Mobile payments are a burgeoning and exciting phenomenon, generating significant interest but also speculation. In what direction will this method of payment acceptance evolve? Gateway and merchant payments company Charge Anywhere LLC appears to have its bases covered where mobile acceptance is concerned. It was recently recognized as the Mobile Solution Provider of the Year at the 2011 Mobile Banking and Emerging Applications Summit.
Much of the company's strength is due to its broad reach in the marketplace. Charge Anywhere offers a matrix of processing, acceptance and connection options designed to provide an easy-to-use and wide ranging platform of mobile acceptance.
To that end, Charge Anywhere is connected to essentially every processor in the United States. According to the company, that means merchants who adopt its platform can keep the processor with which they've already signed on, as well as provide a virtually limitless array of programs through Charge Anywhere.
"Our Level-1 Security Validated Transaction Gateway, ComsGate, is connected to 100 percent of the payment processors [doing business] within the U.S. today," said Oscar Munoz, Vice President of International Business Development for Charge Anywhere.
"What this means for an ISO/MLS is that, unlike other providers, they can simply use our Charge Anywhere Secure Mobile Application with any processor or merchant account number provider that they want to accommodate for their clients."
Among the payment types accepted by Charge Anywhere mobile acceptance devices (both purpose-built hardware mobile acceptance modules and smart phone-based payment acceptance operating systems) are credit and debit card, cash, check, and automated clearing house (ACH) payments, as well as state-of-the-art gift and loyalty-based programs.
The company also offers magnetic stripe readers, e-mail receipts and paper receipt printers as peripherals to all its mobile devices, allowing mobile merchants to accept conventional, card-present payments. In fact, most of its swipe devices come packaged with receipt printers, though specifics vary with each type of phone.
The company's swipe piece plugs into the audio-jack of Google Inc. Android and Research in Motion BlackBerry devices, but connects to the serial port of Apple Inc. iPhones, iPads and iPods. With BlackBerrys, users can also get wireless connectivity to swipe devices using Bluetooth technology; that same functionality is also available with Android and Windows Mobile phones.
The company also reported it is among the first in the United States to offer near field communication (NFC) functionality on its acceptance pieces, allowing customers to pay with a card by merely holding it near a sensor and not sliding it as they traditionally would. Devices can also accommodate Europay/MasterCard/Visa card payments.
Charge Anywhere Marketing Manager Kelley McDermott said that, while NFC has yet to catch on in the United States, the terminals can be useful for merchants in places like Canada and Europe.
She also said the company, which has resellers and merchants all over the world, is in talks to expand its NFC platform through an undisclosed partnership with another payment firm.
"We accommodate all tender types and flavors of payment acceptance our ISOs/MLSs are accustomed to, yet provide the full functionality for them to be able to offer newer items on the market," Munoz said, pointing to examples such as "services related to closed/open-loop prepaid cards and all check-acceptance flavors through their provider of choice."
Other ease-of-use features Charge Anywhere provides include a proprietary mobile operating system for mobile payment acceptance and a proprietary gateway, ComsGate, that merchants connect to.
Thus merchants can sign up with the same company to receive both gateway and mobile acceptance services, saving them the time, hassle and money of registering with two different providers.
Munoz referred to the company's proprietary gateway as the "brain of the payment ecosystem," and noted that "you don't have to go out and sign with another company; you can get the mobile app straight from us and also use our gateway."
Another plus the company noted about its mobile operating system is device agnosticism: the system works with every major smart phone on the market. In addition, McDermott pointed out that part of what makes the operating platform special is that, although it is compatible with a wide range of devices, it is also subtly tailored to fit each one.
"We decided way back that when we were going to have an operating system on a BlackBerry, we didn't want it to look like what it did on the iPhone," McDermott said. "We keep our own canvas, touch and feel ... but do it with different sub-features so that each program sits nicely within the operating system in which it resides."
Dovetailing with that is the ability for mobile merchants to retain their operating relationships with Charge Anywhere even when they switch carriers. Rather than download an entirely new operating system, a merchant can contact his or her ISO and immediately embed the same payment acceptance provider into the new phone.
"We have an app for all the operating systems," McDermott said. "When we built the app, we built the software for the operating system instead of the phone. We built it for an Android platform, so it'll work for AT&T, BlackBerry and Android."
According to McDermott, merchants can "switch carriers and operating systems completely" and can get a Charge Anywhere operating system to work. "From the old BlackBerry system, your payment acceptance will be just as compatible with the new iPhone from AT&T," she said. "It's as simple as transferring your account from one to the other. Just download a new app, free of cost, and all the transactions that have been recording stay on that same gateway account."
McDermott added that a phone contract is typically for only one or two years, and if a merchant wants to switch carriers or operating systems when a contract ends, Charge Anywhere can "look up the account, send them a link and then they can use their license key to re-register the app on their new device and are up and running literally within a few moments and ready to accept credit card payments."
The proprietary reach of Charge Anywhere extends to its mobile operating systems as well, which are embedded on each phone as a device, rather than existing online. According to Munoz, this makes the program convenient, efficient and highly secure.
"Our mobile app does actually reside on the operating system of the different cell phones," Munoz said. "We are not simply opening a web session from the handset which, as would be expected, is not as fast, nor as stable, nor as secure.
"When our front-end users log in through the security layer to access the app, it is the Mobile Charge Anywhere secure application that actually resides on the phone."
Having the app operate on the phone itself, not in a "cloud" or on the Internet, is additionally conducive to stronger security, Munoz said. Charge Anywhere's operating system protects card data as soon as it enters a phone using encryption and truncation methods to keep it shielded.
This is also true of data entered into terminals and e-commerce sites. In addition, no customer data is stored on a merchant's phone or merchant's environment, Munoz said.
"It's very simple: our application does not keep any sensitive data on the device, and we do not just talk about encryption; we have in-house specialists in cryptology that have always taken the subject to new levels," he said.
Munoz pointed out that the company has added a new security layer: signature capture, which can be done by touch on phones that have touch screens. Merchants using peripheral printers can have receipts signed as they would in a regular store. Such measures help prevent Chargebacks, Munoz said.
Charge Anywhere also provides extensive back-end service for all its clients, including Intuit Inc. QuickBooks accounting, real-time payment information coming in from merchants and inventory management.
McDermott said the system can be used as a consolidated database with multiple contractors working under one merchant.
For example, the owner of a cab company can see the collective payment data of all the company's drivers in one night, as well as splice that data into various categories such as sales per driver; total sales; and sales by hour, by geographic region, etc.
"As it relates to the foundation of our industry, it is all about greater flexibility, convenience and as many payment options as possible," Munoz said. "The merchant just wants to get paid, regardless of the tender type that the different customers within his geographical reach or target market will bring to his or her business."
He added that anytime an ISO or MLS leaves a payment door opened - or not serviced - for a merchant, someone else will come and close it.
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Phone: 732-417-4447, ext. 125
Charge Anywhere LLC
4041 B Hadley Road
South Plainfield, NJ 07080