Laura Miller, President JPMorgan Merchant Services | Episode 26

Welcome to the third episode of the Women Leaders in Payments podcast month. A special thanks to our sponsor Paysafe. 

Laura Miller:

I would say one of the first is to be humble. I firmly believe you never truly arrive, that we’re always learning, that we are on a journey. We have to own our mistakes. We have to share our learnings. And I liken to say that we all have a personal toolkit.

Greg Myers:

That was Laura Miller, President of JP Morgan Merchant Services. She’s our special guest on this episode, episode 26 is we continue to celebrate Women Leaders in Payments month sponsored by Paysafe. I’m your host, Greg Myers. And in this episode, I talk with Laura about her journey to JP Morgan Chase, her passion and empathy for small businesses and some of her eye-opening moments, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. She provides some great insights around being humble; the idea that you never really arrive; living your personal brand and being the person that people want to work for, with and around. 

Greg Myers:

Hi, Laura, thank you for being here and welcome to the Leaders in Payments podcast, and more specifically thank you for participating during Women Leaders in Payments month. 

Laura Miller:

Thank you, Greg. It’s great to be here. 

Greg Myers: 

So first tell our audience about your role today, and then we’ll rewind and talk a little bit about the journey and how you got to where you are today. 

Laura Miller: 

Sure. So to start, I’m responsible for managing our strategic and complex clients globally for the merchant services business at JP Morgan Chase and essentially from inception or business development, through relationship management, with all of our clients and prospects across merchant services in the broader wholesale payments. I tell you that the buck stops here, and I get to work uniquely with our product and our technology partners to be able to create great solutions for our clients. 

Greg Myers: 

Great. Thank you for that. Let’s go back now and talk about where you grew up and what your life was like when you were growing up. 

Laura Miller: 

Well, that’s a fun question. I actually, I live in New York now, but I grew up in Arizona and I was an only child. And as an only child, my parents were a huge influence on my life and I was pretty much always around adults. And I think that gave me an acumen to be able to connect at a young age with adults and understand different perspectives. And I also had a unique experience growing up because my parents actually both met in the UK. My dad’s from Iowa, my mom from Hong Kong. And so, I grew up in a very diverse home with different perspectives from very well-traveled parents. And as a young child up through my high school and college years, we took vacation every as a family. And I was very fortunate to visit many places before graduating high school and college, not only in the U.S. but internationally. And I believe that that exposure really just gave me a unique perspective on the world, on people. And that in combination with connecting with adults helped me to really understand how to communicate and connect on all levels with people from all walks of life. 

Greg Myers:

And where did you go to college? 

Laura Miller: 

University of Arizona in Tucson.

Greg Myers:

Okay. And you got a degree in?

Laura Miller:

Marketing, believe it or not a BSBA with a major in marketing.

Greg Myers:

Great. Great. So when you were growing up, do you think you were more of a lemonade stand builder or the planner organizer of the Friday night out with your friends?

Laura Miller:

That’s a great question. And a fun question because I absolutely was much more the planner, the organizer and probably because execution, I’m going to say, quote unquote, per se, it just comes easier to me, more naturally more intuitively I’ve always had ideas. I love to brainstorm and think about new ways to do things. And I’m constantly looking around for ways to do things better, but I also can see the multiple execution paths on how to make that lemonade stand happen. So that’s naturally where I think most people don’t like to spend their time. And so I would gravitate to, because I could intuitively get there and also be willing to roll up my sleeves to make it happen.

Greg Myers:

Great. Great. And what was your very first job? Do you remember?

Laura Miller:

Well, babysitting of course, but beyond that, actually I worked in a frozen yogurt shop in one of the strip malls. And to share with you, you know, the timing of that, that was in the late eighties, early nineties. And that was the new thing back in the day, for those who are listening that are much younger, frozen yogurt, or fro-yo now was very much the place to be in a place to work, to see all the kids and all the families.

Greg Myers:

Any lessons learned from that first job?

Laura Miller:

Oh yes, absolutely. I think a few lessons learned one, you know, being a teenager, working in a shop with individuals that came in and with the yogurt shop that would be open not just Monday through Friday, but Friday and Saturday nights and on holidays and it was the place to go. It was a first job early on where I actually did work like Thanksgiving or some holidays that we happened to be open. And it really gave me kind of that work ethic that more and more businesses are not just about nine to five. And so that was a big aha moment for me at a very young age that, you know, it might not always be able to, I’m going to have to leave early for Thanksgiving dinner or whatever it might be. I was trying to do or celebrate a party on Friday night with my friends, that the job really became first and foremost, when you made a commitment.

So, having the commitment fulfilling it often have things that impacted your personal life. And that was just part of working in the job. I think the other thing that I learned from it was the importance of developing relationships with their colleagues and coworkers, because as a girl in high school, if I wanted to go out or got invited on a date on a Friday night, I may want to switch shifts so that I could go do that. So that was another important thing. So number one, understanding the work ethic and what it meant to have a commitment to your shifts and secondly, great partnerships with your colleagues and your boss so that you can have flexibility when you needed it.

Greg Myers:

Yeah. Both of those are good even to have today. Right. So if I’m not mistaken, your career in payments started at Amex in the commercial card area. What got you into payments? Was there something intriguing about it or what was that journey like?

Laura Miller:

I must say I probably pretty much fell into it. And when I first started with American Express, I don’t even think I really understood I was in payments. There‚Äôs so much more as today is it’s an industry and there’s entire networks and organizations around it that are even that much more established. I know, and I’m aware of some of this stuff existed back then, but I started out in the operating centers. And so I was leading client support and field support teams, back office, phone centers. And I became literally, I would say educated from the customer point of view. And that was a really unique place to start. And then you start to realize with card, I had what I would call a couple of aha moments. So one, cards were powering movement and travel, right? When you think about commercial cards and T&E cards and the ability it enabled customers to not only quickly book travel, but the reporting and information that went back to the companies.

And then secondly, that was about the time the purchasing cards were really launching with not only American Express, but other providers and how purchasing card made it easier and faster and cheaper for companies to pay vendors and the data and information that went along with it. And also at the end of the day, you begin to understand the risk profiles with how well, you know, the value of payments and really reducing risks for the merchant was huge. And so, you know, a couple of aha moments for me early on that I thought were interesting. And the second one was 9/11. I was in the operating center when 9 /11 happened in Arizona. And so it was about 6:30 in the morning and I was an early bird. So I was in the office and I remember coming into work that day and people on the floor were crying and, or reaching out and asking questions. And I realized that, you know, people were reaching out and asking about their employees, if they could locate them by where their last card transaction was and spouses, et cetera, and had they used their cards anywhere. And what could we do to enable people who might be stranded? And you started to realize like one of the biggest ahas for me was, wow, not only the data and information, the power behind it, but we could actually help people with this. And so a couple of aha moments, they’re great to share with you.

Greg Myers:

Yeah, no, that’s very interesting. I mean, 9/11 really changed the world, but people don’t often think about those types of things and, and how people, just everyone sort of pitched in to help in any way they could. So that’s, that’s a really interesting story. So, you went from Amex over to Chase where you are today. Did you start at Chase running the business Ink Card or was there another position before that? 

Laura Miller:

I actually came Chase to lead the commercial card, the middle market business. And so I came into the commercial card business and had, you know, an opportunity to design a rewards card for businesses. And it was a very, very exciting time because for me it was a bit of a career transformation. You know, I’d been with American Express an amazing company for 11 years. And as I transitioned to Chase, it was also at the time, you know, when we were in a recession and it was a shifting moment for me because when it was a, it was an opportunity to work for wow, JPMorgan Chase. Right. And that’s what you think about from the external side and in, during a recession where obviously I had a good career and a solid standing with my previous employer, I looked around at the landscape and thought, well, if there’s any financial institution I’m going to work for, it would be JPMorgan Chase.

And so once I had crossed that hurdle mentally, it was also about a professional change. And could I transcend and be successful at another company continuing to live the values I live and be the leader I want to be, and really come in with very little network. I had some network, but very little network and be able to build partnerships relationships to be able to at the end of the day, to deliver for the customers of JPMorgan Chase. And so that was why it was a very impactful shift for me, both personally and professionally, to be able to come in and build a product for our organization and build relationships and almost like a new career.

Greg Myers:

Great. And then you started managing the whole Ink card business, and that was mostly targeting, I’d say, small to midsize businesses. So what was it like sort of working with those small businesses? What did you find interesting or learn from that experience?

Laura Miller:

Yeah. So being able to lead the Ink business and move into what I would call the small business foray was probably one of the most humbling, invigorating and inspiring experiences for me. So I, at my career here, have had the honor of supporting small businesses directly for almost four years. So I started the Ink business and eventually did small business on the merchant side as well. And when you look at the small business space, the SMB has historically represented almost half of the U.S. GDP and the majority of the job growth over the last 10 years, let’s say pre COVID at this point. And it’s a chance to have visibility to experience and hear and talk from what I would almost call the businesses and the employees that become the heartbeat of America and the heartbeat of our economy. And you get to experience firsthand when you’re out with these small businesses, the work that goes into creating, building, growing.

And I also say surviving because whether, you know, times are good or times are tough for a small business, they are constantly competing and surviving. And it’s really inspirational when you get to be a part of that journey. And I would say both professionally and personally, because the experience that you see, the tenacity and the commitment that these small business owners have to their employees and to their passion or purpose is something that, you know, you hope that most, that we can recreate that entrepreneurial spirit, that passion in the jobs and then employees that we have now, even in a large company. And so I share that it was both personal and professional growth, not only for the people that I lead today in my role and beyond, but also just as a colleague and somebody in the community that can support small businesses, both personally and professionally.

Greg Myers:

Right, right. The word that I, that just kind of comes up for me is resiliency. I mean, that’s really especially going through what the small businesses are going through today. So, well, that brings us to today. And obviously you’ve been very successful throughout your career. What are some of your guiding principles?

Laura Miller:

So I have a few and some of them are, you know, as an individual and some of them there was a leader and of course they cross over heavily. But I would say one of the first is to be humble. I firmly believe you never truly arrive that we’re always learning, that we are on a journey. We have to own our mistakes. We have to share our learnings. And I like to say that we all have a personal toolkit. It’s what makes us who we are today from all the experiences we’ve had before those experiences and learnings come from either just absolutely being in the middle of it. From watching something, from hearing, from somebody, from having a mentor, from being a part of something, and you never arrive. You’re always learning as you have ideas and learnings from others and yourself, attitude, personal toolkit, carry that with you forth.

So that the next challenge that you have, you’re even much better facing that challenge, overcoming that challenge and or helping others through it. So be humble. Number one, to live your brand. I think that people are remiss that they don’t believe that they have a brand. And that brand is a footprint that they leave after. And it could be just a conversation. It could be a project, it could be a party, a social engagement. It could be, you know, a leadership lifetime with the company, but you have a brand and you have to own that brand. You have to build it and you have to live it. And that’s what will carry you through with your clients. People, I even say family and partners, when the going gets tough, when the going gets tough, can I rely on this person? What’s their brand to help us get through and do the right thing and make the right choices and make the tough choices.

So, live your brand. Another guiding principle for me is I would say having what I call peer accountability, we own doing your best for others and yourself. We own how our actions affect others around us. And we own making every interaction and opportunity better because we were a part of it. Now, often, like I said, in the beginning, be humble on your mistakes. Sometimes that interaction doesn’t go well. And sometimes we look back and could have handled it better. It’s okay to say that it’s okay to own. Gosh, I didn’t get that right. The first time and apologize and say, I want to do that better. And it’s okay to try to redo something and work through it another time. But the key is you want to make sure that you have pure ownership for what you can do, what you can do better and how you impact others.

And then another. But I would call guiding principle is be the person people want to work for, with and around. You can be the most brilliant person in the room. It can be the best person at executing, but if you’re part of a team and you have to work together and you know, many things that we do rarely is it just us on our own? So the more that you can be, the person that people want to work with, for and around the more successful you’ll be. And the more people that you’ll have cheering you on. And again, like I said, when the going gets tough, the more people that will be there to hold your hand and help you through it. And then I’ll add one more thing as a leader, because I think this is important as a leader, I really feel that the pyramid is upside down and leadership is a serious responsibility and it’s not easy and we really should do it because we want to do it.

I know some people go into it because they have to do it. But as quickly as you can shift to wanting to do it, to embracing it, we have such a big responsibility. Most people spend more time at work with their coworkers than they do at home. And our responsibility is to enable people to be the best that they can be, remove the barriers that they have. We work to help them do their jobs better so that the company and our clients and all of us can do better and deliver on the goals that we have set forth. So I share that because I think leadership is a, it’s a really tough job and it’s a really serious job. And the other thing from a leader perspective is you want people to be successful, grow, develop, hire people that are better than you, hire people that can go further, help them succeed and bring others along with you on that.

Greg Myers:

Great. Yeah, those are very powerful and insightful guiding principles. I really appreciate you sharing those. I think like most people you’ve probably had a few eye-opening moments in your career. Maybe could you talk about a few of those?

Laura Miller:

Sure. So, you know, we all have transformational moments and they really form how we do things in the future and other experiences. And I would say when I was in my twenties, I had to execute on a reduction in force, you know, lay off whatever you want to call it. And I remember it was, you know, a group of employees that the jobs were just being automated. They truly were going away. And I had an amazing leader who helped me think through the responsibility of that and that it wasn’t just a task to let people know that they weren’t going to have a role anymore. It was a responsibility to make sure that we had all the tools and support around them. Tell, make them successful. That meant finding another job at the firm, if that meant helping them to move on to the next goal in their life.

And I worked really, really hard to not only practice and personally communicate and take accountability for it, but my leader helped show me what it was like to make a difference. Calling all the people she knew, you know, holding job fairs, helping people with the resume, building all the things now that are probably more systematic and are in large corporations that back then may not have been. And at the end of the day, I remember it impactfully because I was able to, for 85% of the employees find them a new role and the other 15% actually retired. And they were very excited about being able to retire. And so I felt really accomplished because we walked out of that with many people in a much better position. And I know not all of them are that aspirational to happen, but it was a moment for me to understand the responsibility around when you have to make these tough decisions, how end to end do you have to think about your employees, your people, your customers, and the impacts that it has on the organization and the compassion for people that’s super important.

I also, I touched on nine 11 before when we were talking about working through the card information and helping people that were impacted by that and helping clients and customers. That was another piece that was very impactful. And then also Sandy, when hurricane Sandy happened and what we had to do for employees, for customers, for our people on the ground for family and seeing the super impacts. And I was living in New York City at the time. And it was, I remember it was like right around, it was in the fall obviously. And we had so many people that were living in downtown. So many friends. And I literally had every night, probably seven to 10 people in my apartment because I still had power and access to water and everything. And it was just opening your home and apartment to people and employees and helping have compassion.

And so I think those were eye opening moments in my career because that transcended not only what you had to execute and do at work for your day job, but how real life impacts employees and how as much as you would like to separate it, they’re very, very fluid. And I think we’re experiencing that right now, right with COVID. And whether it’s people working from home, people personally impacted the challenges that all come with and how, yes, we do have a job to get done, but there’s a way to do it with compassion, with realistic expectations and support and accountability for employees. And at the end of the day for the job that we have to do for our customers and our clients.

Greg Myers:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s pivot just a little bit. And let’s talk specifically about women leaders and specifically in the payments industry, what letter grade would you give us as an industry and why?

Laura Miller:

So, I would, I really, as I think about this, I think if I were to do a grade A to F grade, I would give us a C plus. And the reason I give us a C plus is I give us a plus cause we are making progress. And I think we as an industry really aspire to have an A here, but we still have a ways to go. They believe there’s, there’s two shifts in why that’s happening. Number one, I do believe we have more women in payments. We have organizations like Wnet and others that are really focused on helping grow women through the ranks and help them with the support and knowledge to be successful in the industry. But this industry is also going highly technical. And as we, as it grows highly technical, we want to make sure that we also support women in technology. And I think that is an opportunity that’s converging at the same time with what we’re thinking about as women in payments. And so we need to support not only women in the core payments business, but in tech. And I do believe in many cases, we’ve done a great job in certain sectors and in certain jobs and roles, but end to end, I think we have more to do.

Greg:

Okay. What do you think we need to be doing? And what do we need to be doing differently?

Laura Miller:

So, one is the industry itself. It’s technical. The payments industry is the technology and the pace of change is happening so quickly and so significantly. And in this space experience of relationships are very, very meaningful. So it’s our job, all of us to, how do we recruit, nurture and build the future female. And I will also extend that to diverse talent because we have an accountability. As I talked about in the earlier discussions and questions, we have an accountability to be if we want to be the best, not only as a company or as an industry, the most diverse talent that we can have and the more diverse employees and thought and way of life and race, color, creed, and every aspect you can think of will generate the best ideas will help us represent the customers and communities that we’re all supporting. And at the end of the day, help us be much more innovative in creating products and solutions that meet the needs of the consumers and the businesses in the future. And so in order to do that, we have to literally recruit from the ground up and from entry level positions up is recruit women and diverse talent and nurture them through the payments journey. Like I said, it’s technical, it’s complex and help sustain their growth and knowledge build through this process.

Greg:

When do you think we can get there?

Laura Miller:

That’s a really good question, Greg, because I think it will depend with, on the speed with which we are willing to recruit and hire. But I think if you look at the cycle of knowledge and change, if we really aggressively double down in the next year, there, isn’t a reason that in five years, our landscape can’t look dramatically different because we can recruit employees, help train them, move them through different walks of life in the industry, different aspects of the payments industry. And I think we can make significant inroads in three to five years. I think we can start immediately in our lower ranks. And I think as we begin to promote those individuals and give them the experience, I think we can continue to make significant impacts even in the leadership ranks in three to five years.

Greg Myers:

Yeah, I agree. Totally agree. I always like to ask this question because I truly believe in trying to, you know, educate people about this industry. And I was like, you, I sort of fell into payments. I wasn’t looking for this hot industry to go into and I found payments and it just didn’t happen that way. And I don’t think it did to a lot of people back when I started in it 15 years ago, but in the last four or five years, you know, you have colleges now that have Fintech courses and a lot of money has been invested in this industry. And it’s kind of a hot industry right now. So I think you have women coming out of college who are entering the industry, what would your advice be to them?

Laura Miller:

So first to your point, there is a lot more access to this information coming out of college and even courses that you can take online, right? Even if you’re in a different industry and you want to learn about payments, I think the access to that information and learning is much more broad. And so whether you’re coming out of college or you are seeking, people want to think about a job career switch to payments, which is an amazing and exciting industry, grabbing a mentor, you know, in the space industry, the relationships are super important because so much of what we do crosses paths for all different types of partnerships and product capabilities. So one grabbing a mentor, build the relationship and partnership skills. Also, there are many industry organizations that are out there, both local and national and international. And I have found extreme value in those organizations because one, it’s a place that you can learn a lot in a short time, but it’s also a place that you can network with individuals.

And, and again, we’re at a place right now, where in person isn’t happening, but there are certainly these things happening virtually. And although virtually may seem harder and it is, there is still an aspect of it that, that makes it more accessible because you don’t have to travel right now to get access to some of this information, to some of these individuals and these people that are part of these associations and organizations. So again, mentor and joining the organizations as well as being a part of the many publications that are out there, just like, as I said before, this industry is moving so fast. Technology is changing so quickly. So being a part of the stream of information and staying connected to who’s in the industry, what are the firms coming in and connecting with individuals on LinkedIn, all great things that you can do to help support the growth.

Greg Myers:

Great. So let’s wrap up with one final question. If you would talk about what JPMorgan Chase is doing to help foster an environment where women can bring their full selves to work and be successful.

Laura Miller:

So one of the areas where I am most proud to work for JPMorgan Chase is in the efforts that we have around diversity and inclusion. And we’re specifically, you asked about women. So I’ll comment on something that started as a bit of, I don’t want to call it grassroots, but four of our senior leaders literally wanting to just get around and have conversations other women across the country, and it became branded as Women on the Move. And you can actually find more information about this. It is on the JPMorgan Chase website, but Women on the Move is essentially a, I don’t even call it an initiative, but it’s a living breathing part ecosystem that we have at JPMorgan Chase to show the commitment, to provide women with the opportunities to succeed both in their professional and personal lives. And there are three key areas of focus that we have really poured our energy into most recently.

And that is one expanding women run businesses. We talk about the importance of small businesses, so enabling women to grow their businesses, whether they’re startups to global enterprises. And in doing that through whether it’s access to capital, networking expertise and just the other breadth of resources that we have across the firm, the second area is improving women’s financial health. So how do we provide education and tools to increase the financial health and the independence of women in our communities? And by doing this, by increasing their financial acumen, we can help aim women to feel more confident about their financial futures and that confidence turning into more success. And then third is empower women’s career growth. So how do we support female employees across all levels, all regions, all lines of business and departments by providing an inclusive culture, coaching leadership, training, growth opportunities, and also family friendly policies and benefits to enable our women to be successful both professionally and personally.

And the ultimate goal there is to propel more women into leadership positions across the firm. And I think if you take a look at the leaders at that JPMorgan Chase, it’s pretty impressive to see the number of women that we have in the most senior leadership positions. And it’s truly proud to be a part of a company that is so committed to not only beginning these journeys well ahead of when it might’ve been obvious to do so, but to continuing to power them. And now we’ve doing the same across, not just women, but are advancing Black Pathways and all the other programs that we have to make sure that we are creating a diverse and inclusive culture and creating an environment where people from all walks of life can succeed and grow and see themselves in a leadership position if that’s where they aspire to be. 

Greg Myers:

Sure, so we’ve covered a lot of ground here about your background, your personal journey, the payments industry and JPMorgan Chase. Is there anything else that you wanted to cover or say before we completely wrap up?

Laura Miller:

I just wanted to say, Greg first, thank you to you for doing this. I think these podcasts and opportunities to listen to others, I’ve listened to many of the other ones that you’ve already recorded are a great way for individuals to learn from others, experience others. And I love the approach because you could also do it on the go. So whether you’re on your walk, whether in the park, you were on an airplane or what have you, I think this is truly a testament to the platform, not only that you’ve created, but then it’s available to all women and to everyone in payments and beyond to be able to continue to learn from others, which is one of the best ways that you can gain insights on how to build your own toolkit, to build your own brand so that you can propel your career in the direction that you want to. 

Greg:

Absolutely. Well Laura, thank you so much for being on the show today. I know your time is very valuable, so I want to be sensitive to that, but I really do appreciate you being here. 

Laura: 

Thank you, Greg. 

Greg:

And to all you listeners out there, I thank you for your time as well. And until the next story,

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