The Green Sheet Online Edition
March 22, 2010 • Issue 10:03:02
Positive economic signs and actions - Part 1
Economic tides seem to be turning, albeit slowly. So The Green Sheet asked members of our advisory board for their thoughts on the following questions:
1. What are examples of some light at the end of the tunnel your company is experiencing?
2. What areas of your business have picked up?
3. Where do you plan to focus as the economy improves?
4. How have you stayed tuned to your customers needs over the last year?
This article contains the first portion of their responses. The remainder will be printed subsequently in The Green Sheet. Many thanks to all who participated.
1 and 2. There is a definite uptick in the interest in loyalty in prepaid. Our analytics are more important now than ever to the general purpose debit prepaid cards.
3. Increase focus on analytics and loyalty.
4. We are a new company and have developed new channels through social networking.
Economic tides seem pretty flat right now. We are up only because we are continuing to add new merchant accounts in excess of any notable attrition. Merchants are still trying to recover from the 30 percent hit they have taken the past 24 months.
That light at the end of the tunnel has been a freight train heading toward merchants. It does appear to have stalled for now. Merchants will still need two to four years to recover as long as Congress keeps spending money on relief versus tax reductions to attract new business growth.
New businesses seem to be appearing, but those are mostly the small-ticket, lower volume type. The merchant volume losses of the past two years will take a long time to recoup. It seems that many current businesses are hunkering down for another disappointing year. Unemployment is still the beast that is eating away at the economic situation.
We are focusing on new things like pay-at-the-table for smaller restaurants, hoping some debit transactions will result in higher profits for the merchants. Mostly, though, we have spent a significant amount of time on answering our merchants' concern about how to make more profit by trimming their processing fees where possible. We do what we can to give them lower costs - one way is by passing through new rate hikes by the issuers instead of adding a little profit to these increases for us.
Again, only because we are constantly adding new merchants are we showing any kind of profit increase and growth. We, too, are keeping our operating costs down by cutting our overhead. We have not cut any expenses having to do with customer service, but have been successful at cutting our rent, office supplies, auto expenses, shipping expenses and so on.
Our merchants' survival is our mandate. We do whatever we can to minimize attrition. Our reps are required to explain why any merchant leaves our service. It is not a pretty picture. There is not a lot of reason to be too positive, but we see the lessening of merchant attrition as a plus factor. We are keeping our fingers crossed.
Secure Payment Systems Inc.
1. We are experiencing growth in our monthly numbers over last year due in part to a new product that has really taken off. It is for merchants that need an extra little bit of help during these tough times. And for us it is paying off.
2. In our ACH [automated clearing house] processing and our newest product, Retail Payday Express Plus. We introduced an electronic version of our 90 Days Same as Cash product last year, and after some tweaks to the program, it has really taken off.
3. We continue to expand our product offerings and tweak our existing services to offer more and more revenue opportunities for our sales channels. Due to the economy, we are seeing a lot of interest in our products, as sales reps try to offer more and more value to their existing merchant base to not only stave off attrition, but to also generate more revenue for themselves.
4. We have done a great deal to stay tuned to the needs of our customers and our sales agents and offices. We have had to raise limits on check services and increase commissions by lowering certain costs associated with all of our services. We have had to spend money creating programs based on their suggestions and recommendations. We have had to become more flexible in so many areas of risk and underwriting for our check and ACH services. Overall, it has been a good experience.
Russ J. Goebel
Quantus Health Solutions LLC
1. Credit card volume and transactions are slightly down; however, the willingness of merchants to meet and review their existing processing has been superb. We have had extraordinary success in adding new business due to the economy and thus leveraging the economy to review and lower credit card expense.
Furthermore, we have been able to be more selective in hiring the right salespeople due to the high unemployment. This is a big win because we are able to get the right skill set and teach them correct and ethical ways of credit card processing.
2. Building out our sales team, adding new technology and reducing attrition by proactively reacting to merchants' needs.
3. We are most successful when we identify and pursue unique niches that implement strategic technology. This has worked very nicely for us and allowed us continued growth.
4. Due to our unique verticals and the quality of sales representatives that we have, we are able to listen and provide what our customers want and need. This is still a relationship business, and with more educated merchants, Quantus has evolved quite nicely.
1. As a recruiting firm serving the payments industry, we are seeing the return of hiring at the senior executive level. We've taken on multiple president, chief officer, executive vice president and senior vice president positions over the past six months. These searches were few and far between from mid-2008 to mid-2009.
2. The senior searches for sure. We've been contacted by several private equity groups saying that they are taking money off the sidelines where it's been sitting for the past two years, and they are investing in payment companies.
3. We're staying focused on recruiting for the merchant services industry, but also expanding the amount of searches we take on in the prepaid, mobile, ACH, ATM and issuing spaces.
4. We speak with our current clients almost daily, so we just listen to their needs and try to serve them the best that we can. There's a ton of candidates looking for jobs these days, and many of them aren't top performers. We serve our customers by weeding the candidate pool down to the top people. Usually this means pulling someone from a competitor versus taking what's available.
United Bank Card Inc.
1. The best indicator we have seen is that the month-over-month processing volume of our existing merchants is increasing every month. We noticed this trend start moving in a positive direction about six months ago, and it continues to increase.
This shows a marked improvement over the time period beginning about 17 months ago, when volume began decreasing considerably at the onset of the economic downturn.
2. We are definitely experiencing an upswing in many areas, most notably the month-over-month processing volume of our existing merchants, as well as the number of new merchant applications we are receiving on a monthly basis.
3. As has always been our primary focus as a company, we will continue to deliver innovative products and services that help our sales reps obtain new merchants while promoting retention. This goal is supported by products such as our affordable Harbortouch POS System, our free Casio electronic cash register, our new leads program and other value-added services such as gift cards.
4. We always try to keep abreast of our customers' needs. To accomplish this, we closely monitor all incoming service calls and e-mails. In fact, I am personally "bcc'd" on every e-mail to our customer service and technical support departments. This is part of a comprehensive effort to stay attuned to the pulse of both our merchant and ISO partners.
1. Even though our ISO, merchant level salesperson and financial institution client base is as geographically diverse as are their merchants, we at CardWare are not seeing significant increases in any locale or market segment. It's been a less than pleasant winter throughout the United States, so with the expectation of spring, there is the expectation for an even larger increase in the spate of new merchant setups we typically receive each spring as the sales reps again hit the road.
2. If there is one bright spot, it is refurbished equipment and equipment service. We're seeing renewed interest in buying and maintaining legacy equipment because it is off the IP [Internet protocol] grid; that is to say, it falls outside the Payment Card Industry Data Security and Payment Device standards. This is certainly not what the equipment manufacturers and their major resellers want to hear.
3. CardWare will continue focusing on the electronic transactions industry while exploring opportunities outside its historical base. We envision new opportunities that leverage our investments in technology plus people and their training, along with our core competency of delivering quality service.
4. Simple - we ask them. Each month we are in phone contact with our key clients. We typically speak to one or more people within each organization in order to obtain different perspectives. Just ask a few key questions; then listen to what they have to say. One customer's need led to CWIQuickFix, a new program to simplify handling of equipment repairs.
Network Merchants Inc.
1. Through hard work and continued product innovation, we haven't felt that we've lost sight of that light. However, we are actively developing cutting-edge technologies and have an interest in determining how mobile payments shape up over the next few years.
2. NMI provides a fully private-labeled payment gateway to a degree unheard of in the industry. Many of our ISOs/MSPs [merchant service providers] have been taking advantage of this feature to help reinforce their customers' brand loyalty.
3. We plan to continue spending resources on emerging markets outside the United States. While many mature economies have struggled, others have grown leaps and bounds.
4. Simple - listen to them. This advice probably sounds like 'Business 101,' but time and time again we find companies ignoring their 'loudest voice': their customers.
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