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Sandra Harshman Balances Creativity and Structure

Sandra J. Harshman is President of the ISO COCARD, Worldwide Processing Inc. Before entering the electronic payments industry, she had quite a diversified career.

Harshman's belief in the importance of education has contributed to her various successes. In addition, she received a Businesswoman of the Year Award from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). She has some very insightful things to say about business and her own life.

The Green Sheet: How long have you been in the payments industry?

Sandra J. Harshman: I have been in the business for 10 years.

GS: What do you find intriguing about it?

SJH: I like everything about this business. I thought that it was an exceptional fit for me. I am really not the kind of person that you can put behind a desk and just leave me there in a little cubby hole.

I am a real people person, and I love getting out there and meeting new people. I have a real analytical mind so this business really fit with me. It allows me the flexibility to travel all around the country and meet new people, and I love it.

GS: What did you do before?

SJH: I was a CPA tax accountant for 15 years. After so many years ... I was burned out. Then I started my own company and went into marketing for financial institutions. That led me to working for a company out of Woodland Hills, Calif. called Guest Informants, and I eventually ended up moving to Hawaii and running its office there.

I sold ... advertising in a hardcover publication that was in the upper-end hotels. I did that for another 12 years. Then I moved back to Idaho and started [COCARD Worldwide Processing, Inc.] 10 years ago.

GS: What is your educational background?

SJH: I have a degree in accounting. I really felt that my whole life would be centered around a career in accounting. My specialty was tax, but I also did audits and write-ups. I was also a Fiscal Officer for a health corporation, and eventually I became Comptroller for Pepsi Cola Corp. ... I handled their advertising and marketing budget, and that's what led me to get into marketing. I absolutely love being creative.

GS: Did you have payments industry training before starting your current business?

SJH: I did receive training in the [merchant services] business. We started out in 1995 [by] becoming a Retriever Payment [Systems] business, and we [received] some education in Retriever Payment's systems. I am an avid reader, and through the years I have developed my own training program.

I've written my own operations manuals and employee manuals. Sometimes I am an overachiever. And just through the years, from educating myself in the industry and working with others in the industry, we've even developed our own product.

GS: What is the product?

SJH: We have a trademark product called Professional Pay. We use a VeriFone Omni 3750 terminal. It's unique in the respect that we primarily target professional offices such as accountants, attorneys, doctors, chiropractors and dental offices. We provide them with this service, which allows them to do credit card processing, check conversion and Web-based solutions that handle online electronic authorizations.

We can put different applications within the terminals to customize it based on the type of business. For example, in a doctor's office we may put in an application on the terminal that allows them to verify insurance benefits right there at the terminal.

Our Professional Pay system is sort of like a chameleon. Depending on the type of business, we have up to 20 different applications that we can put in the terminals.

GS: Does your company specialize in anything?

SJH: We do specialize in professional services. Since I was a CPA for 15 years, it is very comfortable for me to be in a professional office, a professional setting. I choose people to be in our organization who come from that kind of environment.

We are really quite unique because we do everything in-house, from card issuance to selling ATMs. We have one segment of our corporation specializing in professional offices and another segment that specializes in restaurants, retail and lodging programs.

GS: What is your business philosophy?

SJH: My philosophy is, and this is what I teach my salespeople, "Fill a need and find the pain and fix the pain, and you now have a client for life." Finding out what their needs are and setting them up with the appropriate program, retains the clients for a very long time with the value-added services on the terminals.

We do not try, in any way, shape or form, to oversell a client. We use a very professional soft-sell approach. We listen, we have them talk about their business, and then we listen to their needs and ... find a solution. We approach each sale on a case-by-case basis. "Retainage" is everything.

GS: You've stressed repeatedly that education is important. Will you elaborate?

SJH: What we do is start off with a training 101, and the longer they are with our organization, we have training programs once a week. Sometimes we even invite clients to those trainings. I am very much a believer in education.

The people that are in our organization are highly educated. I attend classes all over the United States. I ... will then decipher the information, put it into an easy to understand manual and then hold a training session on it.

GS: What's the story behind being recognized as a Businesswoman of the Year?

SJH: In 2003, I was elected a Businesswoman of the Year by the Bush administration. I was selected from the state of Idaho to go to Washington D.C., where I was honored [for the award].

I had served on an advisory council for a year and was doing telephone conference calls for small businesses on a nationwide basis. They selected the business owners from this advisory council.

GS: What was this like?

SJH: It was a very interesting experience for me. It was interesting to be in Washington D.C. and see how the rest of the world lives ... It was a great experience. [U.S. Representative and NRCC Chairman] Tom Reynolds presented me with my award. We had an opportunity to talk politics and economics.

GS: Are you still involved in street sales?

SJH: Not too much anymore, but I do work with very large clients. We have an office in Honolulu, and our corporate office is in Boise. I just signed a restaurant chain based out of Dallas called El Chico. It has 142 locations. So typically I work with the larger clients.

GS: Interchange rates are complex. How do you train your staff and help merchants understand them?

SJH: We send out notifications of interchange increases to the clients. When I prepare a training program for new salespeople coming aboard, there are formulas that we go into where they learn how to unbundle and bundle the rate so that they become familiar with the interchange.

GS: How have recent legal changes such as the USA PATRIOT Act affected ISOs?

SJH: [The PATRIOT Act] has made us very cautious about giving out any information on anything. We have sessions in-house all the time about how everything must be in writing. If we communicate with a client, everything must be in writing. We substantiate everything that we do. If anyone calls the office, no information is given to anyone at any time.

GS: How has the industry changed?

SJH: Everything is going electronic ... The introduction of biometric devices: 10 years ago that was barely a thought; retina scanners, those are all coming to pass. I see the industry moving faster as time progresses.

I remember 25 years ago when they used to do credit card processing with a paper deposit at the bank and you waited 10 days to receive your money, sometimes 30 days. So, yes, the industry is ... changing at a very rapid pace, and I love every minute of it.

GS: What advice would you give newcomers?

SJH: Don't become frustrated or overwhelmed with everything that is taking place. Give yourself a chance because this is a wonderful industry, and just take it one day at a time. I can't imagine ... being in any other industry. This has been a very fulfilling industry for me. It's been very rewarding financially; mentally, it stimulates me ... Particularly I feel that this is a wonderful business for a woman to be in. I can't imagine working and not receiving residual income.

GS: Describe a typical day on the job.

SJH: I typically wake up around 5:30 a.m. and do some research. My day starts at about 7:00 a.m. and ends at about 7:00 p.m. that night. Usually I will be contacting processors in the morning depending on whether or not they are East Coast, and I time my day so that at the beginning I am working with people on the East Coast and by the end of the day it is Hawaii ... The majority of my time during the day is spent on the phone making sure that everything is working properly and running smoothly. The rest of my time is spent educating; I hold my own in-house trainings. So the rest of my time is spent educating and rewriting manuals.

GS: How do you choose a processor?

SJH: I would definitely say to choose a processing platform that has longevity within the industry. I would be very wary of anyone just starting out. I would also look for volume.

If a processor or network has high volume and a considerable amount of transactions then obviously they are doing something right. I think you should also make sure that you are compatible with the person that you are working with and that they are service-oriented.

GS: The proliferation of tradeshows and seminars fits very well with your educational philosophy.

SJH: I am huge on education and making sure that people are knowledgeable about the industry. So I am in favor of any kind of educational seminar that can be put on anywhere in the nation.

I think that it just enhances our organization and business operations. That passes through to the client. The client receives a better service, a highly educated individual who can fix their pain quicker and take care of the situation for them.

GS: What type of resource has The Green Sheet been for you?

SJH: I love The Green Sheet. I read it cover to cover every month. When we first subscribed ... compared to what it is today, it's a manual ... The articles are extremely informative. It keeps me connected with everyone else.

GS: What does the future hold?

SJH: I see the industry expanding over the next 10 years to where most business will probably be done over the [Inter]net. I see people probably coming to [this] business. I think that it will do nothing more than continue to grow and expand.

I see equipment becoming less expensive to the consumer. I see the residual income becoming more enticing every day. If it continues at the pace that we have been working this year, then that will be phenomenal.

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