Visa’s Talking With Millennial Women. Here’s What They’re Saying

Visa’s new SVP of North America Marketing, Mary Ann Reilly, wants to have a frank conversation with Millennial women, who she says are the primary financial decision makers, and are critical to reach.

Visa’s Talking With Millennial Women. Here’s What They’re Saying

by Giselle Abramovich

Posted on 08-21-2018

This article is part of our August series about the state of financial services. Click here for more.

Visa’s new SVP of North America marketing, Mary Ann Reilly, wants to have a frank conversation with Millennial women, who she says are the primary financial decision makers, and are critical to reach.

The facilitator for this conversation? A new campaign designed specifically toward the needs of the female Millennial cohort, many of whom, according to Visa research, find it difficult to talk about money in their everyday lives. Visa worked with Lieberman Research Worldwide to survey U.S. Millennial and Gen X men and women, ages 22-53.

In this exclusive interview with, Reilly, who joined Visa in January after more than 25 years at American Express, shares valuable insights about Millennial women, as well as where Visa’s North America marketing strategy is going, the future of the plastic card, and she also provides a piece of career advice for fellow women in marketing. Visa’s new campaign is a bit of a departure from your typical creative. Can you speak to that?

Reilly: This campaign is a purposeful departure from what we’ve done in the past because we’re in a time of cultural change when it comes to women. That’s why we wanted to focus on Millennial women because they are the ones driving this change, and they also happen to make a bulk of the purchase decisions for their households.

The Millennial segment—generally speaking—is a big segment in terms of age. A lot of companies are segmenting older and younger Millennials, and research shows that Millennials are actually the most skeptical of marketing. They don’t trust advertisers, and they don’t think that advertisers understand them.

One interesting finding in our research was that Millennial women are more likely to value money as empowered meanings like success beyond just safety meanings like security. They tend to be more driven with their career, optimistic about their goals, and less willing to sacrifice their financial independence or work than Gen X. And yet, our research shows that women have a more negative relationship with money compared to men—feeling like they are worse off than others, feeling guilty, judged when it comes to spending. Her number one concern is that she isn’t making enough money. Meanwhile, 89% of Millennial women say it’s more expensive to be a woman and 63% of Millennial men agree.

** What else did your research uncover that helped inform your campaign?

Reilly: Women are just more uncomfortable talking about money overall. We found that 54% of women will discuss their sex lives with one another, yet only 16% are willing to tell their friends how much money they make. When it comes to salary, two in three women believe there is a gender pay gap in society, but only one in three believe there is a pay gap at their workplace. Furthermore, one in two women believe they aren’t fairly compensated.

They’re uncomfortable about money in every aspect of their life. In fact, 60% feel uncomfortable asking their own friends to pay them back, which I thought was pretty interesting. And, the number one barrier for women is that they don’t feel comfortable asking for a promotion even if they think they are deserving of one.

So the big difference in this campaign is, we are starting this conversation with women. Not to speak at them. But speak with them. We are having conversations around key themes of money: everything from dating, to friends, to work, self, and family. And we are going to the places where these women are already having these conversations—online and on social media.

What’s also interesting is that we have a small group of Millennial women from the company helping us with this effort and guiding us on whether the messaging is resonating with them. With their help, we will continue to iterate and get feedback along the way. What’s your vision for Visa’s North American marketing strategy?

Reilly: The campaign is really phase one. We want to learn from this audience and continue to iterate on the conversation and on the content—because right now we aren’t actually meeting their needs. Meeting the needs of Millennial women has become a strategic imperative for us, so we’re working really hard to close gaps there and create a second phase of the campaign to keep the conversation going.

Overall, Visa is about universal acceptance for everyone, everywhere, and that’s our brand promise. You’ll continue to see advertising from Visa around multiform factors of acceptance around contactless (a.k.a tap-and-go payments) because it’s really starting to take root in the United States, where over half of our merchants are set up with the capability to accept contact list cards. It’s the same security as inserting the chip, which is important for our customers to understand. What do you think are the biggest opportunities for financial services organizations in the next 12 to 18 months?

Reilly: There is so much change happening in financial services, and that’s why I think it’s such an exciting time to be a part of it. For financial services, specifically, the opportunity is to build products and services that move money securely and conveniently. We’re already innovating in multiple form factors—not just on mobile phones. We’ve integrated payments into smart watches and are looking ahead at the possibilities with autonomous cars.

Another opportunity I see is in the person-to person (P2P) push payments space. It’s really about moving money, from a P2P perspective, but also about allowing you to receive money immediately from your insurance company, for example, right to your debit card. There is so much opportunity to innovate in this space and to make our customers’ busy lives a little easier. You joined Visa less than a year ago. What have you been most impressed with so far?

Reilly: I think a lot of companies talk about collaboration, but it’s a word that is truly ingrained in their culture. I’ve found with Visa it is truly a culture of collaboration. For example, a lot of learning is shared across the global leadership team, which is so important. Every country is in different positions in terms of adoption of things like “tap-and-go” payments, for example. We are in the very early stages of that here in the U.S., but Canada and Australia are way ahead. Through collaboration, we are able to learn invaluable lessons from those teams and apply those lessons to similar initiatives in other markets.

The other thing I would bring up that really impressed me is the focus on diversity and inclusion. It is really part of the culture here. We have programs in place for developing female leadership and are constantly working to ensure that we are walking the talk, in terms of diversity and inclusion. Which emerging technology are you keeping a close eye on and why?

Reilly: It’s fascinating to watch how payments have become so embedded in everyday technology, particularly as we start to see more varieties of services around voice command. It’s something that we’ve been preparing for. Voice is interesting for us because it sort of removes the piece of plastic, which is where our branding is embedded. We do believe that the plastic card will go away in the longer run. It’s expected that there will be 21 billion internet connected devices by 2020, according to Gartner.

I think it is an opportunity for us to design what the future of payments will look like and establish how Visa continues to remain visible within this new normal. So, as an example, we’ve created multisensory branding specific to Visa—a custom sound, animation, and a haptic vibration. It gives that assurance that tells you your payment has gone through successfully. We’re looking to continue to build on the brand in very different and unique ways. If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Reilly: My one piece of advice to my younger self, who grew up during a very different time as a woman in the corporate world, is: Ask for what you want. That’s not something I did. I was always tapped on the shoulder for roles. I think that’s a cultural change that’s happening, and those are the conversations that I have with the younger women who I work with today.

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