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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 14, 2020 • Issue 20:12:01

Advisory Board: Insights from 2020, plans for 2021 - Part 1

Traditionally, when we transition from one year to the next, we reflect on events of the last 12 months, assess likely market conditions for the year ahead, and formulate new strategies and goals. Given the unparalleled challenges of 2020, many people are eager to bid farewell to a chaotic year and are hoping for a return to overall health and stability as soon as possible.

At this juncture, we wanted to know how members of The Green Sheet Advisory Board have been faring, what they've learned and what they have in mind for 2021. To that end, we asked them the following questions:

  1. How did you successfully address the major business challenges of 2020?
  2. What might you have done differently, knowing what you know now?
  3. What do you envision for the coming year for your company, and how are you planning for it?
  4. What challenges lie ahead for the payments sphere, and what advice do you have for professionals who want 2021 to be their best year ever?

This article contains a portion of Advisory Board members' perspectives; additional responses will appear in issue 20:12:01. Thank you to all the busy professionals who participated.

Thomas Aronica, Biller Genie

  1. One of the main challenges we had in 2020 was similar to the same challenges faced by most growing startups: deciding where to spend our time and energy. At heart, we are a sales organization and, despite knowing that focus yields greater results, our natural inclination is to be everything to everyone. Especially during the early stages where generating revenue is critical to the success of the enterprise, it was against our instinct to turn away any opportunities that came across our desk. We knew we had to establish clear goals and primary objectives and place opportunities that did not align with those goals on the backburner in order to maintain focus on our specific target. Once we established those parameters, it became easy to prioritize the opportunities that yielded the highest return and positioned us for the greatest long-term success. Another challenge we had was redefining how we engaged with our employees in a remote work environment. While we experienced minimal disruption moving our employees to a work-from-home environment from a technology standpoint (all of our systems were already in the cloud and our employees were already accustomed to working with them), we experienced new challenges such as training new employees and managing new projects that in the past were conducted in person. To adapt to the new environment, we simplified our processes and implemented an operating system that gave our staff tools and protocols that systematically improved communication and collaboration companywide. Doing so established the operational backbone that has streamlined and improved everything from new employee training to interdepartmental project management and product development. Our team has more face time with their colleagues now than they did before which has encouraged interactive dialogue that promotes collaboration, accountability, quick resolution to problems, and a greater sense of teamwork.
  2. We would have been more deliberate about our allocation of the Paycheck Protection Program funds if we knew we had more than an eight-week forgiveness period. At that time, when we received the PPP money, the direction from the government was that, among other things, the funds would need to be spent during an eight-week period for them to be forgiven. As a startup, we benefited from the funds but did not want to add debt service to our expenses, so we made quick decisions in order to get the biggest bang for our buck. Halfway through the eight-week period, we received new guidance that we would be able to spend the money over a 24-week period, but our plan was already in motion. Had we known that we had a longer forgiveness period, we would have planned out our spend over a longer period, and it would have saved our resources and reduced organizational stress.
  3. We experienced rapid growth amid the pandemic and have spent the last six months preparing for continued scale by reinforcing our infrastructure and building a scalable framework for our entire organization. Not only have we re-engineered key aspects of our technology to make them faster, more reliable and easier to use, but we have taken the same approach to onboarding new partners, adding new integrations and even digitizing the merchant onboarding experience. By simplifying our systems and processes, we created the frameworks to rapidly onboard and deploy custom solutions to ISOs and ISVs in 2021.
  4. I believe that we will see historic highs for merchant attrition and margin compression in 2020, as businesses have scrambled to find ways to reduce expenses and maintain continuity. Now more than ever, in the absence of value, small business owners view payment processing as a commodity, and their loyalty is only to the provider that can provide the lowest price. As such, there will be continued consolidation among processors and super-ISOs as they look for ways to bolster EBITDA to increase enterprise valuations. In order to stay competitive and profitable during this paradigm shift, my advice to payment professionals is to look toward integrated solutions that add value beyond the transaction. By doing so, they will create a stronger relationship with both merchants and vendors, which increases value, reduces attrition and gives you the competitive edge to win more business faster.

Mark Dunn, Field Guide Enterprises

  1. When mid-March caught me by surprise like everyone else, I thought, oh boy, what's this going to do to the business? The shutdown didn't look like it was going to help a small consulting/coaching practice. But I couldn't have been more wrong. It turns out that a major disruption like the pandemic causes businesspeople to re-evaluate their direction and think about new plans. After a couple of months of reaction time, many people in our industry started mapping out a new direction. And they started reaching out to get an outside opinion. As a result, I picked up a number of new clients and my business is good. Plus, I added a new consulting partner, Juan Ortiz, who brings a wealth of experience in building sales organizations and agent networks. At this time I have an awful lot to be thankful for.
  2. I wouldn't have worried so much. I lost a lot of sleep with my mind turning over what might happen next. That time was wasted. A crisis really is a big opportunity when viewed from another perspective.
  3. First, get the vaccine when it's available. Second, get back to visiting clients and working face to face. But the Zoom calls are here to stay. Being able to see the person you're talking to adds another dimension. I foresee almost all calls being either Zoom or Facetime. Also, we're building much more of a web presence and putting more resources online.
  4. The fintechs want to eat our lunch. Their tech stacks are impressive, but they lack a personal touch. Those of us who build value, use tech as a tool, not as a goal, and connect with our clients will get our share of the business. Finally, if you want 2021 to be the best year ever, put your plan in place now and work on it every day from now till January 2nd. There is no substitute for great preparation.

Michael Nardy, Electronic Payments

  1. When COVID-19 hit and the economy shut down, we looked to help/protect our merchants and our agents. First, we launched our COVID-19 resource center on our EPI homepage, giving guidance and direction for merchants. We finalized development on our DeliverMe online ordering product and waived all fees for SIM cards, so our merchants could go curbside and contactless with as little friction as possible. We also immediately launched an agent bonus program to make up for lost revenue if they were able to board accounts. Finally, all monthly fees for our POS products (Exatouch® and TableTurn®) were waived for three months, plus waived for all new merchants. Additionally, we communicated on conference calls during the height of the pandemic and shut downs and over the summer as the pandemic waned. Now we are seeing a resurgence of cases and are continuing the bonus programs we started eight months ago now.
  2. I think we tackled the challenge head on and with care and consideration for the various partners and merchant customers, so I don't think we would have done much differently.
  3. Really, more of the same. We constantly develop new products and services for our partners. I think the cases will continue to fluctuate, and there may be pockets that have shut downs or curbed hours—we are already seeing that. It's all about adapting to the changing environment and keeping your head down so you can emerge stronger on the other side after the pandemic subsides.
  4. I see more consolidation, more tight integrations of payments and more competition. For those that want to have the best year ever, lead with technology, and don't just rely on price to help you win deals. We've already seen that price elasticity is not as sensitive when there is a compelling technology that provides value to the merchant.

Steve Sotis, eProcessing Network

  1. eProcessing Network LLC (ePN) has been a dependable gateway service provider for over 20 years, no matter what challenges have been presented. Faced with any obstacle, we see it as an opportunity to enhance our services to better adapt to a new environment. NFC/contactless payments have been a standout for us, along with enabling functionality like convenience fee and tips via our ePNBillPay (email invoicing.) And we're seeing a strong adoption of merchants using our cash discount feature, now compatible with our ePNJPOS, and ePNMobile apps. We've also certified another Level III processor (TSYS, Fiserv North, and now Elavon) which ensures much better rates for our B2B merchants. From dealing with Hurricane Harvey to conforming to new pandemic guidelines, our service has remained strong and steady.
  2. More marketing! Education is our biggest hurdle, and the more we communicate consistently and frequently, the more our resellers will be aware of the solutions and services we offer to make their merchants' lives easier. We also make the resellers' lives easier through various tools and educational materials offered for free through our Reseller Support Center (RSC). Webinars (both standard and custom), training videos, brandable sales sheets and social media ads are provided in the RSC to help resellers market effectively to both existing and potential merchants.
  3. More certifications enabling more options when it comes to processing platforms, such as EPX and WorldPay. More hardware options will also be presented for every environment, from brick & click to mobile service providers on the go.
  4. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's taught us that being flexible and responsive to how customers shop has been key to staying open; knowing what solutions are needed and being able to quickly implement them into play will be key. Here at ePN, we offer free support to help ensure our resellers know our products, which in turn helps their merchants feel confident that they've chosen the best provider. We are always here to help and honestly believe that many hands make light work.

Our experience and tenure allow us the flexibility to quickly adapt to the technological needs of the merchant, and partner successfully with resellers to tailor services and solutions that make sense for their businesses—now and in the future. end of article

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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