Women in Business Q&A: Keren Levy, COO, Payoneer

Keren Levy

Keren Levy is the COO of Payoneer, responsible for Payoneer's day-to-day operations. Previously, Keren established Leumi Card's international acquiring and issuing department managing all aspects of operations, business development and regulation. Prior to joining Leumi Card, Keren established the Online Threats Managed Services (OTMS) department at Cyota, which was acquired by RSA Security in 2005. While at Cyota, she managed projects for Barclays, Citibank, Chase, HSBC and many other banks all over the globe. Keren holds an M.B.A. in Finance.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
It's the small experiences you have a child which shape you as an adult, which I believe is true for me. From the age of 9 I became active in a local youth movement and then followed the path of becoming a leader. Then throughout my high school years I joined committees, ran volunteering activities and collaborated on social projects. All this responsibility as a youth of working with children, and the experience of being socially engaged, definitely gave me a taste for building projects, managing myself and most importantly in working with other people.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Payoneer?
There are two positions which set the foundation for my position at Payoneer. The first was at a startup company called Cyota (acquired by RSA which was later acquired by EMC). When I joined the company it was pretty small with just 60 employees and my role was to establish a department which offered a new service to manage online threat services for banks. With the support of amazing founders, I built the department from scratch and covered operations, product, sales, client relationships and a host of other roles, growing it to a department of 150. It gave me crucial experience in working directly with banks and in creating up a startup within a startup. This solidified my business experience which is now core to my position as COO at Payoneer.

At Leumi Card I was hired to establish the international operations department, responsible for international issuing and acquiring services. This gave me the depth of financial, compliance and risk management knowledge that is needed in my current role. Where Cyota was my foundation in business skills, Leumi Card gave me credibility on the knowledge side.

Now, after almost 7 years at Payoneer, I'm enjoying a dynamic and exciting journey of learning and gaining new experiences from my amazing peers and team members.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Payoneer?
Helping businesses grow internationally by solving how they receive their funds from international clients, is a complicated business. There are so many things to consider including constant innovation, great technology and complex infrastructure. It's operation intensive, regulation intensive, actually everything intensive. What this demands is a huge amount of teamwork to pull off the movement of billions of dollars annually, in a regulated, fast and safe way. This is what Payoneer succeeds in doing every year and it consistently impresses me what we have achieved throughout the years.

For example, in December 2010, all foreign payment companies had to adjust their product to be in compliance with the local regulation. Fast forward 5 years plus a lot of hard, and we were back. In December 2015, after partnering with local banks and building new services tailored for the Indian market, 9 Payoneer employees from 4 different global offices on a roadshow across 3 major cities, visited and met with hundreds of key players in India - business owners, professionals, lawyers and banks. The reception that we received was emotional and humbling.

Which brings me onto my last point. The fast growth pace of Payoneer makes it challenging to ensure that every employee keeps feeling that they can make a difference. As we've spread from 5 to 10 office locations in the past year, and from 350 employees to over 600, it's constantly challenging to keep people engaged. The Globathon, which was a global event for all Payoneer employees that took place last October, was a highlight for me as I witnessed the drive, excitement and connection that the teams succeed in building and maintaining despite the huge physical distances between them.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I've learned that as a manager, you are far more dependent on your team, then the opposite. This is built into the Payoneer culture where managers create an environment for team members to succeed, enjoy their work and know that that are making a difference. Working in an environment where everyone has a mutual strong sense of personal responsibility, is a motivating experience for all of us.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Balance is too much of a subjective word. For me it's about feeling confident in our decision of how we chose to integrate our career into our personal lives. I certainly love what I'm doing and it help.

What I've chosen to do is ensure I speak with my children about my work. My exposure in Payoneer to so many different cultures, gives me the opportunity to speak with my kids about children their age, with different lives in different parts of the world. They are continuously inquisitive about everyone I work with and meet on my travels.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Referring to the question before, I think it's about striving to this find this ambiguous work-life 'balance'. Anyone, male or female, who is secure in their work-life choice will execute more confident decisions in the work place too. If women can overcome the need to find this this ambiguous balance, they're on the way to success. Of course, another huge issue is the imbalance of women versus men in senior positions. It therefore makes me especially proud to work for Payoneer where 52% of the senior level management are women.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My mentors over the years have been instrumental in the way I manage and work with people. Apart from the industry knowledge that I've gained from them, more importantly it's been the lessons on human interaction, that are key for business, that's left the biggest impact.

Outside of work I learned a lot from my grandmother who passed away when she was 96. She was a strong and independent woman who was passionate, hardworking, always curious and constantly thinking of how she could contribute to others. Seeing her live her life in such a way has totally shaped who I am today.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are a couple of women who really stand out for me. Andrea Merkel for her success at driving the strongest economy in Europe and for standing up for her often controversial beliefs. Frida Khalo for being a strong and independent woman who broke away from female beauty stereotypes to become the success that she was.

Like everyone, they both have their imperfections and aren't afraid to show them, yet they continuously show resilience in their beliefs.

What do you want Payoneer to accomplish in the next year?
During a recent trip to India, I met face-to-face with local business men and women who rely on Payoneer's cross border payment solutions to power their businesses. My experience of working closely with banks has also demonstrated the rigidity of the current payments infrastructure and the inaccessibility they provide for B2B transactions.

This is what I hope Payoneer will accomplish in the next year. The success of working with local markets, understanding their individual needs, working with their local regulatory services and bringing them solutions that empower every single business to enter the global market. This will be driven by Payoneer's determination to remain innovative leaders in the fintech space, to continue developing B2B solutions that break away from the traditional payment infrastructures, making cross-border payments available for every business.

Finally, as Payoneer continues to expand its workforce both in numbers and geographies, I will work with the rest of the team to maintain the vibrant company culture, unique spirit and strong energy of innovation that runs central to Payoneer.