When Frank Bisignano took the reins as CEO of First Data in 2013, he was emphatic that the firm could use its size, scale and enterprise relationships to “transform” a firm that everyone referred to as the world’s largest merchant processor into a technology leader and true partner to the many businesses it supports.
Four years into the job, Bisignano told Karen Webster that he and his team have made great strides by serving as a “grand collaborator” through a series of partnerships that add value to the two stakeholders he told Webster he wakes up every morning thinking about: his clients and his shareholders.
“Whether it’s a formal acquisition or a partnership, I think of all of these deals as partnerships in the sense that they are about how we enable others to do more,” Bisignano said. “In some cases [like CardConnect], we buy a firm, but even when we do, we integrate them into a larger set of assets because our end goal is always the same — deliver more value to the client.”
There have been many such partnerships under Bisignano’s leadership.
For a firm that was a virtual acquisition machine in the pre-Bisignano days, racking up some $7 billion in buys during its largest period of expansion, partnerships these days are more strategic, and with strategically positioned players. In the first five months of 2017, First Data has acquired Acculynk and CardConnect; partnered with cross border payments firm, Flywire, ShopKeep and KIWI; strengthened its partnership with Jack Henry and launched a JV with Fleetcor for gift cards.
“It has taken some time to get people to recognize we are a different company,” Bisignano emphasized. “Hopefully, it’s now becoming clear that we really are a great commerce enabler, particularly when it comes to finding and expanding innovation and new opportunities using payments.”
The Card Connect Opportunity
The most recent news — the acquisition of CardConnect announced on May 30 — is one Bisignano told Webster was a natural fit, given CardConnect’s history with First Data as a distribution partner for its merchant services solutions. The Pennsylvania-based firm is best known for its partner management tools and integrations with the ERP systems that many merchants use to manage their supplier/vendor relationships, including payment. Bisignano said that building out a robust partner management solution was part of First Data’s roadmap, and the CardConnect acquisition accelerated its timetable for getting such a solution into the market.
It also, Bisignano acknowledged, unlocks a number of enhanced supplier payments capabilities, giving businesses a complete, end-to-end solution for accepting and making payments.
“Think of [the CardConnect] acquisition as Clover meets CardConnect meets First Data — with Clover as the front end, CardConnect handling the ERP and then First Data, which is the best backend in the business,” Bisignano said.
It’s also what Bisignano told Webster is part of First Data’s “mosaic” strategy — giving businesses “tall to small” — as many tools as possible to run their businesses effectively. Adding more “mosaics” is about listening to what their customers want and then creating the right solution to address those needs.
The journey from merchant processor to commerce enabler is one that’s required a lot of rethinking, including some corporate soul-searching about what makes a partnership valuable for the partner, First Data and the business it’s intended to help. It’s a journey that Bisignano acknowledges hasn’t been easy, but one, he noted, that’s been well worth the trip.
“I love this work,” he said.