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International Merchant Solutions LLC




ISO contact:

Rose Tori
Phone: 800-313-2265, ext. 106
Fax: 732-441-9121
E-mail: rose@officialims.com

Company address:

Matawan Market Place
439B Route 34
Matawan, NJ 07747
Phone: 800-313-2265
Fax: 732-441-9121
Web site: www.officialims.com

ISO benefits:

  • No exclusivity
  • 20-plus years of experience
  • High-risk expertise
  • Value-added services: prepaid debit, online bill pay, payroll cards, dynamic currency conversion
  • Technical support

Navigating the high seas of merchant services

Busy ISOs or merchant level salespeople (MLSs) encounter a wide variety of merchants on the job, most of whom are relatively easy to place with processors. For these, which include most traditional brick-and-mortar retail establishments, MLSs can rely on their usual processing partners. However, a growing number of merchants aren't so easy to place.

While today's MLSs offer an increasing array of services, their main responsibility remains the same: to provide merchants with credit card processing at rates that foster expanded payment options while enhancing the merchants' bottom line. But how is this possible when merchants are categorized as high risk?

Finding a bank for such merchants can cause major headaches for MLSs. Often it is too difficult to even try. However, the number of businesses with this label is significant; to ignore them cuts agents off from a potentially large source of residual income.

There is hope. Established specifically to help in this arena, International Merchant Solutions (IMS) LLC is a New Jersey-based consultancy that specializes in placing high-risk merchants with the right processing banks for their needs. Founded by industry veterans Gene Lieb and Ken Baldo, IMS brings together more than 20 years of collective industry experience.

Lieb founded Business Financial Resources in 1992 primarily to help ISOs and MLSs place high-risk merchants. Baldo started the Merchant Processing Group in 2000 as an ISO specializing in low-risk, brick-and-mortar retail and higher risk mail order merchants.

In April of 2005, they merged their respective companies into IMS, focusing solely on consulting. In recent months, IMS has branched out to place low-risk merchants as well as provide MLSs with value-added service offerings.

Fear high risk no longer

Baldo and Lieb emphasized that IMS is not an ISO. "What we promote is a program to try and work with reps all across the industry to place accounts that their present processing banks won't [support]," said Lieb.

In defining high risk, Lieb said it "can be anything that our reps feel might be derogatory credit to high-volume merchants that certain banks can't handle." The most visible merchants in this group include online pornography, escort services, online "bookie" services and Internet pharmaceutical sales. However, there are many other merchant categories with this label.

The most popular feature on IMS' Web site is its "Hit List" of the high-risk merchant categories Lieb and Baldo have been able to place. Included are consumer electronics, travel agencies, jewelry stores, car rental agencies, attorneys and computer stores.

People tend to stigmatize high-risk merchants, associating them with off-color or even illegal activity. "It's not necessarily the connotation that they have to be bad merchants," Lieb said. "We've placed travel, adult, multilevel marketing, and a whole variety of those type of accounts that more conservative processing banks won't look at."

These merchant categories represent a substantial source of income for agents. "We're a solution for them [the agents]," Baldo said. "Every bank has their own criteria, so we find them a place for the accounts and to receive a residual income.

"We really negotiate with the processing bank on these accounts to get the agent or office the best possible payout and rates. We're constantly negotiating with these banks. It's a large percentage of what we do, on behalf of the agent."

The banks and agents do not interact. IMS is the liaison, eliminating a very difficult part of the agent's job, while at the same time adding to the agent's residual stream.

"We want the agents to know that not only will we place the account, but the residual stream will be very beneficial," Baldo said. "[High-risk merchants] are more lucrative."

For the past three years, Matt Sims, an agent with Business Solutions, based in California, has successfully partnered with IMS to place high-risk merchants. He said that IMS has been a great help; he even uses the company for more than just the risky business.

"It never ceases to amaze me, all the sources that IMS has," Sims said. "They can come up with at least two to three different [processors] for each merchant. The sources are all legitimate and around for the long-haul." The latter is an important element, as Sims said, "It's all about retention."

When it comes to finding a processor that will serve merchants regardless of their line of business, it's important to be well connected in the industry and have extensive resources at hand. IMS has bankcard industry connections in spades.

"Business Financial, over their 13 or 14 years, [compiled] lists of the players in the industry," said Lieb, adding, "Some of our solutions are domestic and some are overseas in Europe, offshore and Canada. We're constantly researching new solutions; the demand grows every week here."

Specializing in the riskier, or risqu€, merchant categories inevitably leads to amusing situations. This serves to keep things a bit more lively than one would encounter in a typical office environment.

"Some of the people bring us accounts such as adult or escort services, and when we have to view the Web site, it just gets very interesting to see what types of services are offered online," Baldo said.

Sometimes amusing may turn to awkward, though it's all part of the job. "When you have to pass along some of the sites to different women at the different processors, it's kind of an embarrassing situation," Baldo continued. He stressed, though, that "this is only a small percentage of what we do."

Branching out

Aiming to be the "official blueprint" for profitable solutions, IMS has a broad and dynamic company philosophy that will allow it to constantly evolve with this quick-changing and ever evolving industry.

The company's core goal is to continuously add more programs, supply all parties with maximum revenue opportunities and to become a world-class consultancy.

"Some of the agents out there may just like the way we handle accounts and give us some of their better business," said Lieb. Since IMS does not require exclusivity, agents are free to come and go as they please, bringing and taking the business that they deem appropriate.

"We do get a good percentage of retail accounts, so based on that, people are using us to place low-risk deals," Baldo said. IMS offers online viewing and reporting for all transactions that come from the low-risk accounts they have placed.

This feature, unfortunately, is not offered for high-risk transactions because not all processors accepting those merchants provide this ability.

IMS is well aware that offering more than the routine plastic transaction processing has become standard industry practice and is vital for an agent's success.

Though not an ISO, the company offers many additional products and services, through affiliated partners, to the agents bringing them merchants.

These include prepaid phone and debit cards, online bill payment, check (automated clearing house) processing and guarantee, a payday loan program, electronic payroll, dynamic currency conversion and e-wallet solutions.

"We want to give our agents more ammunition and more opportunities to go into a merchant and say, I'm a full-service salesperson that can offer you [more than] just credit card processing. Maybe this program would work for you,'" Baldo said.

"We're starting to get agents calling us, not just for high risk, but for these other programs. We're known as high risk in the industry, but as we grow, part of the merger was to bring on some other programs to really have the agents look forward to our mailings and information."

A community leader

IMS is also very active within nearby New Jersey communities. Baldo and Lieb participate in philanthropic and charitable work and do extensive networking among local merchants.

One program IMS supports is Zenith Worldwide Service. Zenith collects donated cell phones and distributes them to people who may need to make emergency phone calls, for example, people at a high risk of being victims of violence.

"We attend events and chamber [of commerce] meetings, and we try to work with the chamber to build up the community," said Baldo. "We're consulting with one chamber of commerce right now for a community gift card. They're using us to find the right processing and terminals."

Nothing can be more frustrating for sales agents than watching a merchant sign on the dotted line only to find out later that their processor won't accept the merchant. In situations like this, it's worth remembering IMS' motto: IMS says "yes," when your banks say "no."

Though it can be difficult for an MLS to become a household name among merchants, as long as there are allies around like IMS, the job will be a little bit easier. IMS can help agents stand out among peers.

Article published in issue number 060301

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