The Green Sheet Online Edition
March 23, 2009 • Issue 09:03:02
A bridge to opportunity
Merchant level salesperson (MLS) Miles Mulcare built his professional life in the public relations and banking spheres. His experience in customer service, marketing and money management has served him well in his payments industry career.
Mulcare is a newbie. In April 2008, he joined PropertyBridge Inc., a processor dedicated exclusively to the multifamily housing rental industry. Today he offers all payment solution types to merchants who manage high- and low-income apartment complexes, condominiums and town houses.
While his background made for a smooth transition into payments, Mulcare's subsequent training in the industry ignited his passion to do more than sell his clients services. He endeavors to help each of them grow their businesses as well.
The Green Sheet: What was it like to transition to the payments industry from another side of financial services?
Miles Mulcare: Fortunately, both sides are fundamentally transactional based, and with my previous roles in record keeping and managing institutional 401ks, I needed to learn about security compliance, so it was really a natural path for me to emerge into this industry.
And what I noticed about PropertyBridge is they targeted a vertical that was not nearly as mature as the rest of the payments industry, and that really attracted me.
GS: How has your background helped you attract prospective clients?
MM: I've always enjoyed working with people, but I think the biggest benefit of my previous education and training is that it has given me opportunities to network with financial institution controllers and chief financial officers of our merchants' banks.
And because I'm on the front lines now more than ever, my communications and PR background has given me the confidence to succeed in those face to face demonstrations and meetings with property managers not yet in our portfolio.
GS: As someone who is still fairly new to payments, what are you most excited about?
MM: What I'm most excited about is that this is still a very evolving industry as far as what combinations of payment solutions can be applied to multifamily, whether that would be on-site managers, third-party property managers like homeowners associations, or how these payment opportunities can be adopted by residents.
Interest is also growing from consumers' increasing awareness about making payments in other channels. They pay for so much else electronically. They just want to do the same for their rent. So I'm continually introducing merchants to a world of payments that many of them still don't know exists.
I'm interacting with folks that have little or no experience with electronic payments, so when I engage people I can show them in so many ways how to improve their job and performance levels.
GS: What do you do to generate leads?
MM: I have several avenues actually. I attend things like the National Multifamily Housing Conference, several homeowner associations' [HOAs], as well as the American Banking Association's conferences which provide tremendous networking opportunities.
And because our vertical is so untapped, we get a lot of inbound inquiry from HOAs and unit managers inquiring about our services.
GS: How big is this vertical potential, and how have these merchants flown under the payment radar?
MM: There are tens of thousands of merchants out there that are not using any type of electronic transactions, and most of them, I'd say, are more on the smaller end. We've been fortunate to have captured a lot of the market within the top 25 national family housing groups.
But I think just like any other emerging growth, it's going to be in the small to mid-range size businesses in some of the less metropolitan areas where no solution has been made yet for these merchants, or the solutions they do have don't provide Web interface or processing outside of credit cards.
GS: Do your sales techniques and offerings differ depending on whether you are selling to high- or low-income housing unit property managers?
MM: Our products and services are definitely keyed to those respective clients and their residents. The lower income properties have a larger number of underbanked and unbanked customers, so we might be emphasizing more check and cash payment solutions.
And with the higher-end properties we find that those people are using their credit cards more. So my sales strategies are interconnected with the property and resident type for sure.
GS: What are some of the challenges you face in this vertical?
MM: It's really important to dig in now and understand the clients' business. We're in an industry that doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution, so it's up to me to find out who those managers cater to and the general characteristics of their residents. So what I'm selling does vary greatly depending on the demographic.
GS: What are you excited about with regard to remote deposit capture (RDC), and do you think check processing is going to take off in this vertical?
MM: Well we're really focused on the software service part of it. We don't dabble in the hardware end, but we do resell the scanners. With regard to RDC, and tailing that onto the very front line of the property managers, it's obviously going to be extremely helpful to them.
We can bring mass efficiency into what is otherwise a very klunky form of payment that generates an avalanche of paper.
A lot of merchants are still photocopying checks, spending inordinate time in their car wasting gas and hand delivering checks to the bank.
GS: In what ways do you think RDC will be vital as your company expands its footprint?
MM: Even if I can save merchants an hour a day with that simple function, that's 20 to 25 hours more a month they can spend tending to their property. It's really an education for them when they see the actual costs for processing paper checks because they don't actually see it as a cost.
I can show prospective clients how costs to accept electronic transactions are ultimately offset by the operational efficiencies in our system. Additionally, and I think most importantly, I'm also addressing some of the green issues of the industry.
And I find, with prospective merchants, I get their attention quickly when I can show them how much I can save them annually in fuel, paper and administrative costs.
GS: Has your portfolio enjoyed significant growth?
MM: Definitely. We've seen a lot of growth within my western territory, primarily in California and Colorado. Right now I am in San Francisco, and the potential market expansion here on the West Coast is enticing - and highly motivating - to say the least.
GS: What is one of the unique value-added services that PropertyBridge offers?
MM: One of the real differentiators we offer is that we can integrate our systems with a property manager's software that is already in place. The accounting packages that these companies have are very specific to each property, and we can tie that resident data back into their systems without costly upgrades.
GS: Have you ever had an "aha" moment when you knew you would succeed in this business?
MM: I'm not sure if I have had one specific moment, but what I see every day is, on the whole, the payments industry providing cards, ACH [automated clearing house], check scanning, what have you - and it's not at all prevalent within the multifamily housing industry.
And I have started making the transition in my MLS role to focusing more on direct sales to financial institution channels and their bankers to sell our services. So these keep me inspired.
GS: What does a typical day or week look like for you?
MM: Typically my days - and weeks - are spent doing a lot of face to face meetings and product demonstrations of our portals. The rest of my time is spent mainly with a lot of detailed underwriting, collecting our financials and various data.
So I generally work about 50 hours a week and spend about a quarter of my time with current and prospective merchants and the rest of my time on the phone, e-mails and texts to save windshield time.
GS: Why does the payments industry work for you?
MM: I feel very responsible for my own results as well as my company's. I also love the fact that I have the autonomy to expand into direct sales channels in addition to selling our traditional payment services.
It also allows me to interact with a facet of financial institutions where my comfort level is high, as well as help PropertyBridge move forward with our channel partner relationships in expanding our market footprint.
GS: Do you find you have to make friends with your merchants to keep them sticky and let them know directly that you have a vested interest in their success?
MM: It really does have to be taken to that level nowadays. I can see the evolution of that for PropertyBridge, as far as where we've taken our customer service team and the support we offer.
Additionally, really furthering our relationships with our merchants and letting them know we are available as long as even one of their customers is awake, which is all the time.
For example, through our acquisition by MoneyGram [in 2007], we are now able to provide all cash payment solutions in addition to our credit, debit and check services - a whole support suite of technologies.
And we now have two more customer service centers in Florida and Colorado, which allows us to respond to our merchants that much more quickly.
GS: Have you developed a different philosophy in your professional life since transitioning to the payments industry?
MM: What I've learned through my association with PropertyBridge is what I call the three C's: Know your customers, know your competition and especially know the people you partner or collaborate with. And this has worked well for me.
GS: Do you feel you have the right support network to flourish in the payments industry?
MM: I do, and I particularly feel that the service model of both PropertyBridge and MoneyGram has been a good fit that has helped further our offerings to our customers.
We now work with a group that really knows how to service at a high volume. Also, we now offer bilingual support to help the end-user resident, and we are very confident that growth in these areas will take us through our next evolution of expansion.
GS: How do you create additional revenue streams with the services you offer, and what are your company's long-range goals?
MM: It's really up to us to partner with our clients in order to really boost adoption. Of course, RDC is one prime example of how we can actually touch every single payment that goes through the system.
And our ultimate goal is to collect 100 percent of all rental payments in the United States.
GS: Has the credit crisis or the activity on Capitol Hill affected your business in any way?
MM: Some things have changed a bit. We're having to gather much more in-depth financial information. And our underwriting was nowhere near as stringent as it is now. We're asking for a lot more data from our new clients. So that's one thing I've noticed, especially because I am so involved in that process.
GS: In what ways has the housing crisis impacted your business?
MM: More people are piling into rentals these days. There's no longer the exodus to home ownership. Now it's the exact reverse. People either can't afford a home today or are being foreclosed, so they're forced into a situation where they are paying rent again.
Consequently, property managers are suddenly looking at their business and saying, 'You know, cash flow is what's important, making sure that I get my payment.' And that's where we come in.
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