When Adam Atlas, Attorney at Law and contributing writer for The Green Sheet, graduated from law school at McGill University in 1999, he had no inkling his future success lay in the payments industry. He took a job in mergers and acquisitions at a large Montreal law firm and, as a favor, helped a client who turned out to be an ISO.
As the "favor" took up more and more of Atlas' time, he educated himself about the industry to the point where he decided to specialize in it when he quit the firm and set up his own practice in 2003. "And then I started attending tradeshows, like the ETA, the Northeast Acquirers and other regional shows, reading and writing in The Green Sheet," he said. "And, in a sense, the rest is history."
Atlas has a thriving practice with a portfolio of several hundred ISOs and other payment businesses, 95 percent of which reside in the United States. He is the only full-time lawyer at the practice, but he hires associates on a contract basis when necessary. He enjoys building relationships with his clients and seeing them grow over time.
"I always say to my clients, 'Let's talk about whether I can add value to your project,'" he said. "I'm firmly committed to doing that, that my work is not just nitpicking through the legal jargon of the contract. ... I've had a real pleasure of watching these guys grow from one-man shows to really big businesses."
Two aspects of the industry are especially intriguing to Atlas. One is the "small town atmosphere" in payments, where the global industry has a set of core professionals whom Atlas has come to admire through good times and challenges.
Secondly, Atlas is often called upon to break new ground regarding legal issues that involve, for example, new mobile applications and payment systems. "I'm regularly asked to work on those kinds of problems, which is something that makes the work that much more interesting," he said.
While Atlas is not a fan of federal regulation of the industry, he doesn't see legislation, such as the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, having a significant impact on acquiring. However, he does view the increasingly popular online and mobile payment ecosystems as a threat to the small-town flavor of the industry.
Atlas feels that as merchants become more comfortable establishing virtual relationships with payment processors, the "traditional ISO model of face-to-face sales and telemarketing is going to find itself increasingly challenged."
But he is quick to point out that new business models have threatened ISOs before. "While some dot.com businesses are able to change the reality of things from one day to the next ... none of them have rocked the basic ISO world," he said.
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