General Manager Europe Banking & Processors at ACI Worldwide
The Hague, Netherlands
Can you please provide an overview of your role at ACI?
I am General Manager at ACI Worldwide and am responsible for our networks and processors segment across Europe which includes companies like WorldPay, Amex and Mastercard. ACI offers payments software and technology solutions for these companies. All of my clients are going through a time of change and disruption right now, not a single day goes by without the announcement of an IPO, joint venture or takeover so this constantly changing ecosystem is a very interesting space at the moment!
You originally studied chemistry at university. How did you come to a career in Financial Services?
You can’t study payments, you have to learn it while doing it! It was during my MBA studies in Rotterdam that I attended a presentation about chip wallets and the lecturer at that time offered me a job at his company. That’s how I started my career in payments and I never looked back. I really love working in payments even after 17 years in the business. Most people think payments are a way to an end but it really affects our lives in so many ways. I can get really excited about all the payments innovation happening around us but I have to admit that I sometimes drive my own family mad with it! Just a few days ago I drove along the German autobahn with my family and I discovered that NFC payments are now being used to pay for toilets at the breakout areas. That got a lot of laughs.
What payment innovation do you believe has had or will have the most significant impact on payments?
I would single out three things: Open Payment APIs, Instant Payments and Mobile Payments. All those payment innovations are having a significant impact and will continue to disrupt the payments ecosystem. Because of it the business models of all parties in the payments chain are under pressure. There is pressure on banks due to low interest rates and new regulations like PSD2. The brick and mortar businesses of merchants and retailers are under pressure and if they haven’t gone into the eCommerce space yet they will need to do so quickly. We help all these businesses with solutions and technology so they can navigate this new landscape, our technology enables our customers to do immediate payments, to add new value with APIs and develop data driven business models.
How would you describe the typical consumer in the Netherlands as opposed to the UK or US when it comes to technology adoption?
The UK or the US are generally seen as the leading ‘tech nations’ globally but when it comes to payments the Dutch are an advanced nation. You can live a complete cash free life in the Netherlands if you want to, cheques for example have been abolished 20 years ago. The Dutch are early adopters when it comes to technology and because it is a small country trends are being passed on very quickly. The Dutch are not afraid to try things out. The great thing about payments is there are so many cultural differences and adoption ways across the globe. Understanding those and working in such a diverse environment is what really peaks my interest.
You were actually in Uruguay when we conducted our interview. What is your tie to this country?
My mother is from Uruguay, she moved to Germany when she married my dad whose family is from France. I grew up in Germany but I have a Uruguayan passport, my mother’s family still lives in Uruguay, my grandmother lives there, she is 96 and I try to go and visit her at least once a year. It is a beautiful, very spacious and open country to which I have very close ties and I want to pass them on to my children.
How does Uruguay differ from Europe when it comes to payments?
The Netherlands and Uruguay have different payment ecosystems, there is no doubt about it. In Europe, for example, you have Automated Clearing Houses which enable interbank transfers but in Uruguay transferring money between banks is not easy. People go and pay bills directly at the bank or at the office of their water or electricity company. However, paying with cards, debit or credit, is very popular. And you have in effect two currencies, the Uruguayan Peso and US Dollars which are both pretty much accepted everywhere.
What is it about payments that most Financial Services product owners miss?
I think that many of them are struggling to get to grips with the dramatic change in business models. In today’s world financial institutions will need the ability to adapt rather than an ability to predict, that’s going to be crucial! In five to ten years’ time the whole payments ecosystem will look completely different. I don’t have a crystal ball but what I do know is that there is lots of work to be done and everyone needs to go with the flow and change in order to compete and survive in this new payments world.
Who do you believe has had the most influence with respect to your own career?
My mother has had without doubt the biggest influence on who I am today. She is a strong and smart woman and combined a very active career with raising three children. At the age of 25 she moved from Uruguay to Germany, learned a new language and adopted to a completely different culture. She studied medicine, worked as a gynecologist and at the age of 55 she did her PhD in medicine! She is now 70 and stills works! So yes, my mum is definitely someone I look up to and she influenced my work ethic and my outlook on life.
Who do you consider to be strong women leaders in the FinTech space?
There are many amazing and strong women in today’s Fintech world but I would single out three:
Blythe Masters, the Wall Street veteran, who as the CEO of Digital Asset Holdings, a New York tech start-up, is one of the biggest promoters of the blockchain technology worldwide.
Secondly, Karen Webster, the CEO of Market Platform Dynamics and founder of PAYMNTS.com, one of the world’s leading experts on emerging payments and one of the most influential and outspoken women in the payments world.
And last but not least, Carolyn Homberger, ACI’s very own ‘payments chic’ (that’s her very appropriate Twitter handle btw). Carolyn is Group President for Global Sales at ACI, and a member of our Executive Leadership Team. She is not only very good at what she does and a great leader but also started ACI’s Women’s Initiative (WIN), which sponsors the Women in Payments Symposium and hosts networking and leadership development events for both men and women at ACI. In the last few years she has helped to create a work environment at ACI where women feel comfortable speaking up and addressing issues impacting their ability to do their jobs.
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