Monica Eaton-CardoneMonica Eaton-Cardone is the Chief Operating Officer of Chargebacks911 and Fi911.

Monica has worked tirelessly to educate merchants and financial institutions about hidden threats in the rapidly changing payment fraud landscape. Leading Chargebacks911, the company was founded in Tampa Bay, Florida, expanding internationally to also become Europe’s first chargeback remediation specialist to tackle the chargeback fraud problem. In ten years, Chargebacks911 has successfully protected more than 10 billion online transactions, and has recovered over $1 billion in chargeback fraud.

Recognizing that the impact of chargebacks goes beyond merchants, Monica also created Fi911, giving unrivalled support to financial institutions with innovative back-office management technologies. Fi911’s pioneering DisputeLab™ tool streamlines chargeback management for acquirers, automating legacy processes and standardizing methods that, simplifiies, and speeds the end to end workflow, improving the customer experience and accountability for all stakeholders..

Monica is a passionate diversity advocate and is committed to developing and sharing innovative solutions that empower the global fintech space. She has earned numerous awards, distinctions and special recognitions, including the Retail Systems Awards, where she received the ‘Outstanding Individual Achievement Award’, and being named ‘Global Leader of the Year’ at the Women in IT Awards.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

If I were to pick one characteristic that’s always defined me, I think it would have to be ambition.

I started working at a very young age. At the same time, completed high school at 16, then went on to launch my first business, which I sold before I turned 20. Since then, I’ve been what you might call a ‘serial entrepreneur.’ I like to take ideas, work them out and build on them, and eventually developing them into successful businesses.

Currently, I serve as the Co-Founder and COO of Chargebacks911, as well as  Fi911, our brand devoted to serve the world’s largest financial institutions. Day to day, that means leading a transatlantic team of nearly 400 extremely smart and talented people. I’m very excited by what we’re doing; although the problem we’re seeking to address can seem like an obscure payments industry issue, it will ultimately cost the industry $250 billion this year. The growth and reach are staggering – there’s tremendous opportunity here for us to provide value.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I always knew that I could work hard, and that I was capable of doing great things. However, I also believe that you can only ever try to make concrete plans for the short term. To be honest, if you’d have told me fifteen years ago that I would soon launch and lead an industry-defining fintech company, I never would have seen that coming!

What really appeals to me about financial technology is the fact that it changes so rapidly. Looking five years ahead and expecting the world to be close enough to today’s reality to make any sort of meaningful plan is just not going to work with a static mindset. I believe that it is better to understand what your values are and what broad problems you want to solve in the world, then adapt your approach to a changing environment until you’re the one driving the changes.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Absolutely! In fact, Chargebacks911 is actually the result of one of my biggest challenges.

I set up an eCommerce company in the mid-2000s. We were growing fast, and our customers liked our products. However, I found that chargebacks were seriously cutting into our bottom line. When I looked into them further, I found that many of them were fraudulent. I was literally being robbed under the guise of consumer protection.

I scoured the internet looking for solutions, but there was nothing on the market capable of addressing the issue. Most other merchants, as well as the banks that worked with them, just dismissed chargebacks as another externality, like shoplifting in a retail store. Things were so bad that we almost had to shut our store down entirely.

But, rather than giving in, I decided to tackle the problem head on. Even though I had no formal experience in software development, I was able to create a solution to the problem. In fact, it worked so well that other merchants and banks started coming to us and asking us to consult with them! This was the seed that eventually grew into Chargebacks911.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

When I think about our growth, it’s truly been a wild ride. We had 11 customers in 2011. Fast-forward ten years, and we now serve 45,000 merchants across 87 countries, 27 different verticals, and dozens of currencies. Even despite that success, I think the most important thing that we’ve done as a company has been to start a conversation about the problem of chargeback fraud.

When I started Chargebacks911, nobody was talking about chargebacks or chargeback abuse. That meant that anybody who didn’t want to pay for a purchase could do so and be pretty sure that they would get their money back. We’ve played a significant role in turning things around and changing the way people view the chargeback process. Payment brands have systems that work in tandem with our own, and more companies are coming around to the idea that they can fight fraud—and actually win.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My first job was when I was twelve years old. I worked at a mink farm, skinning pelts and earning a dollar a pelt. I found out early on that the only way to succeed at work is to engage yourself. So, I decided to make it into a game, challenging myself to do a little better every day. Within a month I had broken the company record.

I have always found engagement to be the key to success. You have to throw yourself into the work and really let it become your obsession. You can start a new project and say that you’ll push yourself, that you’ll do it for the money, or that you’ll treat yourself to a vacation after it’s over. It will still be a struggle, though, if you don’t really believe in the project. Creating success is the best inspiration for motivation.

If you’re truly engaged, your own passion for the project will propel you forward.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Over the years I have learned many lessons. Besides perseverance, which is the cornerstone quality of any entrepreneur; being a woman in technology and business, I’ve also learned to appreciate the value of developing thick skin. There is never a shortage of nay-sayers and to stay ahead means being willing to consistently challenge the status quo. But being determined to not give up and having the motivation to continue to raise the bar, isn’t successful if you aren’t also just as conscientious about improving yourself. I call this, ‘being professional’ – this means being willing to reframe criticisms into opportunities and strive for outcomes that are constructive, above all. Having good work ethic with an insatiable appetite for improvement, whilst maintaining the discipline to uphold high professional standards may not be easy in the short run, but pays in dividends long-term. To think of it another way, this really boils down to your influence on technology, process and people. Similar to the properties of a triangle, one without the other two, creates an imbalance. I really believe that, if you get these three things right, and if you commit and are honest with yourself about whether these philosophies are part of your everyday life, then everything else will fall into place. I believe these principles will always serve you well, both in and out of the office.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

It’s definitely true that there are some barriers in place for women in tech. That’s evidenced by the fact that women earn just 19% of computer science degrees. And, even among that small minority, only 38% of women who earn a degree in computer science will end up actually working in the field.

I believe that one of the main obstacles is a lack of role models who manage to find success in the field, then turn around and lend a hand to inspire and uplift younger women who come after them. What would help would be for every woman who breaks through the glass ceiling to commit to a minimum of bringing two more women with her. This can be done through mentorship, through advocacy, and through the building of networks among women working in tech.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

The first step is simply to realise that they’re there at all.

There are thousands of women who want to work in tech, who have both the hard and soft skills necessary, and who may be even better-equipped to lead successful companies than some men. We need to develop these individuals from the beginning of their careers, encourage their talents and provide the skills necessary to grow.

From there, we also need to develop ‘on-ramps’ for women who are late to start in tech. Far more young boys are told that they can one day be billionaire CEOs and computer geniuses. They develop a passion early, and by the time they are studying computer science or data analytics, they have already been coding for years. Women might develop a passion for technology later in life after being exposed to it through work, so there needs to be space for them to circle back, pick up any skills they may have missed, and join the workforce.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I think it’s fundamentally a pipeline problem. Going back to mentorship, many young women are unable to see themselves as potential leaders in the tech industry, so few commit to learning the skills needed to get in on the ground floor.

I’m not big on magic wands, but I do believe in education and finding self-worth through effort and hard work. That’s why I created an organization, called Paid for Grades, that provides literacy tutoring services, career-planning lessons and general life skills acquisition to young people. Once we foster a wave of young women who are applying to colleges for degrees in STEM, we can start to move towards a truly meritocratic workforce that reflects the real world.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m a member of a number of organisations – Women in Technology International, the American Business Women’s Association, the Electronic Retail Association—I could go on. Every one contributes something, and I give as much as I can back to each of them. These organizations targeted at serving women in technology are great resources, and can help women in tech to build out their networks.

Whatever part of the wider tech industry you’re in, you’ll be able to find groups of people who will support you. This is true for women, as well as persons of colour and LGBTQ people. The ecosystem is very diverse; most of us just need to find the means to tap into it.