Karolina Zaręba on success in payments through continuous learning

The latest My Path in Payments features Karolina Zaręba, Head of Payments & Fraud Prevention at G2A.com.

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Anthea Taylor
June 2, 2024
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Karolina Zaręba on success in payments through continuous learning

Karolina Zaręb is now the Head of Payments and Fraud Prevention at G2A.com. Still, her journey into the realm of payments began almost serendipitously before developing into a considerable career marked by growth and innovation. Her entrance as a summer intern was not borne out of a deep understanding or a deliberate choice but rather a convergence of opportunity and necessity. She describes her early experiences with candid humility, "I was a total rookie without a full knowledge of payments, or the possibilities that surrounded payments." This initial foray was characterized by a steep learning curve, where each task was an opportunity to learn and each challenge a step toward expertise. Karolina was able to take on the challenge as her love of travel reflects her ingrained nature to want to discover new things and explore.

Karolina's adaptability and eagerness to learn transformed her incidental start into a foundational building block for her career. As she navigated through the complexities of the payments sector, her roles expanded in scope and responsibility, moving from managing local sales of payments where she dealt directly with customer transactions to overseeing global sales operations. This transition was not just a change in scale but also a significant shift in strategic thinking and operational management. 

No matter her role, her attitude has always been one of a willingness to take on new challenges and credits advice she received from her mother when she was young, “If you want something, you just need to handle it.”

The relentless pursuit of knowledge

Her ascent through the ranks came as a result of her relentless pursuit of knowledge and skill enhancement. Karolina reflects on the progression of her career with a mix of pride and anticipation for the future, "This July will mark my first decade in payments and definitely not the last one! And I'm still as keen to develop my skills and as excited by the possibilities as I was ten years ago." Her journey underscores not just her personal growth but also the evolving nature of the payments industry, which has required continuous learning and adaptation.

Now she is head of a vital department at G2A.COM, the world's largest and most trusted marketplace for digital entertainment, where more than 30 million people from 180 countries have purchased over 100 million items. Users can choose from more than 75,000 digital offerings incl. games, DLCs, in-game items, as well as non-gaming items such as gift cards, subscriptions, software, or e-learning sold by sellers from all over the world. 

Karolina’s career path is illustrative of the dynamic and ever-changing landscape of payment technologies and trends. Each step of her career was marked by new technologies, regulatory changes, and evolving customer expectations, which required a proactive approach to education and skills development. From her initial days grappling with the basics of card payments to mastering complex global payment systems, her journey reflects a microcosm of the industry’s broader trends.

Moreover, her career trajectory from a newcomer to a senior manager in payments illustrates the potential for career mobility within the field—provided one is willing to continually adapt and learn. It also highlights the importance of mentorship and support, as Karolina often credits informal guidance and on-the-job training as crucial to her professional development.

As she stands today, looking forward to further advancing her expertise, Karolina remains a testament to the rich possibilities within the payments industry for those willing to dive into its depths. Her story not only inspires but also serves as a guidepost for newcomers: the payments field is one where opportunity is boundless for the curious and the diligent.

Striving for a better customer experience

In her current role as a key player at G2A, Karolina is responsible for orchestrating the payment processes for a platform that serves millions of active users worldwide. This role is a pivotal shift from her previous positions focused on sales, where success metrics were more straightforward and directly tied to individual transactions. Now, the complexity scales as she faces the daunting task of meeting the diverse and dynamic needs of a global customer base. Reflecting on the transition, she notes, "It was much easier to sell to one buyer than fulfill the requirements for 30 million people!" This statement underscores the immense scale and multifaceted nature of her current challenges.

The challenges don’t end at the sheer number of customers but also at the ways in which the business must accommodate how they want to shop. Gamers looking to buy from G2A are often waiting for a much-anticipated premiere of a game that they expect to buy minutes after its release and these buyers are located all over the world.

So, Karolina’s primary focus is enhancing the user experience by developing seamless payment solutions that are not only efficient but also intuitively align with user expectations. In the digital marketplace, the payment process is often the final step in the customer journey, yet it is pivotal to the overall user experience and satisfaction. A smooth transaction process is crucial for customer retention, especially in a sector like the one in which G2A operates, where users can easily switch to competitors to find the game they want to purchase if their transaction is unsuccessful.

And the way that she is approaching this is to always be on the lookout for ways they can enhance the experience, “We invest a lot in improving the customer experience. For example, we get third-party companies to run tests so we can get feedback and understand more about our payment patch or our buying page. And, at the moment we are investigating things like one-click payment options, cart options, and the other alternative payment methods that we should be offering.”

Moreover, as digital transactions continue to surge, Karolina has identified fraud prevention as a critical area of focus. The increase in online shopping and digital services has unfortunately also led to a rise in fraudulent activities, posing significant risks to both users and the platform. Karolina is proactive in her approach to this challenge, seeking innovative solutions to safeguard transactions. She articulates a goal that captures the essence of her mission: "If I had a magic wand, I would use it to be one step ahead of fraudsters." This determination highlights her commitment to not just react to fraud but to anticipate and counteract potential threats before they manifest.

And, while she doesn’t have a magic wand, her focus on security as a top priority with an internal cyber defense team that constantly improves the existing AI-supported solutions with the support of external partners, has seen significant results. G2A has managed to keep their anti-fraud rate at a level much lower than the industry average of 2.9%, an impressive feat.

Looking ahead, Karolina's strategy involves a combination of advanced technology and rigorous process management to stay ahead of these challenges. She is particularly interested in the integration of AI and machine learning technologies, which can provide sophisticated tools for real-time fraud detection and prevention. These technologies have the potential to identify patterns and anomalies that might elude human oversight, thus enhancing the security and integrity of transactions.

In addition to technological solutions, Karolina also emphasizes the importance of regulatory compliance and staying abreast of global payment regulations, which can vary significantly across different markets. Understanding and adhering to these regulations is not only crucial for legal compliance but also for building trust with users who need reassurance that their financial transactions are secure and protected.

As Karolina looks to the future, her vision is clear. She aims to not only meet the current expectations of users but to redefine them, setting new standards for what a secure, efficient, and user-friendly payment process can be. Her journey from focusing on sales to managing complex payment systems exemplifies her growth and adaptability, qualities that are indispensable in the ever-evolving digital payments landscape.

A spotlight on a career in payments

Throughout her career, Karolina has observed the transformation of payment roles within organizations, from being backend operational tasks to becoming key components of strategic business functions. This shift is underscored by her own progression through the industry, where she has seen how intricately payments are linked to overall business success. She explains the critical nature of this link: "Payments are the last step just before the delivery and it's probably the most important step because without the payment, there is no delivery." This observation emphasizes how payments affect not only the immediate transaction but also the broader customer experience and retention strategies.

As digital commerce continues to expand, the role of payments has grown in complexity and importance. No longer just a matter of processing transactions, payment roles now involve strategic decision-making related to customer engagement, cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, and global market penetration. This strategic pivot is not just about managing the mechanics of money exchange but also about enhancing customer trust and satisfaction, optimizing operational efficiency, and reducing risk.

Karolina has witnessed how these changes have prompted companies to elevate payment roles to higher levels of management. She notes the increasing collaboration between payment professionals and other departments such as IT, customer service, and strategic planning. This cross-functional integration helps ensure that payment strategies align with broader business goals and respond agilely to changes in the marketplace. For instance, during global expansions, payment leaders must navigate varied financial landscapes, adapting to local payment methods and currencies to maximize market entry while adhering to local laws and customer preferences.

The evolution of payment roles also reflects broader technological advancements and shifting consumer expectations. Consumers today demand quick, seamless, and secure transactions with flexible payment options. Meeting these demands requires payment professionals to continuously innovate and adapt, making strategic decisions that balance customer experience with security and efficiency.

In her vision for the future, Karolina sees these roles gaining more prominence, with payment strategies becoming central to business models rather than peripheral support functions. "I believe in the future most companies will decide to have dedicated payment and fraud positions," she predicts, highlighting the growing need for specialized expertise in tackling specific challenges such as fraud prevention and cybersecurity within the payment sector.

Entering the payments field can be as challenging as it is rewarding, with continuous advancements and regulatory changes shaping the landscape. Karolina emphasizes the crucial role of mentorship and proactive learning for those starting their career in this dynamic field.

"Anyone entering the field needs to find a good mentor, a person with time and knowledge to educate and to share knowledge because there are so many things you need to be fully aware of and to become familiar with," she explains. “A good mentor will not only provide guidance and knowledge but also help you to navigate the early challenges that come with understanding the complex frameworks and technologies that underpin the payments industry.”

As Karolina continues to push the boundaries in her current role, she remains focused on enhancing user experience, combating fraud, and leveraging cutting-edge technologies to ensure secure and efficient transactions. Her proactive approach to challenges and her strategic vision for future advancements underline the critical role of adaptability and continuous learning in staying relevant and effective in the payments industry.

Karolina's advice should be taken to heart for those drawn to the dynamic world of payments: you need to know the value of mentorship, engage with the community, and commit to continuously learning.

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June 2, 2024 17:00
June 2, 2024 17:00