North American Bancard: Company History

Processing through the Power of People

That assumption proved right for Marc Gardner, President of North American Bancard (NAB). Installing himself in his father's large office space in Troy, Mich., Gardner set up a phone system, brought in a small staff and, with the guidance of a business consultant, opened his own payment processing company in 1992. Gardner established a banking relationship with an acquiring financial institution and educated himself in other aspects of the business.

"My degree was in economics. I was always involved in numbers," says Gardner. "When I was running a satellite sales office for the credit card processing company I saw many problems, and I thought by opening my own company I could correct mistakes I saw them making and turn those problems into successes."

Gardner's vision was to provide a higher quality of customer-care service, a strong sales structure with better sales processes and a higher degree of personal motivation of salespeople. "My philosophy is to provide businesses, whether they be merchants or ISOs, with structure and processes that allow them to work efficiently and expeditiously with our internal organization," says Gardner. "In order to go from one level to another level, you need systems, processes and infrastructure. Part of infrastructure is people. People make everything work." Those people differentiate North American Bancard, in Gardner's view.

"The people we employ set our company apart," says Gardner. "We went out and recruited talent - people who had worked at banks and had a tremendous amount of industry and management experience. If a CPA were to come in, he'd see we spend a disproportionate amount of our revenue on information technology. The systems we put in place not only make the salespeople who sell for us more efficient, but they also allow the merchant to obtain information in a more efficient manner."

Those systems didn't come into play from the onset. "We first started our sales channel without an ISO orientation," says Gardner. "It was of much smaller significance. We were a regional player with corporate salespeople and personally held each individual's hand during the sales cycle. We have evolved into a multi-faceted company from a sales-channel approach." North American Bancard has evolved into a 100 plus-employee turn-key solution for its sales agents. NAB does its own risk management, credit and underwriting. NAB provides its own customer care, and part of that care is publishing account data in a timely fashion.

"Whether it be residuals, leasing, funding, etc., we make it available in real time so salespeople can access it all," says Gardner. "Info is not delayed. It's all posted to the Web site in real time."

Services such as real-time data access and multiple in-house programs keep North American Bancard neck-and-neck with its competitors, in Gardner's opinion. "If you don't see any competition, you live in a dark room," says Gardner. "This industry is very commoditized, and everyone plays close to the hip. But in our industry, competition is good."

North American Bancard competes in the popular small-to-midsize merchant market, allowing everyone in this market the best credit card merchant account. Its target: across-the-board retail, e-commerce, lodging and MO/TO.

"My desire is to be able to handle 99% of all applications that come in the door and approve them," says Gardner. "We have what we call auto approval. For merchants not of unusual risk, we provide same-day approval service. If you're in by 9, you're out by 5. We are like a dry cleaner."

NAB has more than 12,000 merchants on its roster who have a credit card merchant account. And the hottest product they all enjoy? According to Gardner, it is North American Bancard's human resources.

"When the merchants call, they can talk to someone. When the ISOs call, they can talk to someone," says Gardner. "Our hottest commodity is the delivery of information. We have the correct amount of staff to support all those merchants and agents, from a people standpoint as well as a system standpoint."

Gardner sees this as very appealing for the ISO community. "Most salespeople aren't the best operations people," says Gardner. "They market well, but they don't have the infrastructure to support their merchants with a quality credit card merchant account. They have the possibility to implode and have an astronomical rate of attrition. You can't have an open back door. North American Bancard closes that back door." North American Bancard is able to close that back door, in part because of its strategic alliances. It has partnerships with the major equipment vendors. It also has multiple alliances with value-added resellers for software.

North American Bancard works with multiple leasing vendors, too, but with a twist. "We offer a guaranteed leasing program," says Gardner. "Any agent with a North American Bancard merchant number will receive a lease. And we make it easier. We do faxed leasing and agreements. We don't require an original to file the paperwork, and we are presently working on paperless leasing as well."

For its check services, Gardner partners with two vendors. "We use two because we took the best of each and instead of compromising our customers, we offer check presentation over the phone with one and at the point-of-sale with another," he says.

What does North American Bancard look for in a partner? "We look for people to be able to say what they're going to do because we do what we say we're going to do," says Gardner. "Some say they can do everything and fall short. Once it is in writing, we want partners to keep their contractual obligations, whether it's stock, turnaround time or inserting a thank you letter. We want companies that can live up to their service level and provide good economics."

What does North American Bancard look for in an ISO? "We look for people who want to succeed," says Gardner. "There are two types of people; one type is just looking to make money. Our sales agents are the ones who are not focused on just providing a hardware solution. Ours are focused on delivering service and education to their merchants."

What does Gardner look for in himself? "I look at myself as a leader - a leader who is very accessible, not only to the internal infrastructure but to the entire sales force," says Gardner. "When you call my extension, no one screens it. I answer my own phone. I go out on sales calls. I always try to make myself accessible to our company, guiding all departments, steering them through their journey and providing direction."

It goes both ways: Gardner underscores the impact of his people on his leadership. "One of a leader's biggest challenges, but one that brings the most success, is having a good team," Gardner says. "Just like our country's President is judged by his Cabinet, CEOs are as well. You may have great ideas, but you must have people to implement them. Otherwise, they'll just be thoughts and never become reality."

Recruiting good people has resulted in a unique ISO campaign at North American Bancard. Any sales agent who brings in 30 deals within 60 days will receive a $3,000 signing bonus on the 30th deal submitted. Together with training, education, a dedicated support staff and real-time Web access to portfolios, this program is a bonus for any ISO looking to fatten the revenue calf. "If I were an ISO looking for a new home, there are three components that one needs to evaluate," says Gardner. "Number one, look at the service-level commitment. Number two, what are the economics? Number three, how easy is it to do business with them? Those components need to be one-third, one-third and one-third. North American Bancard prides itself on being able to provide on all three levels, and that is what's fueling our explosive growth."

Gardner sees growth in the industry, particularly with the recent wave of mergers and acquisitions, as another good thing.

"There's great opportunity," says Gardner. "With mergers and acquisitions comes opportunity for our agents to provide merchants with stability. We have been registered for a decade, and we have services, processing and systems to handle growth. We welcome them. Attrition creates opportunity for new merchants to be signed, especially because of the fact that conversions are problematic." On a more personal level, believes the future of the industry is all about technology.

"Technology will play a greater role for the smaller merchants," says Gardner. "They're not accessing online transaction info via Web sites yet, while the larger merchants are manipulating that data. Technology will make business easier not only for salespeople but for their merchants as well. I see more and more software apps residing in the terminal. But just because it's available doesn't mean it's readily being adopted by merchants. I see more adoption. I see more penetration of multiple apps being absorbed more frequently."

Gardner believes the declining cost of telecommunications is a key portion of the credit card transaction equation. "More and more merchants will be able to get efficiency by obtaining frame relay or dedicated connectivity like the larger merchants," says Gardner. "They'll be able to get quality for better pricing." How will North American Bancard embrace the trend toward technology? "My prediction is that we will be able to add thousands of merchants per month who need a credit card merchant account and be able to do it as efficiently as we would if we were only adding one merchant per month," Gardner says. "We will be able to live up to same service-level commitment onboarding thousands of merchants as if we were just onboarding 10."

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