GS Logo
The Green Sheet, Inc

Please Log in

Banner Ad
Issue 05:01:02
News

Industry Update

VeriFone Inc. Files for IPO

NAOPP to Hold Elections for Board of Directors

Las Vegas, Maui, South Africa:
The World According to The Green Sheet

Payments Companies Turn Profits Into Donations for Tsunami Relief

Washington Mutual Switches Debit to MasterCard

Features

The Times, Are They a-Changin'?

By Tracy Kitten

ISO Programs for the New Year

Book Review:
"Encyclopedia of Terminology for the Acquiring Industry"

GS Advisory Board:
GS Advisory Board Predictions for 2005

Views

Gauging What's in, What's Not

By Patti Murphy

What's Next? Payment Processing Tips and Trends for 2005

By John Martillo

A Look Ahead: Payments Predictions 2005

By Michelle Graff

Making Contact With ViVOtech Inc.

By Matthew Swinnerton

Education

Street SmartsSM:
Free Lunch?

By Ed Freedman

December Winners and 2004 Grand Prize Winner for "Street Smarts" Feedback Contest Announced

2005 From a Legal Perspective

By Adam Atlas

New Products

Getting Ready for the Future Now

Retailers Print Checks on Demand, on Site

An Inclusive Solution to Take Merchants Online

Company Profiles

Business Payment Systems

Inspiration

Don't Worry ... Be Happy

Departments

Forum

Resource Guide

Datebook

New Technologies Opening Unexpected Doors

Unless you live in a tree stump in the middle of a forest, it's hard to ignore the fact that the lines separating the different pieces of our lives become less defined every day. Just look at the ways work and personal time have become interchangeable, thanks in part to the number of technologies that have changed the way we communicate and stay connected.

Astute observers of the payment processing industry see the same type of scenario unfolding here, too. Right before our very eyes, the methods and systems we use to make payments are becoming less stratified all the time.

Cell phones, computers and PDAs now go toe-to-toe with POS terminals to process transactions for payments with cards and checks, to large chain retailers and independent mobile merchants, in face-to-face settings, over the Internet and anywhere conceivable.

What could possibly be next? The flexibility offered by new technologies is opening markets now, allowing merchants to go where their businesses lead them.

At the same time, changes in such established systems as health care and city governments are creating opportunities to set up payments programs including credit, debit and electronic check processing.

It might seem as if payments are more complicated than they've ever been; has there ever been more for ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) to know about? Equipment that's IP-based, wireless or contactless; ACH, prepaid and security issues ... we keep hearing that it's no longer a business based simply on price points or placing "boxes."

As it becomes possible to integrate more ways to pay for more types of products and services, agents selling the solutions enabling that shift to happen will reap the benefits. Think beyond the countertop.

Industry experts and sales veterans agree that now is the time for agents to reevaluate their strategies; to serve their merchants in the best way possible, they have to stay informed.

"There's a multitude of verticals out there for aggressive, creative sales people to go after," said Andy Phillips, President of Payment Resource International (PRI), a division of TransFirst.

"Get off the main drag. There are household names out there that no one is going after, and if one would just get out of the box, there's a wonderful world of opportunity just across the street."

Encouraging words. But not only should ISOs/MLSs be aware of opportunities in their own backyards, they should also look at things happening across society and help developers devise solutions that will fit the bill for any number of situations.

For example, many members of our aging population have discretionary incomes and a fondness for using credit cards.

Combine that with the increasing popularity of elective medical and dental procedures and the decreases in insurance coverage to pay for them, and you get a sense of the kinds of opportunities this new world holds.

Financial officers with organizations having multi-location environments or multiple revenue centers will appreciate the simplification of administrative procedures that wireless mobile solutions plugged into a central system creates.

Part One of this article ("The Year That Will Be: Payments 2005," The Green Sheet, Jan. 10, 2005, issue 05:01:01) examined wireless and contactless technologies that are making it possible for an untapped market of merchants to accept and process credit, debit and other cards as well as checks.

Here we'll look at ways in which several companies are putting those and other technological advances to work to transmit, process and manage data, and the sales opportunities they create.

With all the tools at hand giving cash a run for its money, so to speak, it's time to put on your thinking caps. Working with the right partners with the right solutions is certainly one of the keys to this highway.

A Retail Sensibility for the Medical Profession

We see and hear the ads everyday for whiter teeth, 20/20 vision and trim bodies. These days, the skyrocketing cost of staying healthy makes the headlines regularly, too.

Medical treatment and prescription drugs get more expensive, and employees contribute more of their own money to help cover expenses once paid for by their employers' plans.

In the world of dentistry, a field in which they're accustomed to lower amounts of insurance coverage, using retail-like payment methods is not new. But several factors come into play where payments for medical care are involved.

First, there are more elective treatments available to patients, and more people choosing to have them, than ever before; these include plastic surgery, weight loss and laser vision correction, as well as several new cosmetic dental procedures.

And traditional insurance plans frequently don't cover alternative treatments, such as chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture or massage.

According to TransFirst Health Services President Christy Corey, however, these types of providers do not make up the emerging market in health care. That trend comes from the increasing out-of-pocket expenses paid by people with health coverage.

"Non-traditional practices are those that are otherwise outside the scope of primary care," Corey said. "This market is more readily accepting of the idea of credit cards as payment options.

"These offices are more adept at understanding the need for efficient management of their accounts receivables and run very similarly to retail operations."

Elizabeth Langwith, Vice President of American Express Co.'s (AmEx) Establishment Services, the division that concentrates on payments in the medical field, agrees.

"Medical providers should be looking at as many payment options as possible," she said. Customer service is as important a consideration in these offices as it is in retail settings.

AmEx provides point-of-purchase materials designed specifically for the health care environment; they're a subtle but direct way for the offices to let their patients know they should pay something before they leave.

"The biggest challenge health care provider offices face is how to make sure they get that payment without coming across as a retail store," Langwith said.

Traditionally the opportunity for ISOs/MLSs has been greater in practices that provide more uncovered services or elective procedures, she said. Because they don't bill insurance carriers, they're used to asking for payment up front or setting up payment plans, and are more profit-oriented.

This market is already comfortable with the idea of accepting credit cards and other payment options. "The payment tools used in the retail environment are very well suited for non-traditional markets," Corey said. "They want to learn about the way retailers are pulling in more regular repeat customers, including gift and loyalty cards, check services, recurring billing and prepaid.

In traditional medical care offices, though, most doctors don't have a retail sensibility, she said, making this market "unique and interesting."

For payment services providers, the challenges, and rewards, lie in educating doctors and their staffs about ways to add new patients, and upselling for more revenue per transaction.

As benefits shrink, the cost of procedures and doctors' fees continue to go up. As patients become responsible for more of these expenses, solutions that include payment processing and eligibility verification, and that integrate with practice management software will help medical offices meet the challenges involved.

MedCom USA Inc. is a company providing such complete proprietary solutions. "We help health care providers eliminate administrative headaches and increase cash flow," said Harold Weitzberg, Sales and Marketing Director.

"Because sales in the medical field is a tougher sell requiring more effort, the financial transactions solutions must be compelling and offer multiple uses for economy of use," he said.

Wide Open Opportunities Just Around the Corner

Thanks to integrated systems that encompass each step of the transaction, from payment to posting, new opportunities for selling processing solutions are opening up in some areas that are as plain as the nose on your face. These are the kinds of markets that make you ask why no one thought of them before.

Do you pass by a large warehouse on a regular basis and wonder what sort of business occupies it? Perhaps it's home to a manufacturing center, or some sort of wholesaler or supplier. Ever think to stop in to find out?

Pardon their dust, but these businesses often generate tens of thousands of dollars or more in monthly sales volumes. These businesses often use delivery drivers, and might be interested to know how an integrated wireless mobile POS system would benefit their bottom line.

An area that TransFirst's PRI division targets is municipalities. The company processes payments for eight cities in Southern California, including Santa Monica, San Juan Capistrano and Santa Ana.

"One of the biggest challenges we've uncovered facing municipalities is that they have a number of revenue centers but no centralized accounting system," Phillips said.

"Through our proprietary broadband and PC applications, we can create a wide area network (WAN) for them relatively inexpensively and with a minor amount of training."

Acceptance of electronic payments in government services is a virtually untapped market. Phillips said they're looking for solutions for ACH and credit card processing for areas including the collection of property taxes, finance, dog licenses, libraries, permits, fire and police, school districts and recreation.

Winning this sort of business, as with the medical field, requires that ISOs/MLSs get to know the agencies and how they run. Then they need to work with partners who can provide solutions to fit those needs.

The government market is not suited for every agent's business model," Phillips said. "The segment is different from others. You have to understand what the challenges are, what the economics of the situation are."

PRI will also concentrate on markets with recurring payments that have, until now, relied primarily on check payments; these include utilities and residential rental property management firms.

Phillips is betting on one technology in particular to open these doors for his in-house and contracted sales agents: broadband-based transaction processing, including wireless. "I think it's a land grant," he said. "The opportunities for agents to convert merchants to processing through broadband applications is enormous."

PRI's growth rate last year seems to support his view: More than 30% of its 40% overall growth was in broadband, according to Phillips.

Taking Payments Out of the Wallet to Increase Wallet Share

"Wallet share" is the buzzword attached to divvying up consumer usage of payment methods: cash, checks, debit, credit and other cards. With the proliferation of contactless technology, though, we have to add things like fobs and tags that attach to keychains, and even wristbands.

Giving consumers choices for fast, secure convenient transactions will go a long way toward increasing wallet share all the way around, according to technology provider ViVOtech's President and Chief Operating Officer Mohammad Khan.

Khan said the flexibility of contactless increases the possibilities for applications. His company will focus on cards that combine loyalty programs into a prepaid functionality for large and small retailers alike. The idea is to be able to "help ISOs and payment card companies make gift, loyalty or prepaid programs stronger and more palatable for the consumer," he said.

"For retailers, it gives them a loyalty program that's a lot more broadly accepted and lets them beef up their programs with more focus and better value."

Application possibilities seem endless. ViVOtech has tested a wristband that guests at a water park wear during their visits. Customers load a certain dollar amount onto the contactless chip and wave it at readers to pay for concessions; the band eliminates having to worry about carrying a wallet and keeping it dry all day.

Ezic Inc.'s Chief Executive Officer Locke Walsh agrees that many changes lie ahead for stored-value and its variety of flavors, including micropayments, gift cards and loyalty programs and said they'll be especially important for Internet transactions.

Ezic provides Internet payment gateway, electronic payment solutions and sales management software, and is involved in "a prepaid RFID contactless pilot that adds gateway-type capabilities to contactless," Walsh said.

In that pilot, fans attending events at arenas preload a spending amount onto a wristband with an RFID tag to pay for food, beverages and other concessions.

The memory capacity of contactless chips allows several payment programs to be stored on one card or tag. As solution providers work out real estate issues such as liability, and begin to include identification verification systems, your wallet may soon become an irrelevant accessory.

Evolving Technologies for an Endless Customer Base

Walsh said the focus in the coming year will be on non-traditional retailers and predicts that's where all the growth will be. "We have to look at new uses for technology and how non-traditional merchants will be able to generate profits using them," he said.

"One of the great things about our industry is that there is an endless supply of customers," said TransFirst's Phillips. "I've been saying that for 27 years and my philosophy has not changed. Evolving technology means there will always be a new merchant to go after.

"Open up the Yellow Pages. Your prospects are everywhere."

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
Back Next Index © 2005, The Green Sheet, Inc.