A passion for payments: Breaking the glass ceiling in the ATM industry

June 2, 2017 | by Alicia Blanda

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Donna Embry, chief payments advisor for Payment Alliance International has been breaking molds for her entire career. From becoming one of the first female senior vice presidents at a financial institution to serving as a C-level executive in the ATM industry, it's been no easy feat.

Embry's journey in payments has spanned several decades and has relied on a great deal of curiosity, gumption, team work ... and a little bit of luck.

Donna Embry,
Chief Payments Advisor,
Payment Alliance International

Embry started her career in payments in the 1960s, working the second shift at a bank while earning a degree in foreign languages. But at a time when many people thought women should be clerical workers, teachers or homemakers, she had confidence that she would do bigger things.

With college graduation approaching in 1969, Embry approached a vice president at the bank where she worked

"I told him I was graduating and wanted to be transferred to the International Department," she remembers, laughing. "He was probably thinking, 'Who is this girl?' But he took a moment to explain that department dealt only in currency conversion and exchange rates."

Instead he let her take the test to join the programming department, reasoning that computer languages were sufficiently foreign.

As it turned out, this was a good time to be involved in information technology for payments. Embry was working in programming and development when point-of-sale terminals and automated teller machines launched in the U.S.

She served on a team at that oversaw her institution's launch of ACH, PIN debit, signature debit, EBT, smart cards and the implementation of ATMs. She worked exclusively in IT until 1980, working in the trenches to build a solid foundation in payments and payment innovation.

So, what made her walk into that VP's office instead of seeking a career that might have been considered more degree- and gender-appropriate? Embry credits her father for instilling the confidence to step through that doorway.

"My father never saw a difference in gender," she said. "He organized contact sports (football and baseball) with coed teams and gave me the opportunity to experience teamwork in a way most girls did not get. This was all before Title IX, the federal civil rights law which prohibits sexual discrimination."

Asked what advice she could offer to other career-minded individuals, Embry listed four major requirements:

  1. always be curious; make "What if?" your motto;
  2. focus on teamwork; mentor and be mentored;
  3. have confidence in your own abilities; and
  4. don't be afraid of technology.

As an IT professional with a real passion for payments, Embry is excited about future developments in store for ATMs and the financial industry — including mobile technology, proximity marketing and cardless transactions.

"My only regret," she said, "is that I don't have 50 more years to put into it."


Editor's note: ATM Marketplace congratulates Donna Embry on receiving the Distinguished Payments Professional Award for 2017 at a May 31 dinner in conjunction with the Women in Payments U.S. Symposium in Arlington, Virginia. The award, presented by Women in Payments, recognizes the lifetime achievement of a woman who has served as a role model while contributing greatly to the overall positive image of the payments industry.


Topics: Distributors / ISO / IAD

Companies: Payment Alliance International


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