The Green Sheet Online Edition
July 24, 2016 • Issue 16:07:02
Meet The Expert
The often repeated Alexander Graham Bell quote, "When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us," does not apply in the case of Cliff Teston, President and Chief Executive Officer of Signature Card Services and member of The Green Sheet Advisory Board. As you will see in the following interview, when one door closed for him, he saw the new one opening and walked right through.
What initially drew you to the payments industry?
Forces of nature, really. During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, my entire office was destroyed and I found myself out of a job. Luckily for me, one of my clients asked me to join his bankcard sales organization, so I took the job on the spot and went to work for him the following Monday. This new gig was a turning point for me in more ways than one.
My new job paid my bills, but this experience gave me clarity on how I wanted to run my own business one day. Many years later, I understood the importance of essential shared values in the workplace, and this realization played a huge role when I co-founded Signature with Christine Bednar and Kirk Allen.
Was your first position in sales? If so, did you have prior sales experience that helped prepare you for merchant services?
Yes, my first job in bankcard was in sales. My experience in the business has always included management, sales or both. This definitely set me up for a better understanding of merchant services.
What stands out as being the most notable difference between the industry when you joined and the industry now?
The importance of technology. Twenty years ago, "high tech" was a Zon Junior XL. Now, ISOs must find a way to set themselves apart from the competition, and the most obvious choice is technology. Whether it's a proprietary reporting tool, an integrated point of sale, or a big-data solution that can help drive more sales, offering technology solutions to merchants is where successful ISOs have been winning and will continue to win. You can just look at recent acquisitions in the marketplace, and the majority of them have been around technology-centric ISOs/MSPs.
When did you found Signature Card Services, and why? How did you decide on the company's name?
Signature Card Services was founded in 1997 to attempt to solve some of the problems that were prevalent in bankcard at the time. As for the company name, we wanted to make sure it was distinct and professional. We decided to go with Signature because signing off on something signifies a promise to uphold an agreement. Just like that, Signature represents our commitment to integrity, transparency and reliability.
What unique qualities does Signature Card Services have that make it distinct from its competitors? How has the company evolved since its early days?
We built our company on integrity ‒ the last company I worked at rescued me from unemployment, but they didn't have the best reputation in that arena. One of the things that really separates us from the competition is that even after 19 years, we've remained highly competitive, while also gaining a reputation of integrity and honesty.
We also try to work with everyone on a one-on-one basis and customize the programs for our agents. We do the exact same thing with our vendors and our merchants; we try to be flexible and are good listeners.
We may be one of many companies in the payments industry, but we are one of the few with nearly two decades of experience in our line of business. Many of our team members have been working in payments for a long time, giving us the upper hand when it comes to knowledge of payments and understanding of merchants' business needs.
Beyond the world of payments, we're a very diverse group of folks made up of fitness lovers, foodies, sports enthusiasts, actors, vegans, martial artists, bookworms, tech geeks and adventurers. We also speak many languages including Armenian, Hindi, Farsi, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Tagalog. How's that for unique and impressive?
As the Chief Executive Officer and a partner at Signature Card Services, you are responsible for development and execution of the company's strategy, as well as for implementation of the company's short- and long-term plans. What is the difference between implementing a company's strategy and implementing its plans?
They go hand in hand. I see implementing plans as an operational responsibility, which stems from giving a lot of thought to your long-term strategy. Basically, I spend time developing a strategy after pinpointing our goals, and in order to meet those goals, I make sure we implement the necessary plans.
How would you describe your management style?
Pretty laid back. We look for individuals with strong work experience to fill our executive, managerial and supervisory roles who can help us accomplish our goals. Our current team is really efficient, and they're able to work toward our goals fairly autonomously. We give them incentive to succeed and make sure that they can rely on us if, and when, they need our guidance.
What's next for Signature Card Services?
Great question! It's important to stay relevant in a mature industry, and we recognize that creativity plays a huge role in retaining our agents and merchants. We're really focusing on keeping things creative and exciting in order to avoid attrition and margin compression.
What spurred your interest in joining The Green Sheet's advisory board?
The Green Sheet is, and has always been, one of the only industry magazines I read religiously. It's my continuing education, you might say. So when asked, I jumped at the opportunity.
You are also a real estate developer. How did this interest develop? Have you considered working in this field full time?
My life partner and I started flipping houses on the side many, many years ago. For the most part, it has been a huge success for us financially. It's like painting on a different canvas every time. I like the creative process and the sense of fulfillment when it's finished and sold.
Where do you turn to when you need inspiration?
Primarily my partners and my executive team, but I also have a few industry friends/peers that I lean on occasionally. Finally, The Green Sheet, so thank you for that.
How has being a grandfather changed your life?
It's amazing! I usually have my 21-month-old grandson over every other Friday, and the rest of his family visits for one weekend each month. I had no idea you could fall so madly in love with these little guys that you hang onto their every achievement. Contrary to what I thought was possible, I've very quickly turned into a proud, picture-sharing grandpa.
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