqeta, helping bring Evolve’s total annual processing volume to more than $104 billion. Problem solver “Creativity is paramount in architecting partnership deals and Kristen’s ability to problem-solve has been extremely valuable to the success and growth of the division,” said Hank Word, Evolve’s president of open banking.
Archana Prasad, Marqeta Vice President of Product Management Years in Payments Industry: 18 What She Does: Manages digital banking and money movement projects Incremental progress The payments industry is male-dominated but it is moving in the direction of gender equity, slowly but surely, Prasad said. "I would score the payments industry five out of 10 in terms of gender equity," Prasad said. "In recent years, more women have entered the payments industry and have successfully made it to the leadership positions." Digital building blocks Prasad, whose career includes stints at Visa and SVP Financial Group, has developed a five-year strategy and plan for banking and money movement at Marqeta. Under her leadership, her team has made strides in cryptocurrency. That includes work with Coinbase, which launched on Marqeta's digital banking platform. Her team in the past year has also launched five new products, signed 12 new customers and drove several clients to Marqeta's digital banking product.
Nancy Schempp, MetaBank Senior Vice President, Business Operations, Partner Services Years in Payments Industry: 17 What She Does: Onboarding, project management, account management, compliance and network operations teams for partners Getting on board Schempp recently handled the offshoring of MetaBank's collections processes, which included a long stay in India to train and lead a team of new staff. She also was instrumental in the development and budget management for the $7 billion-asset bank, and helped onboard more than 250 financial institutions into the company's managed portfolio. In 2021 Schempp's team improved partner onboarding speed by an average of 70%, with an additional improvement of 30% thus far in 2022. Work to do "The data shows that there continues to be a lack of women in the C suite and in critical leadership roles," Schempp said, adding she would rate the payments industry at about a six. "We're better than some industries — traditional banking for one — though we have a long way to go for real equality."
Gabriela Viera, dLocal Senior Vice President, Compliance Years in Payments Industry: 8 What She Does: Viera is responsible for dLocal’s compliance operations and strategy, including legal and regulatory compliance, data protection, anti-money-laundering, and anti-terrorist and anti-bribery corruption programs NFT pioneer Viera led dLocal's entry into the nonfungible token (NFT) market, with a particular focus on compliance and due diligence. Given the "extreme skepticism and caution" that surrounds the cryptocurrency space, this move would not have been possible without dLocal's confidence in the compliance team's forward-thinking approach and aptitude. The company says Vieara's influence has enabled dLocal and its clients to pioneer new frontiers in payments. Equal footing The payments industry does have a male-dominated slant, Viera says, but what has changed is the new opportunities in digital. "Take crypto for example," she said. "Men don't have years ahead of us in the space, so there's a real opportunity for women to innovate at the same pace, or faster … to become true pioneers."
Emily Watson, Flywire Senior Director, Global Payments Years in payments industry: 11 What she does: Leads initiatives to increase Flywire’s revenue by developing and expanding new services for the corporations and institutions that rely on Flywire’s cross-border and business-to-business payments. ‘People person’ Equipped with an Anthropology degree and bartending experience, Watson found banking to be a good career fit and progressed through jobs at many global banks before landing at Flywire four years ago. Her ability to connect with people gave her an edge in everything from price negotiations to managing regulatory compliance and selling new services to corporate customers, resulting in a promotion 18 months ago that centers on driving new business. Teaching and reaching While acting as a mentor to inspire other rising female executives and teaching them what she knows, Watson also has to convince upper management to back her ideas. “I’m solely responsible for getting the executive team on board to allocate budget and resources for these new opportunities,” Watson said.