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Acing your first 90 days as a payments leader


Landing a new job in a payments team is a great achievement. Congratulations! But being in a fast-paced and results-driven position can leave you feeling the pressure, especially because your role will cover a wide range of responsibilities. 

Whether it’s your first payments role, a promotion or a company switch, your first 90 days are critical to laying the foundation for success. But where do you start? And how do you make sure that you’re setting yourself up to achieve success?

Day 1 to 30 - take time to learn and connect

“Don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out from day one. First, find your mentors and your crew: this will make it easier to self-teach and learn on your own.” Colleen Graneto, Payments Product Manager at Airbnb.

There can be a lot of pressure to perform in a new role, particularly in payments, where your success is so results-driven. But a role in payments, like any other role, requires that you learn about the particular challenges in your new business and listen to the team so that you can build trust with them. 

Here are some important things to keep in mind in your first weeks:

  • Don’t assume that things will be straightforward
    Payments is no longer just about backroom infrastructure and transactional plumbing. Today’s payments environments rely on innovation and problem solving, supercharged by accelerated digitalization. It’s highly complex, challenging and constantly changing.
    “It’s important not to go in with preconceived notions,” says Carmen Honacker, Head of Customer and Payment Fraud at “In most job interviews, they won’t tell you the problems. You have to find out for yourself once you’re in the role.”
  • Listen to your team and other stakeholders
    Avoid being an island and talk to your team. Meet as many different functions as soon as you can—product, marketing, sales and accounts. Find out what they’re struggling with and what they’d change if they could. Learn about your legacy platforms and where true value can be gained—avoid any talk of rip-and-replace without first canvassing stakeholders.
    “Even if you’re working in a product-orientated payments role, you’ll never be in a vacuum,” explains Carmen. “Payments cross-pollinates with every other part of the business. You can’t be successful by yourself; you have to work to get buy-in from as many people as possible.”
  • Understand your business—and its ambitions
    It’s vital to understand the business’s KPIs so that your payments strategy can support them: for example, how payment methods, fees, approval and conversion rates, and fraud and chargeback ratios impact commercial performance and growth. Make sure you’re clear about what your priorities are and how you’ll be measured.
    For Makis Savvides, Director of Global Payments at Wargaming, the goals were clear. “In our business, we’re looking to optimize every aspect of our payments operations to reduce costs, drive higher approval and conversion rates and deliver a better experience for customers. The overarching goal is ultimately to unlock more value.”
  • Brush up on technology and regulations
    Techie or not, take time to appreciate the opportunities and constraints of current technology, regulations and innovations, e.g. SCA, PSD2 and digital ID. It helps you optimize performance, manage risk and provides the foundation you need to become a strategic payments leader.

Day 31 to 60 - align your team, suppliers and strategy

Payments functions are fairly new in many companies. Much of the success that you can build will rely on the strength of your relationships with trusted vendors and making sure your team is aligned on goals. Use your second month in the role to ensure you understand the vendors and people you work with to know where the weak spots are and what you can build on. 

  • Look closely at vendors, their purpose and performance
    You’ve talked to the team and assessed the status quo, now it’s time to focus on third-party vendors. Find out what they do for you, how they’re performing against SLAs, and if they’re adding value or falling down.
    Being in the middle of payment providers and organizations can sometimes be an uncomfortable spot. Aleksandra Wasielewska, Payments Lead Product Manager at Allegro explains, “When it comes to working with external parties, we translate the goals of our organization to partners so they can understand ecommerce from our customers’ point of view. We build a common understanding of where we are going, what the goals are and how we are going to deliver according to a clear set of KPIs.”
  • Formulate your business case (and back it up with data)
    Your function may need extra investment—new tech, hires or partners. It’s your job to build the business case and educate stakeholders about why it’s important.
    “It’s not always easy,” says Makis. “Payments are complex and often seen as a commodity, making it hard for people to understand just how important they are to the overall customer experience, as well as a material contributor to the company’s bottom line. My motto is that data speaks for itself. Everything we say we try to back up with data. And we make sure that the data we share is relevant to that stakeholder.”

Day 61 to 90 - build confidence with easy wins

“In payments, the smallest change can have a huge impact on the company’s bottom line.”
Emina Zahirovic, Associate Director, Global Payments for HelloFresh

Start small to build towards desired results. Making small changes can build not only your team’s confidence in you but also your confidence in yourself. Small changes will also let you create an environment where testing and optimization become the norm.

  • Focus on results
    Fundamentally, managing payments is about optimization and customer experience. Your role is to minimize any disruption that stops customers from making a payment and ensure they have the best experience possible. Securing wins here can boost team confidence and help you win valuable allies.
  • Find easy targets
    The goal for many payment leaders is to shift payments from a commodity to a revenue driver—and in some cases even a contributor to brand perceptions. ,[object Object],“It’s about keeping watch on the payment experience to make it as near to perfect as possible,” states Aleksandra. “Any change can affect the checkout payment flow, so payments leaders have to be the eyes, ears and voice of the customers in the process.”
  • Be customer-centric
    Fundamentally, managing payments is about optimization and customer experience. Your role is to minimize any disruption that stops customers from making a payment and ensure they have the best experience possible. Securing wins here can boost team confidence and help you win valuable allies.
  • Do the basics well 
    It’s tempting to try to make a big splash with a major new initiative or groundbreaking project, but if it’s at the expense of core functions then you won’t win any prizes. It takes a lot of effort to manage the day-to-day activities and ensure availability, accuracy and compliance—so make sure these boxes are ticked first.
    As Colleen says, “When you're working in FinTech and payments, you can't just ship a new product and hope it works because of the regulatory and compliance risk. It sometimes limits what's possible. Instead of looking at this as a limitation, reframe the approach, and look at how you could make handling the risk and compliance and doing the basics better for the customer, and have that in itself become a competitive advantage."

Find out more by downloading this blueprint to building a world-class payments team.