Analysts seem to agree that the U.S. economy has stabilized and may finally be headed in the right direction again. But U.S. gross domestic product and federal tax revenues are down. Many believe that a complete economic recovery is years away. But in the prepaid card industry, businesses are expanding operations.
Foreign currency exchange specialist Travelex launched a new customer care team to handle the increasing volume of calls from potential clients. Processor i2c Inc. opened a new contact center in Panama City, Panama, to take advantage of burgeoning prepaid card opportunities in the Latin American and Caribbean region. And processor eCommLink Inc. has opened a global team headquarters in Las Vegas for similar opportunities.
In North America, Travelex provides 1,500 financial institutions with travel-related products and services, such as foreign currency exchange and travel cards. One of its most popular products is the Travelex Cash Passport, a prepaid card that allows corporations to streamline and better control the overseas travel expenses of their employees.
Tracy Hammock, Vice President of Outsourcing Americas for Travelex, said the demand for products like the Cash Passport was a key driver behind formation of the new customer care team. Since October 2008, Travelex has added 150 new financial institutions to its client roster and recognized a need to centralize and streamline the product information flow.
The customer care team is therefore focused specifically on potential customers that call in to get information about Travelex's foreign currency and prepaid card solutions.
"So instead of them having to call multiple areas, it's one centralized area that focuses on really all of their various needs," Hammock said. "And it's eliminated some of the issues that we've had with partners or customers calling in, trying to get additional information, but there being delays in getting back to them, or some of them having to be transferred around to different areas within our organization. Now there's just one point of contact for them. So it's worked out really well."
Three customer care specialists comprise the team, but Hammock expects that number to grow with new Travelex initiatives set to launch in 2010.
"At a time when you are hearing so much about companies cutting back, it just feels really good from our standpoint to be investing in solutions that are going to help our customers," he said.
In September 2009, after nine months of planning and red tape, i2c opened its new contact center in Panama City. The center is designed to handle in-bound calls coming from existing and potential clients in Central and South America, as well as in the United States.
The company weighed the pros and cons of setting up the center in several different cities across Latin America before deciding on Panama City, said Amir Wain, Chief Executive Officer at i2c. But the capital city of the southernmost country in Central America had the infrastructure (Internet and telecommunications), an international airport, and it conducts business in the U.S. dollar - all factors that made it ideal for i2c, Wain said.
Increasing its footprint in the Latin American and Caribbean region dovetails with i2c's global growth strategy of following its clients (banks and program managers), rather than following the market.
"You have to look at where the growth is coming from," Wain said. "In my opinion the real big and successful projects will be where prepaid is a function or is an addition or an enhancement to an existing product."
One of i2c's customers is The Western Union Co. Millions of its money transfer users are being issued prepaid cards as a valued-added service, Wain said. The partnership is doing "very well," he added.
The new contact center employs 26 customer service representatives, and is expected to reach 50 in the first quarter of 2010, according to Wain. The representatives are trilingual in Spanish, English and Portuguese. They speak Portuguese because i2c has a large presence in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, he said.
While i2c's new office is focused on customer service, eCommLink's just opened global team headquarters is dedicated to development of the company's transaction processing technologies.
"My view of this company is as a technology company," said Ennio Ponzetto, CEO of Las Vegas-based eCommLink. "So we need to continually improve and better and extend the capability of these technologies."
Ponzetto explained that, in order to deploy its processing platform in diverse regions across the globe, with differing compliance and regulatory standards, continued development is vital to success.
The global team headquarters remains Las Vegas but will be international in scope, with a "modern development environment" staffed by 20 to 25 people, Ponzetto noted. "We believe that we need to maintain the core of our functions, the core functionality here in Las Vegas, and grow internationally with the development capability brought from other countries, whether it is India or China, but maintaining the intelligence or driving it from here," he said.
International markets where eCommLink has a foothold include Europe and Latin America. It is pursuing business in Columbia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela, Ponzetto said. The company expects to accelerate its expansion efforts in Italy. "We have the most successful prepaid program managed by the Poste Italiane [the Italian postal system] - 6 million subscribers - and all the big banks are following that," Ponzetto said. "So this is good news for us."
The window of international opportunity is open for the prepaid card industry, and Ponzetto is positioning eCommLink to aggressively pursue its share of the market.
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