Monica Acree, vice president of sales for the Asia Pacific region at Forter. Photo courtesy of Forter.
Over the last 15 years, Monica Acree has followed her passion for digital payments and anti-fraud systems, holding senior positions at PayPal and its subsidiary Braintree. In 2019, she joined Forter, a software-as-a-service company that offers fraud prevention technology to online retailers and marketplaces.
In her interview with Oasis, Acree, who’s now the vice president of sales at Forter for the Asia Pacific region, unpacks her learnings about the payment sector in the region. She also shares what the fintech ecosystem should do to promote better gender equality.
Oasis (OS): What drew you to the payment sector 15 years ago?
Monica Acree (MA): My first time working in the payment sector was around 2006. It was my second job after university, and honestly, it wasn’t a deliberate choice because fintech wasn’t even a term at the time. The payment sector wasn’t a sexy industry back in those days.
It began in a small town in the US Midwest, where I was selling credit card payment terminals to businesses. I was trying to convince businesses to adopt credit cards on top of cash. Many small companies never thought that cards were going to be necessary for their businesses. It took a little bit of education, but the experience also reminded me how fast the payments sector has evolved over a short period.
I moved to Singapore ten years ago. At the time, there was no Grab, Lazada, or even Amazon. The speed of innovation happens faster in markets like Singapore because the lack of financial inclusion has enabled innovation to leapfrog some of the infrastructure challenges.
OS: What did you learn while working at Braintree and PayPal?
MA: At Braintree, I was part of a five-person team that launched services in Asia. It left a significant imprint on my career as I learned to build a business from scratch. Also, I had to work within a small team and faced many constraints to reach our goals. As we were launching and building the brand, PayPal had just acquired Braintree. I learned a lot about merging two companies with two very different cultures and about the processes and motions to successfully bring them together.
When I left PayPal, I knew I wanted to stay within the larger payments ecosystem, but I didn’t want to do the same as what I was doing before. The position at Forter came perfectly because it was within the payment ecosystem, yet it is a new sector that allows me to learn within the ecosystem.
OS: What should the fintech industry do to include more women?
MA: When I went to university in the US, it was a huge engineering school where over 75% of students were males. I’ve been around this kind of environment for so long that it didn’t bother me as much when I was younger. But as I get older, I feel more passionate about fixing these imbalanced gender ratios. I think representation at the top is essential for all organizations. Some people relate diversity as a recruitment tactic, but to me, it is a cultural strategy that could bring true diversity to a company. For example, by diversifying the most senior levels at an organization, we could drive diversity from the bottom up.
I have recently been thinking about why some women tend to hold back their feedback or opinions. Personally, I’m very direct and open. But I’ve also seen the negative impacts of doing that, so I understand why women don’t often weigh in. I decided that I would continue to be authentic to myself. I believe it’s the only way to challenge these gender norms. For my organization, I also make sure that I’m creating a safe space for my young female coworkers, who might be just a few years into their careers.
OS: What is your advice to women who are starting in fintech?
MA: If I could go back and tell my younger self something, it would be to adopt an open learning mindset. The industry, the companies, and even the competitors could change, but what’s really important is to constantly hone your skills.
When I was younger, I relied on organizations to give me information or to train me. As I grow older, I’ve realized that it’s my responsibility to seek opportunities for development and learning, and it’s never been easier to do that with so much content out there. It is important to carve out at least one hour a day for your own development—it could just be listening to a podcast or watching a webinar—but these incremental gains, on a daily basis, will end up creating some extraordinary results in the end.
OS: What is something that you carried forward to Forter? And what’s something that perhaps you left behind?
MA: Something I’ve carried forward throughout my career is the importance of reflecting on the progress you make along the way. When building a business, it’s very easy to put your head down and just focus on what’s ahead. However, it’s important for the whole team to reflect on the progress along the way.
Celebrating small milestones is incredibly important too. It is something I’ve brought forward from the early days until now. When I joined Forter, I was happy to leave behind the communications silos that naturally exist in large organizations, as they can hamper your innovation and speed of execution.