In 2017, when Laura Demke-Calixte established Electronic Processing North America LLC, a Chicago-based payment processing provider, her primary objective was to create a merchant services firm that could be trusted for its integrity and ethics.
"I was seeing a significant decrease in customer service, as well as a significant increase in merchant fees through the recent mergers and acquisitions," said Demke-Calixte, who serves EPNA in the roles of president and CEO. "There is very little integrity left in this industry, and it shows every time we review a merchant statement."
EPNA is an all-female powerhouse. With over 20 years in merchant services sales, Demke-Calixte brought a strong foundation of experience into her venture. This included multiple years serving in both the acquiring and banking sides of the industry, where she witnessed everything from giant mergers and acquisitions, to regulatory changes, to a rise in deception when dealing with merchants.
Frustrated, Demke-Calixte decided it was time to build a merchant services company that operated on the principles of honesty, transparency and availability. She also defied industry odds by founding one of the only payment companies with an all-female leadership team.
From EPNA's beginning, Demke-Calixte endeavored to strengthen the firm with meaningful credentials such as by earning regional and national Women Business Enterprise certifications and bringing in respected professionals to join the EPNA executive team. These include Charlene Mitchell and Esther Pochron, who now respectively serve as chief analytics officer and chief business development officer at EPNA.
According to Demke-Calixte, Mitchell's legal background, as well as Pochron's English degree and 25-year history in payments, have enhanced EPNA's leadership assets and strengthened its ability to win new business.
Together, the three women have worked to take the startup through several rigorous certification processes, answer dozens of requests for proposal (RFP) inquiries, open a flagship merchant storefront, and establish EPNA as a growing business enterprise.
Demke-Calixte feels the corporate side of payments isn't always doing the best for merchants. "Integrity is a key differentiator in this industry," she stated during a recent Merchant Sales Podcast interview. "I've had the advantage of working and selling inside a bank, and the customer is always first."
And the customer is central to EPNA's mission. According to EPNA's website, the firm is committed to transparent merchant pricing with no hidden fees or unexpected increases. EPNA also focuses first on training and consultative services for the merchant at the front end and is not interested in short-term gain, Demke-Calixte noted.
"I wanted to establish EPNA to do merchant services the right way," she said. "We review credit card processing statements and assist merchants with understanding their fees – that's the first step."
The founder also noted innovation is critical to the merchant services arena. "You really have to stay on top of all the innovation that encompasses this industry," she stated. "It all goes back to the trust and integrity and being able to learn the next thing."
For EPNA, one of those "next things" was the invention of a merchant storefront. "One of the first things I wanted to do was open a retail storefront for merchants, partners and agents," Demke-Calixte said in her podcast interview. "We're in a congested business district, so we have the ability to meet merchants on site where they can actually touch and feel the product, and it's been an amazing experience."
It's gone so well, EPNA aspires to open another storefront in central New York soon, as well as others wherever the business leads them. "Since the certifications are all in place now, boarding agents to sign on with EPNA has been the true icing on the cake," Demke-Calixte said, referring to the company's growth plan. "Movement will also come as we complete other RFPs and gain significant business in other areas."
Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
Chief Business Development Officer