Spotlight: ‘Payments must make a nuanced effort towards gender diversity’

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From working in different countries to tackling the sector’s diversity problem, Sundeep Kaur, regional leader for global financial services at AWS, speaks to Jyoti Rambhai about the trends and challenges in payments.

Tell us about your career path?

I grew up and I studied in India. After doing my BA and a short stint in a consulting firm, I got the opportunity to work at American Express in New York and that’s where my career in payments started.

At AmEx, I had the opportunity to be able to do different types of roles, working in different parts of the world, in different functions. I worked in strategy, operations, product, and then moved towards more commercial roles including sales and business development.

After that I moved to Travelex where I ran the cards business and was responsible for growing the business in different parts of the world, adding new product lines, new customer segments.

I then joined Visa in a role that was newly created to run a team and build relationships with the merchant customers in Europe, which was exciting.

And now I’m at AWS and I’ve been here for three years. I work with global financial services customers and help them transform their business or solve problems using AWS technology.

What challenges have you faced?

I like to seek professional challenges, that’s my motivating factor. I’ve worked in different functional areas, particularly in the early part of my career, such as product, operations, sales and business development.

And these are all very specialised skill sets. So, when you come into this new, there is a really steep learning curve. And that’s a challenge because you must learn very quickly, and then very quickly, deliver and make an impact.

What are the biggest changes facing the payments industry?

Payments is going through quite a transformational change at this point. If you look at what’s happening in the world around us there’s a lot of factors impacting payments.

Economically, we are going through a phase in many parts of the world where inflation rates and interest rates are higher than they’ve ever been.

Geopolitically, there is a really strong focus on localisation and nationalisation. Technology is changing at a pace where modernisation is just something organisations have to do to adapt.

So with all of these changes, the industry is going to be redefined. The revenue models for companies is going to change, the operating models is going to change, there’s going to be new players that will enter in a way that they haven’t before.

Those are some pretty massive changes happening all at the same time.

What trends are you seeing emerging in payments?

If we look at the payments industry today, it is almost unrecognisable from two decades back, right. The trends that have had an impact on the world and have had mass adoptions are the ones where they change customers lives for the better and the ones that bring more segments of people into the payment’s ecosystem, who didn’t have access before.

For example, what we are seeing happening in India with UPI or what happened in Kenya with the ability to pay through texts, these trends have continued to grow because it made lives easier for customers.

So if you look at that history as a learning curve for the future, the trends that will continue will be in the area of cross-border and instant payments, which is currently at a friction point. Real-time payments will be a big factor in the future as customers are expecting more and more of that through disbursements and receiving funds.

What would you like to see the industry achieve?
I think it is taking these challenges, these really systemic changes that are happening in the economic and geopolitical models and in the technology sector and bringing them all together in a way that they can redefine business, rather than sticking to the old ways.

In the true spirit of what we call the payments ecosystem, I would like the larger players to work more co-operatively with the smaller players and the smaller players to adapt the standards of the larger players and regulators.

I’d also like the payments industry to be on the front foot in diversity of all kinds. A report published by McKenzie last year showed that the diversity of the financial services sector was generally subpar.

While most segments of this sector is subpar in gender diversity, payments in particular was significantly under for entry level and early manger roles. So I want the payments industry to make a deliberate and nuanced effort towards gender diversity.

That means for managers to ensure they have equal slate of candidates when hiring and promoting people for their work – especially women and individuals from ethnic minorities.

What would be your advice to someone coming into the industry?

I have three pieces of advice.

1) Gain an understanding of the intersection of technology and money movement in payments. There’s so much good content available on this through reports and journals, so you can build that breadth of knowledge.

2) Get international or multi-country exposure. Payments happen very differently in developed and emerging markets. Being able to understand what’s happening outside of the country or geography we live and work in is really valuable experience. If you can’t, take an interest in how customers are paying when you travel.

3) Take an active role in helping this industry become more inclusive and more diverse. Everybody has a role in that.

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