First Data CEO Bets On Data, First, For Merchants To Score Payments

Can merchants find their way into the end zone, scoring points with customers? In an Innovation Project 2017 fireside chat with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster loaded with sports lingo, First Data CEO Frank Bisignano delved into the ways innovation and partnerships can rack up points with merchants, consumers and even developers who bring them together on platforms.

The Super Bowl may be a memory, but the somewhat improbable victory of the New England Patriots was still fresh in the minds of many at snow-jammed Boston during Innovation Project 2017.

In a fireside chat with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, First Data CEO Frank Bisignano stated that his firm “just gave up the championship title,” where, for more than 500 days, First Data had the spot as the largest IPO. “The great Alibaba was the one before us, and Snap was the one after us.”

Sports may offer lessons for innovation in the payments space, especially for firms like First Data that are helping enable those transactions in the first place. By way of example, Bisignano touched on the recent collaboration, struck in October of last year, where First Data and Bypass, utilizing the latter’s point-of-sale (POS) technology, helped upgrade POS systems at the Seattle Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field.

As for the merchant experience, he noted that franchise or stadium or team owners might not have projected that consumer experiences would be necessarily different in the store versus on the web versus in the stadium.

But, he continued, there’s a wealth of information that can be gleaned from each of those avenues: “Like many other businesses, sports teams and owners grow” across different channels but need “a full set of tools” across commerce, information and analytics for activity both inside and outside the stadium — while at the same time bringing it all together. When it works in tandem, he said, the relationship between the fan and business owner can change.

Internally and externally, that change can be a bit of a pivot, observed Webster. Bisignano agreed (“This is a journey”). In many firms, “from SMBs up to the biggest retailers,” said the executive, assets have been siloed. First Data, for its part, had to move beyond its own siloed existence and embrace the idea that “delighting the client” remains the ultimate prize.

First Data also had to endeavor to learn new “muscle memory” in developing effective partnerships, culminating in opening the firm’s Clover platform. That sort of effort moves beyond connectivity, he said, and signals to independent software vendors and others that “we want you on our real estate.”

“Clover is a competitor until it’s a partner,” said Bisignano. “Our job is to enable what is best for the client.”

He used the firm’s recent partnership with ShopKeep as one example. In February, the two firms expanded their partnership, making ShopKeep’s POS software available through the First Data distribution network, which touches retailers, banks and independent sales organizations.

“Maybe in some cases ShopKeep is a better option for the customer than Clover — and so we are evolving to the notion of something that looks like ShopKeep-on-Clover, instead of forcing the customer to choose ShopKeep or Clover.” He stated that long-term trends are in place where “we have tons of developers developing individual apps [for Clover], and now we are moving to integrated service providers [like ShopKeep] that will run on it.”

When it comes time for merchants to decide which innovations to pursue and promote, said Webster, the “merchant by merchant by merchant by merchant” procession by innovators becomes a time-consuming and costly slog, begging the question: Isn’t there a better way to get the right innovations to merchants at scale?

“Innovators and entrepreneurs — they live and die by their ideas,” said Bisignano. For First Data, the thought process embraces the firm and its clients: “Can this work for us, and can we help them move forward?”

In other instances, innovative ideas may be in the offing for consideration where they had not been before, and the turbocharge comes “with something we hadn’t thought about … They’re fast and furious.”

And as to why smaller businesses are so important to First Data, when “an awful lot of them are needed … to equal a Nordstrom?”

“I never think of it that way,” Bisignano said. SMB owners “are passionate about their business, but they [may not be] passionate about managing their business,” he said.

Here, convenience plays a factor, such as being able to load sales data onto phones “while you can run to pick up your kids at school and know that your employees are ringing the cash register … We see all that as value added to their daily life.”

Mission-critical procedures, with transactions focused on SMBs, can mean the difference between making payroll or not.

Addressing retail and the challenges they face in a world where bricks-and-mortar must yield to the internet, Bisignano stated that First Data “believes in eCommerce” and that trends such as ordering ahead are a big deal. Against that backdrop, retailers are important to the towns (if not cities) that they help define, agreed the duo.

The key for the company, he said, and the lure for serving SMBs lies in “diversity — pizza stores, jewelers — it’s America, it’s the world … Most of the world is towns. And you have a few very important things in that town.”

“In the U.S., it is a post office, it’s a bank branch, it’s these special boutique stores. And they have some meaning in the town,” Bisignano continued. “And what we like to do is help them have applications that are good for the people when they come in the store and help [owners] understand how to attract more people in the store … You look at the category of stores in a town, and it has a personality to it. For us, in four million locations in the U.S. and six million across the globe, we feel deeply dedicated to this.”