Welcome to PYMNTS.com’s 2013 CEO Series: a quick and concise glimpse into the minds of the leaders of the payments industry and how they view innovation, change and growth. We’ll ask each top exec the same six questions about the payments industry to gauge who they view as innovation experts and why they feel their company stands out. What advice do these leaders have to offer to those looking to survive in a complex and dynamic industry? On PYMNTS.com, you can find out.
In this installment, we speak with Henry Helgeson, CEO of Merchant Warehouse, to learn his thoughts on payments innovation, how the industry is changing and more. What does Helgeson believe to be his company’s most innovative platform, and why does he claim that Merchant Warehouse is building a “future-proof” solution? Find out below.
PYMNTS.com: How would you define your company’s approach to innovation?
Helgeson: Merchant Warehouse’s approach to innovation, in one word, is ‘proactive.’ Fifteen years ago, I co-founded Merchant Warehouse to provide an easy, cost-effective solution for companies that needed credit card processing, and built the company to become a recognized leader in payment technologies and merchant services. But the payments space is changing, evolving into mobile payments and integration customer engagement, and driving merchants to look beyond traditional acceptance.
The fact is that merchants are already struggling to keep up with the speed of innovation, particularly with the emergence of alternative payment technologies like mobile wallets (NFC/QR) and EMV. Although most consumers and merchants are still using traditional payment methods (cash and credit cards), the future of payments will look a lot different than today. To help merchants navigate these waters, we created the Genius™ platform to provide an easy, seamless, and scalable solution for merchants to quickly, painlessly and cost-effectively integrate the latest technologies.
What is the most innovative thing that you have introduced into the market – and what value did it deliver to the stakeholder group that was its target?
The Genius Customer Engagement Platform™ is the most innovative solution Merchant Warehouse has brought to the market. Tapping into our proactive philosophy regarding innovation, Genius is an industry first. We have our finger on the pulse of the market, so we not only know what’s happening in the market now but also have a unique look at what’s to come. This gives us the opportunity to present merchants with a future-proof solution; they can evolve with the payments industry in an efficient and cost-effective way. It goes without saying, anticipating what your customer wants, and delivering it before they ask for it, is a powerful business strategy.
This is where Genius comes in to play. We engineered Genius so it can also be fully integrated with the merchant’s existing POS system for ease and simplicity. The solution provides developers and merchants with universal payment acceptance of NFC, EMV and QR/2D barcodes, as well as unlimited choice among additional payment types, like mobile wallets and other mobile commerce solutions. Additionally, merchants no longer need to exchange hardware or complete time-intensive software upgrades; updates and partner apps are downloaded and added seamlessly through the cloud.
With this seamless integration, Genius lets merchants take full advantage of the opportunities mobile presents, particularly as it relates to establishing a stronger interaction with the customer. Genius enables merchants to deliver enhanced customer experience to support business growth through what we call a ‘single customer engagement device,’ where businesses can change and implement any mobile commerce or loyalty partner app within hours.
Where do you look for innovative ideas and why?
I look at innovation as a series of evolutionary steps, rather than one giant leap. I focus on pulling together multiple data points from disparate sources in order to create a more holistic view. Personally, it’s about having hands-on experience in the field or industry, taking a high-level technical view, ensuring a connection to the end user (sales team members are often a great resource for ideas here) and then making sure that we deliver relevant incentives to all stakeholders.
I’ve found that my most innovative concepts have stemmed from interacting with other innovators and sharing concepts, ideas and thoughts in a non-competitive environment – innovation breeding innovation.
What do you think that most people underestimate about innovating in payments?
Innovation in the payments industry was pretty stagnant until the last few years, so most people just assume the way we pay for goods and services won’t change. But the reality is that innovation in the space has exploded as a result of enhanced smartphone capabilities. New payment technologies through mobile devices have presented incredible opportunities for merchants and consumers alike when it comes to having a better shopping experience.
This is probably the biggest area people underestimate in payments innovation: enhanced customer experience. New payment technologies and mobile device capabilities all open the door for merchants to more effectively interact with their customers, offering them targeted discounts and loyalty programs. From the merchant side, it retains existing customers and attracts new ones. From the customer side, they get highly valuable deals and offers that enhance the buying and shopping experience.
I think that we’re poised to see a huge change in the way that consumers think about paying for goods and the way that merchants think about accepting payments. We’re seeing the groundwork being laid by major, well-known companies like Google with Google Wallet, PayPal and Apple with Passbook, as well as start-up companies like Square and LevelUp. The next 20 years are going to be huge for payments.
What person or company do you think “gets” innovation and why – and, conversely, who or what has missed it and why?
In terms of ‘getting’ innovation the two companies that immediate come to mind are PayPal and LevelUp, primarily because each – although different in their approach- has deployed a holistic yet systematic strategy within the ever changing world of mobile payments and commerce.
The companies that have ‘missed’ are those that have not worked to incent merchants and point-of-sale developers as part of their business strategy.
What advice would you give a young innovator in this space and why would you tell her to heed it?
It all starts with passion. This is the key to any success; you have to be passionate about your work. Research also plays a big role in this space. Not only does this mean reading and staying on top of new rules and regulations in the payments industry, but it also means staying ahead of market changes. I’m completely fascinated with what’s happening within the mobile payments space, and as I said, I think that we’re about to see some major changes that will be altering how we pay for things in the future.
A final piece of advice, as with any entrepreneurial venture – expect to hit a lot of roadblocks and setbacks. I think success stories in the startup space are defined by how well an entrepreneur can respond to a challenge or disappointment and move forward.
CEO, Merchant Warehouse
Henry Helgeson is the CEO of Merchant Warehouse. He is responsible for driving the future vision of the company and leading day-to-day operational activity.
After attending Marist College, Henry worked as an independent contractor for United Processing Corporation selling terminals and printers door-to-door to merchants. Intrigued by the industry and interested in finding a lower cost solution for merchants, Henry co-founded Merchant Warehouse. In 1998, Merchant Warehouse launched as the industry’s first website offering low-cost merchant credit card processing equipment and software.
Since launching Merchant Warehouse, Henry has remained at the forefront of innovation in the payment solutions industry. Today, the company processes over $8 billion a year in sales and more than 12 million transactions a month. A visionary, Henry has been the driving force behind the company’s recently launched, Genius™ Customer Engagement Platform™. Genius is the first payments industry solution in the marketplace to have the capability of aggregating and integrating every conceivable transaction technology, payment type and customer program – both present and future – in a single platform.
Henry is actively involved in numerous industry associations. He currently serves as chair of the ISO Practices committee for the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) and a member of their Mobile Payments Committee. He is also a board member of the Northeast Acquirers Association (NEAA). In 2012, he received the ETA Member of the Year Award, recognizing his contributions to the future success of the industry and the ETA organization and he has been named to the Boston Business Journal’s (BBJ’s) “40 under 40” list.