Discover® Global Network speaks out on the importance of fintech and DE&I
As the fintech industry broadens the reach of global payments, the diversity of customers and cultures now extends worldwide. Understanding this diversity—and supporting its potential—are key to realizing both the benefits and successes that fintech can deliver.
This recognition of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion is the reason Discover® Global Network is committed to working with partners to promote the many opportunities that fintech can offer. Together with these partners, Discover strives to ensure that true inclusivity is realized in both the market and at home.
“I have an unwavering belief that diversity, equity and inclusion makes us smarter, more innovative and is an enabler of business success,” said Jonita Wilson, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Discover Financial Services. “Technology is constantly evolving and moving at a fast pace, and so should our understanding and advocacy of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
At Discover, we are committed to promoting both diversity and inclusion in our workforce as well as serving a more diverse population. In pursuit of these goals, we strive to increase representation of women and People of Color (POC) at all management levels to 50% and 40%, respectively, by 2025. Additionally, we are working to increase representation of Black and Latinx at all management levels to 15% by 2025.
“We need to mature diversity-equity-inclusion from philosophy to practice, from talk to action, from the job of diversity practitioners to the job of everyone, from it being siloed to individuals and business units to being shared across the workplace, workforce and marketplace,” Wilson said. “Through our fintech partnerships, we strive to support innovative services that align with our goal to help create better financial futures for everyone.”
This commitment at Discover® is also what drives our participation in events with organizations such as AnitaB.org’s Grace Hopper Celebration, the National Black MBA Association, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers.
To explore the importance of diversity in the workplace, we sought the perspectives of three top leaders within Discover Global Network: Miladys Felix, Senior Sales Executive, Network Solutions, at Discover Global Network; Kate Lybarger, Head of Payments Innovation at Discover Global Network; and Tribh Grewal, Head of AltPay, Fintech and Commercial Solutions at Discover Global Network and its affiliate, Diners Club International.®
By bringing a broad array of divergent backgrounds and experiences to Discover, these three executives provide key insights on the importance of diversity in the workplace and the value that inclusivity brings to all employees and the fintech industry.
Please describe the journey in your career that led to becoming a leader in a fintech role at Discover® Global Network.
Miladys Felix (MF): I started as a summer intern at a payment network in New York City. I was fascinated by everything that went behind payments, including all the different technology that made sure the card and transaction worked. I was lucky enough to stay at that payment network for 20 years, during which time I had many different roles, from consulting to product management, to relationship management to sales. So, I had an opportunity to touch many aspects of the payment ecosystem. I started specifically working on debit products and processing, then I learned the technology and how that worked, and that took me to consulting where I got to understand data. Each role built upon each other, and that prepared me for the role that I am in today.
Kate Lybarger (KL): I’ve been in the world of financial services since 2005 and have had the distinct pleasure of experiencing the consolidation that has occurred since then, both being on the acquiring side and the acquired side. These types of situations have presented the opportunity for me to do many different things, from process management to human capital program development to digital, and finally, into innovation roles. I joined Discover this past winter to explore the bigger, more distinct opportunities that are uniquely positioned in the market with a proprietary network, which creates an interesting niche and a different way to engage with the fintech community and other partners. The draw was the scope of role, the leadership team, and how the business model of the company creates different types of opportunities that I hadn’t historically had access to. The challenge of a new business was exciting to me.
Tribh Grewal (TG): I have been in the payments industry for over 25 years, and it was purely accidental. I started my life reading physics at university and then computer network engineering back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when computer networks were new. I started my career in IT and after a couple of years I joined a leading payment solutions provider in technical support and soon realized that this was not for me. Working for the top payment solutions provider that was at the forefront of new technology and innovation, I was fortunate enough to identify the opportunity to
take the lead and become the subject matter expert for all new products and innovations for the EMEA region. These were exciting times with developments in mobile, chip, and e-commerce tech, and I was involved from the very early days. After this, I worked for a payment network/scheme leading their emerging products and innovation team. Later, I ran a European payment and authentication solutions company—what you might call a fintech company these days. I joined Discover® in 2013, leading a relationship management team in EMEA, and a couple of years ago expanded into my current role. That’s my journey to how I got where I am today leading the fintech and commercial business and new business development for Discover in the EMEA region.
Why do you think Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DE&I) is important in today’s fintech space?
MF: Luckily, our world is diverse, from the consumers we serve to the partnerships that we have in place. It is critical to recognize, understand and celebrate diversity so that we can create relevant products and solutions for our consumers, as well as support our partnerships in ways that resonate, motivate and bring value to those partnerships.
KL: In the startup space, companies are not developing off of legacy products, legacy platforms, legacy anything. They’re uniquely positioned to say: “Throw the old rule book out of the window. And what matters now?” When you have a blank canvas in front of you, you have the opportunity to right all the wrongs. The big corporates are approaching diversity, equity and inclusion, but from a very different angle. I think, as fintechs are building products and they’re validating the product market fit, they’re a bit more eyes wide open to who is the market today and who we anticipate growing into it tomorrow. And they can ask, do we have voices represented across that market, both in terms of the people who are building and managing, but also through the design and delivery process?
What steps can fintechs and financial institutions take to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment?
KL: I think it starts from the jump, it’s pervasive across all activities, and it’s continuously nurtured. How jobs are written and hiring practices are executed are great examples. Are you thinking from a diverse perspective? Are you excluding communities with role requirements? Are you looking at a diverse candidate pool? Have you created an equitable process? Have you been inclusive to both the candidates and those who are participating in the interviewing process internally? I think those are questions that every hiring manager and every recruiting partner should be asking each other and holding each other accountable to. Are you assembling a team that brings forth different backgrounds and gender and education and, to the extent you’ve got the ability, to create a makeup of who you serve?
TG: It starts with the vision, goal and the strategy around how the company’s going to achieve its DE&I goals. And I would say it’s not a single goal. It’s constantly moving, and you need to be improving and monitoring to sustain that goal. However, just the strategy is not enough, and you need leadership commitment to implement, monitor, improve and sustain it. The strategy/goal will help define your policies, processes, and activities. The policies and procedures around hiring—how you hire, resource pools, type of recruitment companies used, interview process. Is there diversity? How do you bring equity that’s in pay and benefits. More importantly, how do you improve the company culture? That’s through regular training—bringing in respect and information about the cultures and through mentoring. Finally, you should ask, is there diversity in your ecosystem or partners or suppliers? Are you linking your DE&I policies with your supplier base? Are you trying to bring in some of the local suppliers or suppliers from some of the underserved communities or underrepresented communities? So, creating a DE&I environment requires commitment and engagement across the organization with clear vision and goals.
In your experience, what is the role of startups in bringing diversity, equity and inclusion to legacy institutions?
MF: These new startups and these fintech companies have an important and very powerful role in moving us in a better direction. Startup and newer payment ecosystem players can set the tone and set the example for future companies by having leadership and by supporting diversity—including all customers, all individuals, as part of their DNA. What a wonderful world it would be where diversity is just in the DNA, and we don’t have to constantly call it out. At the end of the day, I think that these startups and these newer companies can set the tone for us in the payment ecosystem and for consumers.
KL: I think their opportunity for influence is significant. A lot of fintechs are created by people outside of industry, so there’s a whole set of perspectives that the people who’ve been here 10-plus years may not have. I think there’s also how fintechs work in a more agile, iterative approach. There’s always an opportunity for us to see how it might be done differently. I’ve also seen how they think about exposure, about other companies, about consumers is different. They can go about things in a very different way than when you’ve got a bank charter you have to honor. I do think there’s opportunity for Discover to continue learning from how they do what they do and how they approach who they approach.
In what ways do the values at Discover® intersect with some of our fintech partners’ missions?
MF: The mission of Discover is to create products that create better financial futures for our customers. That’s our mission. I have the opportunity to work with a lot of fintech partners that are looking to do the same. They are looking to develop solutions that improve individuals’ or consumers’ lives. For example, I work with one particular fintech partner that is looking to develop a product that will help individuals build a credit history and score when they are unable to do it through traditional or existing processes. I’m also working with a fintech partner that’s looking to create a digital bank for underserved communities. In this way, you can see that the diversity of the fintech companies and their desire to develop these products to improve each individual’s life aligns very well with the mission of Discover to help create better financial futures.
TG: Many fintechs are trying to do the right things by creating new solutions or going after new markets, especially in the underserved, underrepresented communities for financial inclusion. This meets the core values and behaviors of Discover, which is committed to continuous improvement, collaboration, openness and respect. Through collaboration, we can make our solutions better, make them suitable for the right environments, and then we succeed together. Unless we collaborate, unless we work together, things don’t work as well, because we can only do certain things on our own. All this fits very well with DE&I, but importantly, it is also where some of the fintechs are trying to get and what their ambitions are.
How would you describe working at Discover Global Network as it relates to DE&I?
MF: I’ve been at Discover for seven amazing years, and the years have gone fast because it’s still fun to be in payments. I know I sound kind of nerdy, but it is actually fun right now. Why I say that is because, in my role, I get to work with a diverse set of companies that want to launch a lot of payment use cases to a lot of different end users. I’m constantly learning. I’m constantly motivated to think outside of the box, to find ways to do things smarter and better. And I get to work with some amazing, talented, kind, good human beings.
KL: I came in to Discover,® recruited by a female, in a business unit—until very recently—run by a female, who has been running it for a very long time. We’ve gone through a reorganization. I’m still reporting to a woman, and my peers, with the exception of two, are all female. This is the greatest gender diversity that I have ever experienced. When I look at my direct reports, I see 75% female and 100% who have strong family, religious and cultural heritage outside of the U.S. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s not still work to do, but I do believe my Discover experience is quite rare in financial services what I’ve seen and experienced during my time at Discover.
Beyond the importance that diversity and inclusion can mean to fintechs and other businesses, what do these things mean to you personally or professionally?
MF: I would say it empowers me to be authentic and to help others learn. I feel it’s my responsibility, being who I am culturally, my background, where I was born, so others grow and relate to those experiences. But I also feel empowered being within an organization where that is celebrated consistently and recognized and seen as a value.
KL: My thoughts on diversity and inclusion across my personal life and my professional life are one in the same. It’s all about fostering social progress, creativity, exposure and learning. It’s not unusual that I’m in professional situations where I can’t relate to users. I may not have direct experiences that help me empathize with them. Thus, it’s important for my team to be as diverse as possible. To do innovation work, we all need to work openly toward deeply understanding how an experience affects someone. What pains do they have? What is the outcome they’re driving toward? Which emotions are they experiencing across a journey? And ultimately, what makes it easy or challenging because of their circumstances? And when we do that well, we do what’s right for the human and, in turn, we do right for the company.
TG: Growing up in India I lived in many states and went to schools in Army cantonments, which are a very diverse environment. At the school I went to, there was a broad range of students from different states, cultures, colors, backgrounds and spoke different languages. To be part of that school, you learned to understand different perspectives. And you had the chance to see where people were coming from and how different people can be. It was very open, there were different ideas, people were supportive, they were more collaborative and that made us better. For me, that kind of diversity brings the best out in people. It brings greater ideas. It helps us work better together. Because you have mutual understanding, you have mutual respect. That’s what DE&I means to me—creating an environment where everybody’s happy to collaborate and work together and share ideas.
The information provided herein is sponsored by Discover® Global Network. It is intended for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.