GS Logo
The Green Sheet, Inc

Please Log in

A Thing

Industry Leaders: Sean Riley
Life of Riley Is Full of Credit

The Tampa Bay area offers plenty of beautiful beaches, a moderate climate and a thriving payment processing industry. Fresh out of college with a degree in accounting and lured south away from the harsh winters of upstate New York, Sean Riley arrived in Tampa in 1976 and began his career in payment processing - he got a job as a chargeback clerk with Landmark Union Trust Bank.

"At that time, I never had a credit card, so I wasn't exactly sure how the credit card process worked, let alone the chargeback process," Riley said. "They handed me the book of rules from (at that time) Bank Americard and MasterCharge and said, 'Good luck.' "

The rest, as they say, is history.

Sean Riley has worked in the payment processing industry in the Tampa Bay area for 27 years - his career includes service at many other major payment companies, such as GENSAR, Paymentech, L.P. and currently, Sterling Payment Technologies, LLC. He also had a seven-year stint in sales at LeRoux, Pitts and Associates (LPA), a point-of-sale software development company founded by Wayne LeRoux.

From his entry-level position as a chargeback clerk, Riley moved into the accounting department at Landmark Bank (a division of Landmark Holding Co.) and ultimately was put in charge of operations for both credit card processing and merchant sales.

"I learned an awful lot in a very short period of time," he said.

Riley attributes his success to working with great people, and he says these are the people who helped "mold" him over the years. "I've been fortunate enough to work for good companies, but even better, for managers that let me work hard and thrive," he said. "They gave me direction and let me go do it."

At Landmark Bank, Riley helped run the credit card division, which experienced significant growth in the 1980s. When he started in 1976, about 25 people worked in the department. When Riley left, the department employed 250 people.

"He quickly caught the fever for credit card processing and has never gotten over it," said David Meyer, Senior Vice President of Merchant Acquiring Partnerships at Sterling Payment Technologies and longtime colleague of Riley. Meyer and Riley worked together at Landmark.

Meyer said Landmark was a fairly small bank then but scored many firsts under Riley's direction, such as becoming the first issuer of Visa Gold cards and Visa debit cards in the Southeast.

"We did some things in the credit card department that were highly unusual," Riley said. "We were kind of forward thinking."

With Riley in charge, the department instituted several incentive programs for its employees: rewarding data-entry people with cash for improving their speed and accuracy, implementing flextime for people handling chargebacks, even paying commissions to salespeople inside the bank, which was unusual, Riley said.

Landmark Bank also was an early innovator in technology under Riley's helm. The bank had moved from using manually keypunched paper sales drafts when he started there in 1976 to scanning systems to the first point-of-sale system in the Southeast that used electronic draft capture.

"Sean has been a pioneer in our industry from the get-go," said LeRoux, now General Manager of Paymentech Network Services. During Riley's tenure as Operations Manager at Landmark Bank, the bank processed the first debit card electronic transaction at the point-of-sale, LeRoux said.

LeRoux's company, LPA, built the point-of-sale software application Landmark used to hit this milestone. From this partnership, Riley and LeRoux developed a solid working relationship, and after 11 years with the bank Riley joined LPA to do sales.

"Sales was a lot of fun; it was gratifying," said Riley. "With an operational background, I knew the issues that people were facing, so it was very easy for me to relate to why someone would want to install a POS system and manage it. Having both an operational background and a sales background really helped round out my career."

LPA sold POS systems all over the world - systems that were priced in the millions of dollars. Buyers included National Westminster Bank in London, First Hawaiian Bank, National Processing Co., Kentucky Fried Chicken and Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS). Many of these systems have continued to evolve and get updated - many still are in existence.

Riley said the system that Citibank currently is using for EBT was first built by LPA. Also, the system LPA designed in 1984 for Paymentech served as the forerunner for the system that is still in operation today.

In 1989, LPA started a processing division called TransNet, which LeRoux later sold to Bipin Shah, founder of Transaction Processing Inc. In 1995, Shah changed the name of the company to GENSAR, which Paymentech later acquired. Riley worked for several years at GENSAR and then for six more years at Paymentech.

"I worked for a company that was very savvy, very service oriented and very technologically minded," Riley said.

Mary Dees, current ETA President and President and CEO of, worked with Riley at Paymentech. "He's just a great businessperson," she said. "He always thinks of the other person, is totally enjoyable to work with and can instill fun in any setting."

Riley said he left Paymentech when he recognized a great opportunity at a smaller, very focused, two-year-old company called Sterling Payment Technologies, LLC.

Sterling provides U.S. merchants with electronic payment solutions through its ISOs, independent sales agents and agent bank customers. Sterling offers credit, debit and EBT card processing; check guarantee and conversion; leasing; loyalty and gift card programs; and terminal deployment. "Sterling is an ISO of ISOs," Riley said. "We are an ISO/processor, and we view our sales partners as our customers. We strive to add new products and services they can sell, to make their lives easier and to make it more profitable for all of us."

Sterling supplies ISOs with all of the elements related to merchant processing: product, service and technology. The company handles its own credit underwriting, new account entry, merchant help desk support, terminal deployment and risk management, and it creates its own merchant statements.

Riley said one of the challenges in the industry is the continual turnover of merchants - from one processor to another.

"It takes so much effort to sign somebody, get them on the books and start processing transactions, and then they turn around and leave," he said. "One of the things we're trying to do is insulate ourselves from that constant turn of merchants. One of the ways to do that is to offer more products and services."

One of the ways Sterling has differentiated itself is by offering insurance benefits to merchants (business owners and their families and employees and their families), such as major medical, pharmacy discount, vision, dental and life insurance, at a competitive price. Sterling originally offered this service to its sales partners and then was able to extend it to its merchant customers.

"I learned a long time ago at the bank that if a new customer walks in the door and you are able to sign them up for three services as opposed to only one checking account, the likelihood that they'll leave you is greatly diminished. It's the same in this industry," he said.

Riley said his greatest strengths are that he is dedicated and a hard worker, which he learned early on, from his first job at age 12 - a paper route - to working at a grocery store and paying his way through college, to working construction jobs right after college before moving to Tampa. "These things taught me valuable lessons in terms of work ethic," he said.

Riley has demonstrated his dedication to the payment processing industry by serving on the Electronic Transactions Association's (ETA) Board of Directors for the last four years and also has served as Chair for the ETA's Technology Committee, which he said has been fun and rewarding.

Dees said Riley's contributions to the ETA's Technology Committee have made it one of the key committees in the organization and helped it keep pace with changes in technology in the marketplace. "He's worked for a bank, a processor, a front-end network, an acquirer and now an ISO and has a lot of insight that he's contributed to the industry through the ETA," she said.

The ETA, Riley said, "is one of the best things we have going in this industry."

Although he may have "fallen into" this business, Riley said he couldn't have picked a better industry in which to build a career.

"There's something about this industry - the constant changing, the technology, the sharp people," he said. "It's the only thing I've ever done, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
Back Next Index © 2003, The Green Sheet, Inc.