According to Elie Lewis, Executive Vice President at Washington Bancard Merchant Services LLC, the Miami-based ISO has three basic, interrelated goals with regard to its merchant partnerships: offer the lowest prices, the strongest customer service and the most suitably customized technology that a merchant can find.
WBMS was founded in 2007 by three business partners who combined diverse areas of expertise. Lewis' background was primarily in marketing, including 15 years with Procter & Gamble. His two partners were a manager in the merchant processing business and an investment banker.
The combination appears to have been successful: the ISO serves almost 1,000 merchants now, having added 35 percent more merchants and resellers in the past two years.
Lewis called the ISO a "small organization" that has made providing a close-knit, hands-on customer care program its priority since day one.
Among other things, its merchant care program entails working closely with merchants to structure the best possible pricing plan, provide real-time reports on transaction data, and assist with data protection and ensure Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) compliance.
Before entering a contract with any merchant, WBMS sits down with the business and devises the best possible interchange arrangement, Lewis said. That service is available, free of charge, to any merchant interested in exploring the potential for savings, including comparison shoppers partnered with other ISOs but curious about alternatives, he noted.
Each merchant pricing arrangement is reviewed by multiple officials at WBMS. Lewis said he personally "reviews and analyzes every statement that comes in our door."
Lewis said 90 percent of established merchants who consult with WBMS are offered a rate reduction. "Ninety percent come up with nice savings, and the worst case scenario is we can match their [existing or previous] deal," he said. "As long as we cover our baseline fees, that's where I start and then work upward based on what I see from the merchant.
"Whether it's a quarter basis point or 10 basis points, I try to get the deal done. I see it as establishing relationships with merchants that lead to new relationships and other important opportunities. Of course revenue is important, but it's not everything, so we do what we can to be the best possible provider and also have a modest residual from each merchant."
WBMS' goal is to retain merchants for as long as possible. If you price someone inaccurately or too high, you open the door for competitors, Lewis noted. "So you have to consider relationships, and what the client is paying and what other processors are offering," he said.
Lewis said fee reductions are often achieved by moving merchants from a tiered pricing structure to interchange-plus, which levies the same percentage rate on all transactions. Tiered pricing adjusts the percentage based on the type of transaction (for example, debit versus credit, card-present versus card-not-present, etc.).
"When we see a merchant on tiered pricing, we try to move them to interchange-plus pricing, and then we look at discount rates," Lewis said. "Especially with the Durbin Amendment [which capped interchange rates for debit transactions], there are very good opportunities to move a client to interchange-plus pricing so they can save on debit rates as much as possible."
Each merchant that contracts with WBMS is assigned a personal relationship manager charged with getting merchants set up, checking up on them regularly, and providing assistance when it's solicited or necessary. Merchants are given the cell phone numbers to these service professionals; they also have 24/7 phone assistance via the company's call center.
The company also works with each new merchant to find the POS setup that is best suited to the client's specific needs. "Our core processing services are retail, e-commerce, wireless and mobile processing," Lewis said. "Based on the type of business, we will determine what type of equipment the client wants - whether point-of-sale software or physical terminals ... We will introduce all our core customer service functions and a complete written proposal clearly outlining every service fee."
He added that the company's processing channels are compatible with over 500 different POS systems.
WBMS offers conventional brick-and-mortar terminals for free, as well as wireless terminals for half the wholesale cost. The ISO also provides free software and adaptors for mobile processing on such devices as the Apple Inc. iPhone. It offers wireless terminal rentals for low flat fees administered weekly or monthly, depending on the length of the rental.
For nonprofit organizations, the company has a special program through which WBMS donates 20 percent of the total monthly residuals to the nonprofit, Lewis said.
The ISO's other services include a gift card program, ATM services and check services. Its gift card program includes social media and mobile marketing, online gift card redemption and top-up, mobile reward apps, custom-branded web portals, and customer analytics to assist with marketing campaigns.
Other services for merchants include First Data Corp.'s RapidComply, a web-based PCI DSS compliance program that provides questionnaires and performance scans of POS systems. Lewis said company officials receive merchant PCI-compliance status reports and immediately contact those who aren't in compliance in order to assist them. "Sometimes their systems aren't adequate," Lewis said. "We work with them to see what they need to do to step up and pass the security scans."
The company also offers real-time reporting with an online program called Portfolio Manager Solutions, which reports POS transactions, deposits, batch details, merchant statements and chargebacks in real-time, Lewis stated.
When chargebacks do occur, WBMS takes an active approach to fight the ones that seem suspect. "We have a chargeback defense group that takes a step-by-step approach with the merchant, submitting documentation to win or at least defend chargebacks," Lewis said. "We don't just tell the client, 'Here's an 800 number, good luck.' We take steps to see it's handled properly."
Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) working with WBMS have full leeway regarding how big a role they play in servicing and assisting the merchants they board.
"Every merchant has to get the same level of service," Lewis said. "Whether we do 100 percent, 50 percent or 20 percent of that service depends on the agent." He added that agents who do provide ongoing merchant service are required to undergo education and training to ensure they are on par with the company's own personal relationship managers.
"We have a reputation and wouldn't be comfortable having [MLSs] represent us without reading reports and attending the seminars we require," Lewis said. "Education is very important in this business, and biweekly, I distribute to all the salespeople the things I've learned, and we review everything - from training, to pricing, to customer service, to technology. Pricing models are always changing, interchange is always changing, a lot of things change all the time, and I try to sit on as many webinars as possible."
How active an MLS's role is with the merchant helps determine the size of that agent's residual, Lewis said. The company's residual sharing program usually gives the agent a residual of between 20 and 50 percent, but there is a high degree of flexibility around how MLS payouts are structured between upfront monthly payouts and residual portions, he noted.
WBMS also offers a referral program through which agents are compensated for referring merchants and for providing statements for analysis. They are also rewarded for each merchant who ends up signing with the company, Lewis said.
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