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My path in payments with Brigette Korney, Director, Payments & Fraud, Groupon
Brigette Korney got her start in payments by not being very good at sales, she jokes. Or rather, she realized that building relationships rather than making deals was more her thing. It was a good admission. Fast forward almost a decade, and Brigette is now Director of Payments and Fraud at Groupon, the ecommerce marketplace where she had first cut her teeth in sales.
It has been a circuitous route to the top. The intervening years saw Brigette manage Groupon’s merchant partner program, a role in their tax team validating merchant's tax IDs, and onboarding a new fraud platform. The legacy of those varied experiences is evident in her current position. Her team today is responsible for all aspects of fraud prevention, including management of the platform, data analysis and reporting.
That has been a relatively organic career path, compared to the other side of her job — payments. Brigette’s remit is wider here; everything from payment optimization to introducing new payment methods, improving authorization rates to managing relationships with acquirers falls under her watch. And it does so because she made it happen. "I realized nobody was connecting the dots between fraud and payments," she says. "And I saw that's where I could really add value."
Her insight and ambition persuaded Groupon to create a payments operation division, which Brigette was asked to lead. She wasted no time, building out teams in Chicago and Warsaw that gives Groupon the international coverage it leverages today.
The invisibility principle
Ironically for somebody who lives and breathes payments, Brigette judges her team's success by how unseen payments are. "When I think about what a world-class operation looks like, I consider the customer experience," she says. "You want that payment piece to be almost invisible."
That’s why Brigette prioritizes her relationship with the product teams above all others. "They're the ones that impact what our checkout page looks like and how the one-click process works."
This ‘invisibility principle’ extends internally. "Within the fraud and payments world, we really value preparation and have built contingency plans in order to eliminate the need for fire drills at inopportune times," adds Brigette. My team has spent many years putting together automated monitoring and workflows that allow for some breathing room during high-stress periods."
It’s all about the team
On the one hand, Brigette is diligent in the way she leads her team. As well as daily targets and tracking metrics around fraud loss rates and false positives, she meets with her leadership group every week to discuss specific issues, with a deeper dive every quarter.
Separate quarterly meetings are held with Groupon’s engineering, finance and product teams. The aim is to have no surprises, she says. "One of the biggest lessons you learn going from a startup is that it's amazing you're able to move quickly and build fast. But it's building things right the first time that sets you up for real success."
On the other hand, she is very hands-off. "I'm not a micromanager. I trust everyone until you give me a reason not to," she says. "In return, I expect them to be innovative, to drive their initiatives, and act as leaders."
We've never lived through a time in payments where there are so many things going at once.
That’s not just a wooly sentiment. There is a practical purpose to empowering people, she explains. "The hardest part of my job is uncertainty. We really cannot say what payments will look like in a year. So you need people on your team who are willing and capable of seeing these things and taking them on their plate." That’s why she sees payments experience as an added benefit for new hires. "What I really want is a critical thinker and a problem solver. Those are the really key aspects of what we do."
That’s all fine in theory. In reality, what makes everything tick is "practicing gratitude and making sure people know the importance of their work," she says. To achieve this, Brigette airs on the side of over-communication. "I can't run the machine without them all. I ensure they know that all the time."
For Brigette, success also means looking beyond her team and organization. "I’ve always been attracted by the community of the payments world. I remember my first industry event. It was very small, and I could see straight away just how tight the network was. You could talk to all these people, make connections, and everyone wanted to help you."
From the outset, she has been keen to maintain this "unique community of professionals." She is heavily involved with the Merchant Risk Council, the global trade association for e-commerce fraud and payments professionals. She sits on their U.S. advisory board, is active in their ‘Women in Fraud and Payments’ group, and also finds time to help contribute to their annual conferences agenda as a member of the conference committee.
There are more practical benefits too. "When COVID struck, it was helpful to attend Fraud and Payments community calls hosted by the MRC," recalls Brigette. "As an industry community, we were able to connect with one another about how the pandemic was impacting the fraud and payments world." Scale that up, and you understand why payments have become a hotbed of innovation, she explains.
Change is constant, but the pace of change is not
Brigette has had a front-row seat to a whirlwind decade of change as a relative veteran of the payments and fraud space. Yet that is nothing compared to what is going on now, she says. "We've never lived through a time in payments where there are so many things going at once. I feel like we're seeing an explosion of new companies and solution providers, while some of the more ancient solutions are sticking around longer than I would have expected."
The pandemic has been the most obvious destabilizing force. "I think about the way I shop, and it has certainly changed as a result. I’m ordering more things online because it's so easy to have everything one click away. Convenience has really come in hard and fast to all consumers and is here to stay. I like that we’ve all been forced into thinking about this now."
Businesses adapted impressively quickly, and they must keep doing so, warns Brigette. "The question is what else is going to come online that we haven’t thought of? Will there be a service that will pick your kids up from school, for example? There are so many opportunities to make our lives more convenient."
Mobile commerce is also becoming an exciting challenge, she says. "On the one hand, mobile phones make shopping easier and quicker. But then you don’t want 100 apps. So maybe you have Super Apps that compiles all these. Or wallet applications that bring in shopping features."
Regulatory change is arguably a more complex topic to keep track of because much of it is specific to individual markets, explains Brigette. 'Take PSD2 as an example. In Europe, merchants are getting used to it. But in the U.S., it’s still quite foreign. So the conversation around how much convenience and conversions you trade for security feels different depending on where you are in the world."
"Then you bring in new payment methods like Buy Now Pay Later, and also how the banks need to adapt to this digital environment, especially to meet the needs of young people… things get interesting very quickly."
Staying on top
Contrary to this uncertainty, Brigette’s approach to staying on top of trends and opportunities is tried and tested. "I read a lot of newsletters and set 15 minutes aside every day for interesting articles."
She combines this passive learning with the more direct approach — finding the people who know what she needs to know and getting them to teach her. She saw the value of this early in her payments profession. "I always want to know about the technical aspects of the technologies we use, but I’ve not got an engineering mindset. So I found the people who could show me how things worked. That gave me a true 360 degree understanding of our entire payments and fraud operation."
She applies this approach more widely to her development. "I’m never satisfied with only getting the top-level view of an issue. To get into the details and start critically thinking about them, you need to have conversations with peers. This is where I find a lot of the solutions to the challenges that I'm facing."
These themes of cooperation, empowerment and restless learning have become the core tenets of Brigette’s story at Groupon. And they are now becoming her call to arms for a new generation of payment professionals.
Her advice: "Don’t let the things you don’t have — knowledge of payments or a finance background — put you off. Unlock what you’re good at. And when you give that out to people, they’ll give you what you don’t have. Soak that all in and when you understand the value you have to give, you’re able to fight for your own career more."
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