Payment Processes Have Changed-Here Are The 3 Rules to Use for Defining Success Payments
[“Payment Processes Have Changed – Here Are The 3 Rules to Use for Defining Success Payments” originally appeared on Inc. and is written by Andrew Medal.]
Remember when a “purchase” consisted of waiting in a check-out line, making small-talk with a cashier, and handing over physical dollar bills and coins? Thinking back, it seems like a simpler time. Now, however, the entire commerce purchasing process has changed drastically. Now, the future of retail is here and it has no time for archaic systems that slow customers and business down.
The ecommerce world is dynamic. New technologies, including artificial intelligence, are changing the way both consumers and ecommerce businesses approach retail. Brick-and-mortar retailers have been forced to adapt their models to keep pace with an online and mobile-first world.
Consumers expect business owners to take their need for convenience into consideration. If a consumer lands on an ecommerce checking page and is required to fill out several forms and complete multiple captcha tests within a time span of ten minutes, they’ll likely abandon their carts in favor for a competitive site with a more streamlined process.
It’s hard enough to break through the noise of the Internet and convince consumers to visit your site; if you subsequently lose them due to an outdated payment system, you’ll have to work twice as hard to convince them to come back. Failing to implement cutting-edge payment systems that take into consideration the shifts in consumer behavior not only slows business growth, it has the potential to squash it altogether.
Small ecommerce retailers don’t have the time or capital to run clunky payment systems that take too much time to process. Luckily, there are emerging payment platforms that enable ecommerce organizations across verticals to offer seamless and hassle-free check-out procedure.
YapStone, helmed by tech futurist Tom Villante, is one company changing the online payment solutions game. Because of both their innovation and expertise in facilitating complex payment requisites for online marketplaces, YapStone has managed to rise to the top in this area and as a result be named on INC. 5000’s list of the Fastest Growing Companies in America for ten consecutive years.
Here are a few lessons I learned from Villante that any online business owner should consider when starting a new payment system:
1. Simplicity is vital.
“If you are an e-commerce company, you must make it your constant mission to improve your online customer experience and conversion,” says Villante. Too many businesses suffer from shopping cart abandonment, and its up to individual organizations to look at these abandonment rates and find the source of the site issue. High abandonment rates are usually not coincidental–they point to a larger issue regarding the checkout procedure.
To keep shopping cart inadequacies from stealing sales, follow this simple checklist:
Prioritization of mobile check-out version over a desktop one
Readily available social proof of past customer satisfaction on the checkout page
Clean and intuitive checkout page design
Simple account sign-up steps
Assurance of customer privacy
2. Chargebacks can kill.
Nothing hurts a business more than making a dollar and, subsequently, returning that same dollar to the consumer. Not only do chargebacks affect a business’s bottom-line, but they also hurt brand perception, because they indicate dissatisfaction with a product or, even worse, fraud. For the organization, chargebacks are also accompanied by an additional processing fee. Although the average fee settles at around $20 per transaction, that $20 charge adds up quickly if an organization is forced to fulfill refunds on a regular basis.
As more consumers depend on digital shopping, chargebacks will become increasingly common. With ecommerce, consumers don’t have the chance to actually see, touch, or try out a product before buying. While they are not preventable altogether, organizations do have some control regarding their frequency.
To diminish the volume of chargebacks, prioritize the following:
Implementation of proper cancellation, return, or refund policies.
Employment of an expert payment partner that can sufficiently activate risk and fraud protection measures
An undeterred focus on high quality and immediate customer service
3. A merchant of record is necessary for protection.
Marketplace business owners have to secure a merchant of record (MOR) that is responsible for every customer-to-seller transaction. Additionally, the MOR oversees the monitoring systems in designed to handle risk and fraudulent activity.
Partnering with a payments provider to serve as your MOR is the first step to ensuring the exchange of funds is facilitated efficiently.
Enterprise growth hinges on successful relationships. When the relationship between the business and customer is solid, both sides thrive. While deciding on a product to offer in the marketplace is one of the first things a CEO hopeful must decide, very quickly after that decision must come the plans for how that product will be purchased on the marketplace. Learning the intricacies of a payment system and how it functions for your specific business is essential in accelerating the success of your enterprise in the marketplace.
How Fintech Companies Upgrade Their Customer Experience
[“How Fintech Companies Upgrade Their Customer Experience” originally appeared in CHIPIN and is written by Daniel.]
The leaders in the financial technology realm are all but exhaustive in their customer experience strategies. This is because they recognize the gravity of treating people with a high level of respect while building business relationships. Industry players are not just your competition – they set the standards. 80% of financial institutions believe their business is at risk to innovations. If you can meet or beat best practices, your annual reports will thank you.
If you want to improve your rapport with customers to see a skyrocket in your own fintech business, find out what the authorities are doing to upgrade the experience they provide.
They Prioritize Security
One of the most notable services fintech companies offer is first-rate information security. You cannot overestimate the magnitude of keeping customers’ financial information safe and preventing hacks and data breaches. Know what the necessary steps for a quality security experience are so that you can implement them.
What do you need to include in your customers’ online interactions?
- Announce the existence of data encryption
- Provide security checks
- Include multiple verification processes
As the customer moves through your website or mobile app, the above signals prove to show them two valuable things. The first one – You prioritize and protect their data. Customers are ready to enter PINs and answer security questions, they even appreciate that you ask them to provide such confirmations because they value their financial data security.
The second one – You confirm your ability to provide a safe environment to share sensitive information and build customer trust.
Not only should you provide trust signals, but you should also outline your processes in one place that is easy to spot for customers to learn more. This is an invaluable piece of a trusted security strategy for fintech companies.
In addition to offering real-time security signals, Stripe clearly outlines their security processes on a public website page that anyone can access. In addition, they invite the reader to ask questions if anything about their security operations is confusing. Give your customers as many chances as possible to see that you prioritize information safety.
They Understand the Value of Transparency
One of the main prerequisites of trusting relationships with a fintech service provider is transparent operations. Why? When financial services are leveraged, customers must be confident in their chosen solution. They need to know what you’re doing with their money and their information. And sharing your security data is part of transparency.
So, completely avoid hidden tricks, vagueness, and unclear processes. Outline your operations publically and in detail; this is demanded by anyone willing to leverage financial services, especially competition is tough and your rivals are just a few clicks away.
Yapstone hosts company news on an easy-to-find page on their main website separate from their blog. This way, they can provide readers with important company information without distracting from the tips and tricks on the blog. Share your truth with prospects and customers to allow them the opportunity to learn more about you.
They Provide the Highest Flexibility Possible
If any industry is competitive, it’s financial technology – over 1,000 fintech companies exist as of September, 2016. The leading brands know they must continually adjust their product and service offerings to satisfy ever-evolving customer needs. They make alterations to their business strategies that keep them on the cutting edge of those needs.
The top fintech companies are probably working on modifications to their operations at this very moment; they’re moving to omnichannel transactions, testing new features, and polishing UX to provide a more convenient customer experience. Seamless transition between mobile and computer is provided. Glitches in the system are ironed out. The little things like button color and website copy are optimized.
Takeaway: You need to invest your time and efforts to facilitate the best possible customer journey.
Undoubtedly, mobile devices are already an extremely popular communication tool and experts predict they will gain momentum across many areas of business: mobile payments, lifestyle apps, marketing automation, Internet of Things to name a few.
You should leverage apps, SMS, mobile browsing, and all aspects of the omnichannel transaction process to interact with customers. Be safe and assume that everyone who lands on your website is viewing from a PC and a mobile device.
Braintree offers diverse options like Apple Pay for iOS, Paypal, Android Pay, Visa Checkout, and more. In this way, they appeal to mobile and PC customers, enticing companies to get in where technology allows, rather than start with basic options where they have to utilize half a dozen tools to satisfy their market.
They Know Personalization Leads to Conversion
All customers are real people; they need to be treated as such. With the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI), top fintech companies are taking automation to the next level. Through automated personalization to the customer experience, you can up your game.
Many companies offer customized product and service recommendations on how to optimize their customers’ finance. Sometimes this advice bypasses the need for a customer inquiry, simply showing consumers the next best step to financial health. Recommendations can include anything from promotional partner offers and new products and services to articles to read and social media pages to follow. Start offering recommendations to your customers based on what would help them the most.
Credit Karma provides registered users with personalized recommendations, based on current accounts and credit score, to improve their financial health through offers from partners. While the company surely earns a profit from these conversions, they also provide the type of value the customer is already looking for. When launching a personalization strategy, keep your operations relevant and helpful.
Building upon the application of personalization, artificial intelligence is no longer a futuristic dream. Worldwide, financial service companies employ AI technologies to reduce costs and improve their services. Machine learning systems have officially disrupted the fintech industry.
Wealthfront has launched AI capabilities that track account activities on its own system and in other, integrated services. They believe that the next decade will reign in an era where software will interact directly with consumers to deliver more personalized, relevant advice than ever before possible.
Making your way through the world of fintech is challenging. Luckily, looking at the leaders you can derive powerful insights – they know what customers want, which is why they’re so successful. Explore what approaches the best in your industry are applying, study your customers carefully, and implement the latest technologies in your own operations.
The Rise of Marketplace Companies is Calling for Fintech Innovation
“The Rise of Marketplace Companies is Calling for Fintech Innovation” originally appeared on TheNextWeb and is written by Melissa Thompson.
Some technologies and business models come and go. The list is long. Thankfully, typewriters, cassette tapes and drive-in movie theaters wound up in the recycling bin. Along with folding maps, dial-up modems and pagers. And remember waiting for a new episode of your favorite show to come out on cable? How painstaking was that?
But one business model that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere is the sharing economy and marketplace companies. We’ve gotten used to things being instant, available and easy. Don’t feel like cooking? Order organic tacos. Need some temp work done? Reach out to Upwork. Want a new mattress, computer, or couch? Hop online and buy it. Almost 70 percent of millennials prefer shopping online than going to a regular store.
And as for taxis and travel accommodation? Why would anyone book a standard, box-like room in a faceless hotel, or ride in a regular cab, when they can get a personalized car or luxury apartment cheaper and easier?
Changing how we live
In a very short time, marketplace companies have grown and forced traditional businesses to step up to the plate or fold. They’ve also changed the way we live, think and buy. More than one in five Americans have worked in the sharing economy already and pretty much all of us have used it at some point. Whether you’ve shared a ride, rented a condo, helped finance a new product, or done some sideline work from your laptop.
Most of us don’t hesitate to pay for services online. We never think about how companies like Lyft, HomeAway and Munchery have to shoulder a huge financial burden. When dreamed up in their Silicon Valley incubators, hotel rooms, or dorms, their CEOs weren’t thinking about establishing a secure payment structure. They were focused on changing a mindset, disrupting an industry, and offering a different way of doing things.
Could they have imagined how successful they would be? With the sharing economy estimated to account for $335 billion of revenue globally by 2025, probably not. They may not have banked on their model crossing the globe, spiking copycat companies, controversy, or a continuous rise in demand either.
An increasing number of transactions from different geographic regions using varied payment methods in multiple currencies is enough to make anyone’s head spin. As this happens, marketplace companies need more than a clever techie managing their backend. With the rise in hacking and threat of cyber security, they need robust payment solutions ensuring safe transactions for all parties involved.
Calling out for fintech innovation
Marketplaces causing so much noise means they’re also attracting attention from both legislators and fraudsters. They need to have an open book and provide a secure payment platform for their customers. Such is the magnitude of responsibility that you could actually look at what was a new method of transport, or helping pair of hands, and say they were fast becoming financial services companies, rather than marketplace ones.
Tom Villante, CEO of YapStone, a leading payment services provider for marketplace companies explains, “Airbnb has a separate company that is a payment company — as in it is a fully licensed payments company that only handles payments.” Uber also takes responsibility for its own financial operations. But only because these companies, valued in the billions, are so giant that they can afford to do so. Other marketplaces need the help of innovators like Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and YapStone’s Tom Villante.
A complex payments process
Marketplace companies have a particularly complex payment process. We’re not talking about a typical transaction between buyer and seller here. Their model involves the bringing together of thousands of sellers and millions of customers, causing multiple layers of complexity. They have to deal with issues like chargebacks and fraudulent purchases from creative cyber criminals adept at manipulating the system.
There’s also compliance with different regional legislation, acceptance of multiple payment methods and currencies and local competition laws. For a company that wants to allow people to rent out bikes, spare rooms, or run errands; this is not something they’re prepared to deal with. One wrong move could blow up in their face and potentially bankrupt their business. Says Villante, “a lot of marketplaces got big very fast and have no desire to be payments companies.”
When they outsource their payment platform to fintech innovators, they can focus on the business model that got them where they are today. Rather than worry about fraudulent transactions, payment processing, legislation and compliance. Fintech companies like YapStone were made for marketplaces as they grow up, minimizing the risk associated with these financial transactions.
Rather than tearing their hair out, marketplace CEOs can relax knowing that their revenues are handled by experienced professionals. As marketplaces have exploded, so have fintech solutions, with companies like YapStone now processing more than $17 billion in payments every year. And a whopping YOY growth rate of 40 percent.
Any signs of slowing down? Probably not. As more and more marketplace companies appear to attend our every need, more opportunities arise for fintech innovation. Disrupters working with disrupters (after all, how many banks have been forced to raise their games thanks to fintech innovators?) Marketplace companies are calling for fintech innovation and the partnership seems like a match made in heaven.
Why Marketplace Companies Will Demand Fintech Innovation
[“Why Marketplace Companies Will Demand Fintech Innovation” originally appeared on Y Insights and is written by Robbie Abed.]
This interview is part of our Future of Fintech Series where we interview disrupters in Fintech. Tom Villante is Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of YapStone. Founded in 1999, the company has raised over $110MM from investors, including Accel Partners, Meritech Capital and Bregal Sagemount. With a mission to change how the world pays, YapStone offers an end-to-end payments solution for global marketplaces and large vertical markets.
We live in truly revolutionary times. The world is changing at a rapid pace and we can pretty much get hold of anything we need whenever we need it. Thanks to this ease of access, consumers’ preferences are naturally becoming more demanding. Companies that fail to satisfy them will ultimately be replaced by providers who can.
The marketplace business model is an excellent example of companies able to identify and satiate consumer desires. By creating a new way of exchanging goods and services, businesses in all verticals are forced to sit up and take notice – or fall by the wayside like Tower Records and Blockbuster Video.
The rise and rise of marketplaces
From raising finances to online entertainment, transport and vacations to freelance employment, marketplaces are causing widespread disruption across the board. More than half of the workforce could be working remotely online by 2020, thanks to companies like Upwork and TaskRabbit.
Kickstarter democratized the once private and elite capital raise process and gave anyone and everyone the opportunity to participate. Since its inception in 2009, this crowdfunding platform has helped raise almost three billion dollars for products to come to market.
Uber (valued at $68 billion) has upset the taxi industry worldwide and turned our personal cars into personal revenue streams. Airbnb took on traditional hotels and monetized the extra rooms in our homes. HomeAway offered travelers their dream vacation while giving homeowners the opportunity to leverage their second homes. And Etsy gave independent artisans the ability to scale a local business, turning a hobby into a real career.
For the average consumer, these relatively new services have become intrinsic to our daily lives. All we have to do is download an app and we can organize our activities from our smartphones. But how is it that marketplace companies have been able to achieve such widespread market penetration and success?
Marketplace companies built their services with a number of goals, yet the common thread was paramount – ease of use. Regardless of service or industry, they had to make it easy for both the buyer and the seller to use, and they did so by leveraging our mobile devices. Considering that as many as 77 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, this was a sound strategy to follow.
With a revolutionary business model, desirable product, engaged audience and enviable potential, it would seem that marketplaces have it all figured out – or do they?
The complex payments issue
As marketplaces continue to disrupt, expand and scale, the issue of payment processing becomes ever more critical. They need to evaluate the payment transaction and process (as it’s one of the few areas where friction still exists for the consumer). This is where fintech comes in. Partnerships and products will be the next strategic area of focus for marketplaces.
With 17 years in the payments industry and experience powering online payments for global marketplaces, Tom Villante, CEO and Co-founder of YapStone, understands marketplace companies like no other. He comments:
“Payments are inherently hard and complicated and they will not be getting any easier for marketplaces as they scale globally. In order to fully support a transaction for the buyer and seller, these companies will have to build an entire in-house ‘payment company’ or create one as a subsidiary. But the simple fact is that marketplaces are not payments companies, they already have a business. A business that they have been very successful in building and growing. If they are running their business and building a payments platform, inevitably, it will take away their focus and could negatively impact growth.”
Online payments are critical when talking about marketplaces. These companies are responsible for millions of online or mobile transactions every day. The sheer complexity of the payment platforms needed to process these transactions is overwhelming. Funds must be disbursed to multiple entities in multiple currencies. Consumers’ information must be protected. Safeguards against fraud need to be applied and industry standards for security and compliance have to be met. Not to mention providing 24/7 customer service.
Add in the goal of hyper-growth and scale that marketplaces are reaching for, and the financial responsibility increases exponentially.
The need for fintech
“Most marketplaces do not want to deal with the complexity, and to be honest, the burden of online payments,” says Villante. “With the exception of Uber and Airbnb, which mainly manage payments in-house (or with support from partners), marketplaces are not willing to take on the challenges of going deep, building a team to manage payments and regulatory obligations, as well as risk and fraud.”
To solve this problem for marketplaces, YapStone began offering a customized, end-to-end payments solution for marketplaces. “For six years, we have been powering payments for HomeAway, the world’s leading online marketplace for the vacation rental industry. We have acquired in-depth knowledge and expertise on what these companies need in a comprehensive payments partner,” says Villante. “With this in mind, we take care of the entire payment transaction, from processing to customer service, so that the marketplace can focus on what they do best – their business and delivering a convenient product or service to their consumer.”
The quest for global expansion of marketplaces has created the need for business requirements that were never contemplated before. In fact, marketplaces are going where no one has gone before! And they need services that have never been designed, built or employed — especially when it comes to fintech.
One major concern for marketplaces is risk and fraud. Villante states, “Fintech companies must protect their customers against fraudsters and the schemes employed across the globe.” This includes creating fake merchant accounts to pose as mules to drain stolen card accounts and posting photos of a fake property at a too-good-to-be-true price.
A marketplace could find itself in real trouble without a payments partner to help navigate the complex world of global payments, ensuring compliance, security and ease of use for consumers.
“Before we started powering payments for marketplaces, we had a small risk team. Now we have 70 experts, in addition to our ongoing financial investments in building and integrating next-generation risk and fraud solutions,” says Villante. “We have also developed a global view of the customers who transact in the vertical markets we serve. This helps us separate those customers that are known, safe and operating within pattern from customers that require closer evaluation.”
Because fintech companies have global experience and dedicated teams, they are in a better position to prevent fraud for their marketplace customers. As marketplaces scale and grow in their own businesses, it will become increasingly difficult to build and manage the inherent complexity of online payments. That makes fintech and marketplaces a match made in heaven.
In 1999, Tom Villante founded YapStone with the simple goal of converting bills commonly paid by paper check into online electronic payments. Today, YapStone processes over $18 billion in online and mobile payments and has raised over $110 million in capital. As Chairman and CEO, Tom leads the strategic vision, operational execution and global expansion of the company. With his experience and expertise in the FinTech industry, Tom is focused on positioning YapStone’s innovative and proprietary payments platform to meet the needs of global marketplaces and large vertical markets.
Prior to YapStone, Tom was a Partner at The Seidler Company, a private equity firm, and an investment banker with S.G. Warburg (now UBS) and William E. Simon & Sons. In addition to his role at YapStone, Tom is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (Santa Monica Bay) and has served on the Boards of local schools and charitable organizations. With 20 years of entrepreneurial experience, he is an active angel and real estate investor, frequent speaker at FinTech and Leadership conferences as well as a contributing writer to notable business publications. Tom earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Princeton University.
YapStone Names Sanjay Saraf, Former Western Union Digital CTO, as Chief Technology Officer
Global payments leader advances executive management team with the hire of Sanjay Saraf as Chief Technology Officer.
Walnut Creek, California (PRWEB) April 05, 2017
YapStone, a global provider of online and mobile payment solutions for global marketplaces and large vertical markets, announces the strategic hire of Sanjay Saraf, former CTO of Western Union Digital, as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. In his role, Saraf will lead YapStone’s technology organization and manage product engineering, infrastructure and operations, information security, research, development, and innovation as the company expands its digital payments product platform to power online marketplaces globally.
Prior to YapStone, Saraf was Chief Technology Officer at Western Union Digital where he led product engineering focused on digital transformation. In his tenure at Western Union, Saraf built a new digital product engineering organization from the ground up in San Francisco and oversaw technology strategy and development of digital platforms. As the lead, Saraf’s teams built a platform to power global P2P money transfer products delivering billions in payment volume in over 200 countries. He led development of a number of major initiatives for the company, including a complex, proprietary fraud management system, a digital payments platform to support major global funding methods, a global payout platform to connect over 2 billion bank accounts and digital wallets, a massive Hadoop big data platform, and consumer-facing web and mobile apps in over 50 countries. Saraf was also instrumental in leading Western Union’s Omni-Channel product development (digital kiosks and mobile apps for retail locations) and new product innovation, including Blockchain technologies and API platforms for integrating financial services into social media and messaging platforms.
As YapStone’s Chief Technology Officer, Saraf joins a world-class management team with proven experience and expertise in the payments industry. “The YapStone team has delivered phenomenal revenue growth and product innovation for our partners over the past few years,” says Tom Villante, YapStone’s Chairman, Co-founder and CEO. “To continue to serve our global marketplace and software partners, it is vital to have a next generation CTO at the helm. With his immense experience and success in building innovative platforms on a global scale, Sanjay is certainly one of our most important executive leadership hires as we expand our team and operations.”
YapStone has received several accolades for its recent growth, including being named to the Forbes’ 2016 list of Next Billion Dollar Startups, as well as named a “Fintech company to watch” in Entrepreneur Magazine.
“The Fintech industry is still on the cusp of what is possible, and I share YapStone’s vision of what can be accomplished in this space,” says Saraf. “As the digital sharing economy continues its rapid global expansion via peer-to-peer marketplaces, YapStone is well-positioned to deliver a truly value-add payments platform meeting the needs of marketplace companies. 2017 is going to be an exciting year for our team as we plan to expand in international markets and power several new verticals.”
Here for the Long Haul
[“Here for the Long Haul” originally appeared in the Business Post and is written by Caroline Allen.]
YapStone has had a presence in Ireland for the past five years, and with key global roles moving to its base in Drogheda, Co Louth, the US fintech firm is increasing its workforce here all the time.
With a presence in Ireland since 2012, American fintech firm YapStone sees itself in this country for the long haul, with key global roles moving from the company’s North American offices to its Irish base in Co Louth.
Established in California in 1999, YapStone was originally processing online rent payments for the apartment rental industry.
In 2011, the company partnered with HomeAway, one of the world’s largest vacation rental marketplaces, to process its electronic payments in the US.
HomeAway’s move into Europe created a requirement for a payments partner there. This led to YapStone opening its international headquarters at a small office in Ballsbridge in 2012.
Having spoken to other companies with experience of foreign direct investment, YapStone made contact with the IDA, which assisted it in moving to the Mill Enterprise Centre in Drogheda the following year.
This 800 sq ft premises facilitated the recruitment of multilingual staff required to service the HomeAway contract and additional business necessitated taking on another temporary building. A lot of research went into the new location, according to Peter Rowan, YapStone’s vice-president of international operations and global customer support.
“A lot of financial companies were moving north of Dublin, going towards Dundalk and the opportunity came to house ourselves outside the capital,” he said.
This was not a wrench for the company as its US headquarters is in Walnut Creek, California, 50 kilometres from downtown San Francisco.
“YapStone didn’t want to be in downtown San Francisco or downtown Dublin. The company ethos is to create opportunities where people live. Drogheda fit in well as it is the same distance as Walnut Creek is from San Francisco,” said Rowan.
September 2016 saw the company relocate Irish operations to a 16,000 sq ft office at the M1 Retail Park, Drogheda, a premises that is, once again, becoming outgrown. At the official opening, IDA support and the talent pool available locally were cited as important factors behind the new investment.
In the coming year, YapStone will process more than $17 billion in payment volumes, as well as operating a robust customer support call centre covering eight languages, 20 hours per day, seven days a week and 365 days a year.
“When I joined the company in May 2016, there were 39 employees. We are expanding exponentially and now have 124 employees,” said Rowan, who worked for Twitter, PayPal, AIB, and Visa International before joining YapStone. The company’s international business has been growing year-on-year.
“Taking payments for vacation rentals, we expect people to take more holidays as the economy picks up,” said Rowan.
“Even during the downturn internationally, we were unaffected as people still wanted to take breaks. We heard more of the term ‘staycation’ but people still went on holidays and our growth and revenue continued to scale,” Rowan said.
YapStone operates in 22 countries and is always exploring new markets and opportunities. Between January 3 and March 3 this year, Rowan hired 52 new staff in Drogheda, with multiple languages across customer support, technical support, risk operations, and financial and legal services.
While there are sometimes criticisms of the levels of fluency of Leaving Cert students going on to study languages at third level, Rowan has little trouble hiring strong candidates.
“We have not had to go outside Ireland and we are seen as an employer of choice,” he said. “We get direct applications all the time and referrals from existing employees. A lot of people we are hiring now are living north of Drogheda and have tired of lengthy commutes – now some of them can walk to work.”
YapStone currently has a number of positions open in IT, customer support, and risk. “It is not just about hiring people, but also retaining them. We are committed to employee engagement and creating career paths,” said Rowan.
“When I interview people, I ask them whether they want a job or a career. We hire people whose goal is to build a career. Our aim is to create a fun place to work with career opportunities.”
Ireland’s corporate tax system is often seen as a key factor in attracting companies.
However, according to Rowan – a native of Birmingham of Irish parentage whose wife is from Mayo – this success is not just about building relationships with the IDA, but also local businesses, chambers of commerce, and the community.
“When I came on board, we became a member of the American Chamber of Commerce, which has been very supportive,” he said.
YapStone’s focus now is on global expansion with a significant Drogheda presence.
“YapStone is here for the long haul. We are already five years in Ireland and are increasing our headcount all the time,” said Rowan.
Fintech companies to invest in 2017
[“Fintech companies to invest in 2017” originally appeared on ForexNewsNow .]
It’s becoming clearer by the day that change is coming, and Fintech companies are the latest fad causing a disruption to conventional financial services. Whether it’s the public’s distrust of banks or the increased use of technology we don’t know, but there’s definitely a shift.
According to a recent McKinsey report, Fintech companies have received $23 billion in funding over the past 5 years. What’s more, the level of investment is increasing every year, as the graph below shows.
In 2015, the amount of funding surpassed $20 billion, which was a 66% increase over 2014’s funding, and you can bet funding in 2016 was even greater. This shows that there is rapidly increasing interest in the Fintech industry, even by the traditional banks. It also shows that there is a valuable opportunity for anyone seeking for an investment opportunity.
However, startups in general are usually risky since almost 90% of startups fail. Investing in startups is a bit like investing in penny stocks – the returns could be amazing, but the risk is also high. Plus, you have to think about people’s apathy toward trusting their money to an online company, which puts Fintech companies at a difficult position.
Nevertheless, there can be no reward without risk. The key is to be really smart with your investment and consider the risk to reward ratio. The idea that Fintech companies are becoming more popular, so much so that they are being listed on exchanges, and that they have backing from renowned companies is a good sign. So, we’ve done the heavy-lifting for you and here are some great options you might consider investing in this year.
These are Fintech companies that use automated trading to invest their clients’ investment into financial markets. Unlike regular investment avenues like hedge funds and mutual funds, roboadvisors are more accessible even to less wealthy individuals and have lesser fees. These and many more advantages make roboadvisory services highly sought after, and there are several companies blazing the trail:
Founded in 2008, Wealthfront was among the very first companies to utilize software to participate in financial markets. It was a difficult time, obviously, being so soon after the global recession, and it was difficult getting investors or clients. Even by 2013, the company only had $97 million in management, but impressive growth at 450% was enough to entice investors and clients.
Soon afterwards, investment from venture capital (VC) companies like Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital pushed the total invested capital close to $130 million. The amount of assets under management (AUM) is truly impressive, at $4.6 billion. The hype and publicity around the company is bound to invite more clients and investors, making Wealthfront a prime investment opportunity.
The story of Betterment is similar to that of Wealthfront, and so is their business model. Betterment has more funding and AUM, though, with the latter being above $7 billion. This makes Betterment a more solid investment opportunity, but the amount of funding means you would need to put in a larger investment.
Traditional money transfer services like the Western Union are also under threat from Fintech companies. PayPal was perhaps the first such company, and you could buy PayPal shares if you wanted. Recently, though, there have been more companies offering similar services, and these are the ones to watch:
Considered a ‘unicorn’, Adyen got a $2.3 billion valuation in 2015 following a doubling of its revenue that year to $350 million and processing payments above $50 billion. With headquarters in Amsterdam and offices in various other locations around the world, Adyen also boasts an impressive client base including Facebook, Uber, KLM and many more impressive names. Experts speculate that the company may be headed toward an IPO, which places Adyen among the top Fintech companies to invest in this year.
Offering similar services to those of Adyen, Stripe is another interesting company worth investing in. Stripe also sports an even more impressive list of clients, including both US presidential candidates in last year’s elections as well as Target and the NFL. The list of Fortune 500 companies making use of Stripe’s services pushed the company’s valuation to $9.2 billion in 2016, which was more than the $5 billion valuations in 2015. This is definitely a contender targeting the behemoth that is PayPal due to its expansive services including bitcoin payments.
We already mentioned the public’s distrust of banks before, and Fintech companies are taking advantage and filling this gap.
Instead of jumping through hoops at a bank to prove your credit-worthiness before they offer you a loan, why not get it from another person. This is Lending Club. For someone seeking a loan, they simply have to advertise that they need a loan and for what purpose. An investor will then offer the loan if they like the borrower’s idea. Already, the company is listed on the NYSE and their services registered and regulated by the SEC, making the company legitimate. Lending Club provides an opportunity to invest directly into a business idea, and make a return from the interest earned.
Initially started to help students with less costly loans, it has grown to become a major personal finance company. The value of loans issued by 2016 totaled $12 billion, and the company is set to become a serious competitor to regular banks. SoFi also has billions of dollars in funding from various investors, and it is rated by Moody’s with a triple-A rating, making it a very trustworthy investment.
Other Fintech Companies Worth a Look
There are plenty of other Fintech companies which are also worth investing in such as YapStone, Braintree, Commonbond, Addepar, and Kabbage. You should also be on the lookout for more Fintech startups near you because the earlier you invest in such a company the better the returns would be.
FinTech Companies Firing Up The Mobile Payments Market
[“FinTech Companies Firing Up The Mobile Payments Market” originally appeared on Let’s Talk Payments and is written by Sofia.]
The FinTech industry in recent years not only attracted attention from traditional financial institutions and disrupted certain sectors, but also made a significant transformation in consumers’ minds. Our expectations went so far beyond of what was really available and all of it was because FinTech ‘spoiled’ the customer.
One wouldn’t imagine not having an option to make a mobile payment as there are tons of options to choose from (which makes it even harder). In fact, in 2016 total mobile payment transactions are expected to reach $27.05 billion, with users spending an average of $721.47 annually. Total mobile payment sales will rise faster than average spending per user in 2016 because of the growth in the number of overall users of the technology.
Almost every other month a tech giant introduces its mobile wallet or other integrated payment solutions for merchants across platforms and devices. To understand how dense the market is, here are some of the companies offering integrated solutions for payments, in particular, mobile payments. So if you are looking for a seamless experience (whether as a business or individual) with mobile-shopping, consider having one of those solutions installed.
The obvious one, Square, offers POS solutions to take care of digital receipts, inventory, and sales reports, as well as provide analytics and feedback.
Dwolla is a free web-based software platform allowing users to send, receive, and request funds from another user.
Stripe is a technology company that allows both private individuals and businesses to accept payments over the Internet.
Revel Systems provides an iPad POS solution for restaurant and retail establishments.
Softcard is a mobile payments platform that enables users to make payments, redeem offers, and store loyalty, membership, and reward cards.
Fortumo is a mobile payments company enabling carrier billing in 90+ countries through 350+ mobile operators to over 130,000 merchants.
Passport is focusing on integrated urban mobility solutions offering mobile payments.
Payfirma offers businesses a multi-channel payment platform for mobile, ecommerce and in-store payments.
SumUp is one of the leading mPOS providers in Europe set to empower the world to accept card payments.
PowaWeb is a flexible SaaS cloud-based commerce platform. PowaPOS is a hardware and software platform that customizes the payment experience in store and on the move.
orderbird AG is a provider of iPad POS systems that facilitate reporting functions in the hospitality industry.
Carta Worldwide is an international digital transaction technology company specializing in mobile and emerging payments.
Mozido is a global provider of trusted and inclusive digital commerce and payment solutions for both unbanked and developed markets.
YapStone is a global provider of full-stack payment solutions for global marketplaces and large vertical markets.
JUSP is an app facilitating debit card and credit card transactions on smartphones and tablets.
Kuapay is a mobile payment technology provider enabling users to make payments in participating stores.
Apriva is a leading provider of end-to-end wireless transactions, gateway services, and secure information solutions.
GoCoin develops a payment gateway for online and retail merchants to accept bitcoins.
Hyperwallet’s global network provides companies with a wide range of payment capabilities, integrated financial tools, tax reporting solutions, and small business support services.
Beamm is a cloud-based small business commerce platform. Beamm merchant solutions include cloud-based real-time inventory, smart point of sale, promotions engine and performance analytics.
Lightspeed provides POS for retailers and restaurateurs to manage their businesses.
Danal provides mobile business solutions, enabling mobile payments, mobile commerce, marketing, and mobile wallet services.
boxPAY is a mobile payments platform that provides web merchants, game developers, and other e-businesses the ability to charge customers for digital content through a mobile phone.
Nuspay works with financial institutions, payment networks, processors and businesses to enable the acceptance and processing of all forms of payments through its technologies.
BYNDL is a mobile transaction services company providing payments, permissions and relationship solutions for Unattended Retail environments.
Tappr is a tech startup specializing in a user friendly end-to-end mobile payment solutions for both businesses and individuals.
FreshBooks Card Reader helps small business owners get paid on-the-spot using their mobile devices while also preventing credit card fraud.
BluePay is a technology-enabled credit card payment processing services provider for businesses of all sizes in the US and Canada through physical POS, online and mobile interfaces.
PayClip enables users to accept card payments at any time by turning their smartphone or tablet into a card terminal.
payworks provides an mPOS platform that lets merchant service providers quickly build payment functionality into their applications.
CardFlight enables app developers to easily take in-person payments within their own iOS and Android apps.
Zoop offers a mobile payment platform that enables individuals and businesses to process electronic payments remotely.
Judo provides secure in-app payments to leading companies globally to help them make payments in apps faster, easier and more secure.
PAAY provides mobile payment solutions for card processors, merchants and consumers.
As we mentioned, the list in not exhaustive. However, it already demonstrates the level of concentration of similar services in the market. As with the story of mobile wallets, payments solutions providers could end up on their islands hitting the wall of expansion. We have also been looking at companies specifically focusing on mPOS, which demonstrates the wide range of options for businesses to choose from.
How Thinking Smaller Helps FinTechs Scale
[“How Thinking Smaller Helps FinTechs Scale” originally appeared on PYMNTS.]
In fact, when it comes to FinTech companies, thinking “small” by focusing and serving a relatively small number of huge markets may provide the best opportunity to drive more impactful revenue with sustainable and profitable growth.
David Weiss, president of YapStone, shared with PYMNTS some big misconceptions about market specialization.
The belief that focusing on particular market segments may not be a great way to scale a company just isn’t true, he explained.
“From that perspective, even though YapStone is focused on a small number of verticals, the opportunity in each is quite significant, as each vertical is hundreds of billions and, in some cases, trillions of dollars in size,” Weiss said.
He noted that while other companies in the payments space have a product offering that is an inch deep and a mile wide, YapStone’s approach for the most part is about being several miles deep and several feet wide in any given vertical market. This allows the company to offer integrated, end-to-end payments solutions for specific markets.
“The other misconception is that focusing on vertical markets may seem easier, but it’s really not. Payments are very complicated, whether you’re a large global company or a smaller startup company,” he stated. “It’s very easy to underestimate the complexity of what’s required to scale a payments company, regardless of your go-to market strategy.”
Weiss went on to say that “very few payments companies have the people, the expertise, the technology and the infrastructure to sufficiently address these complexities that span across onboarding (auto-decisioning different types of merchants globally), risk management, pay-in methods, pay-outs, security/data protection, customer service, regulatory, licensing and compliance requirements. Most payments companies that focus on authorization, settlement, simple APIs, pay-outs, etc., eventually become commoditized.”
Navigating the FinTech Waters
For new FinTech entrants, Weiss’s advice is to ensure that their company has a unique offering, supported by a strong value proposition.
When YapStone made the decision to focus on the apartment rental market back in 1999, Weiss said the company was fixated on differentiating their payment solution from other companies in the space. Back then, even though PayPal was just beginning to gain traction and online banking was quite prevalent, the apartment rental market was still dominated by paper checks, Weiss explained. Property managers also used an incredibly archaic system that made it difficult to deal with rent, security deposits and payment collections.
This is exactly where YapStone identified the opportunity to solve a real problem for property management companies and build long-term relationships. Weiss explained that YapStone offered integrations with major property management software companies, making it easier for property managers to accept online payments and eliminating the hassle of processing paper checks.
YapStone applied that same discipline when it entered the vacation rental vertical in 2006, eventually building an end-to-end payments solution serving that particular market.
Weiss also noted the importance of thinking differently and fostering partnerships across the industry.
“Because of the integrations and interconnections between all the various constituencies from the card networks, to the issuers, to all the other financial institutions, to the marketplaces and other business development partners, it’s almost impossible to do this alone,” he explained. “FinTech companies must partner with this ecosystem to really accelerate growth and conquer some of the unique obstacles along the way.”
The decision to avoid the one-size-fits-all model and instead focus on specific, large vertical markets can enable FinTechs to deliver faster, more sustainable and more profitable growth, Weiss said.
“What we’ve tried to do is solve complex payments problems and build real integrations with our partners in our markets, and that strategy has served us extremely well,” he added.
Over the years, YapStone has expanded into new verticals, including self-storage and homeowners’ associations, but Weiss said within all of those markets, the company follows the same strategy of solving specific problems for these large verticals by building specific functionality for their partners.
Preparing for a FinTech Future
When it comes to what’s next for the FinTech landscape, Weiss said he expects that there will continue to be a bifurcation between the strong and the weak, the haves and the have-nots, because the cost of doing business and the stakes are so high.
Due to the segmentation between some of the larger public companies, earlier-stage players and those that fall somewhere between, there will likely be FinTech consolidation and failures in the coming years.
“A lot of companies just aren’t going to make it for one reason or another, and those companies in the middle are going to differentiate and segment themselves in one direction or another,” he said. “You’re going to see a widening of the gap between the more successful, high-growth, high-margin, highly integrated players in the payments space, and those earlier-stage companies and those companies who have not invested in the requisite infrastructure.”
YapStone And Making Marketplaces Manageable
[“YapStone And Making Marketplaces Manageable” originally appeared on PYMNTS .]
These days, there is literally an online marketplace for every need. Whether it be workers, office space, rides, vacation homes, food delivery, graphic designers or temp workers, the list extends to almost any and all imaginable services that can be collected digitally. And while these marketplaces are all different from each other, they mainly share a common ground in that they didn’t go into business in the hopes of becoming a payments or financial services company.
As marketplaces take off with millions of transactions between hundreds and thousands of buyers and sellers, they may become a magnet for fraudsters, industry auditors and government oversight. Tom Villante, CEO and cofounder of YapStone, knows this story all too well, which is why his company specializes in handling the burden of financial services, allowing the marketplaces to focus on buyer/seller engagement.
Some of the go-to names in the sharing economy may be known for giving rides or renting properties even though they could also be fairly described as financial service firms.
“Airbnb has a separate company that is a payment company — as in it is a fully licensed payments company that only handles payments. Uber could also be considered a payments company; a lot of what they do is payments-related,” Villante said.
Villante said that the Airbnbs and Ubers are the exceptions to the rule, though — the vast majority of marketplaces either can’t (or won’t) take on the challenge of going deep into financial services. That’s why he founded YapStone, which offers its partners access to its full-stack payments platform that does the risk underwriting, onboarding and payments processing for big-ticket payments — including recurring ones.
Villante said that it’s been an interesting journey for YapStone — one that started out in apartment rentals and helping making digital payments possible for tenants who found themselves tethered to their checkbooks to write (big) monthly rent payments. From there, the journey moved on to marketplaces — with an unsurprising specialty in real estate — where he also found himself on the front lines fighting fraud.
“Before we got into marketplaces, we had three people in risk — now we have 70, in addition to material ongoing financial investments in building and integrating next generation fraud solutions,” he said. “We have also developed a global view of the customers who transact in our verticals. This helps us separate those customers that are known, safe and operating within pattern from customers that require closer evaluation.”
YapStone also has an increasingly well-known client list, processes billions of dollars a year in transactions and is averaging annual growth in the 40 percent range. This is a trend their founder said he expects to continue given YapStone’s remit as a marketplace that offers their partners freedom from being a payments company.
The Incredibly Complex World of Marketplace Payments
In the world of regular payments, a single consumer goes into a merchant or service provider, receives their goods and goes on their merry way — and the payments process is straightforward and fairly simple, noted Villante: “Auth, capture, settle.”
“When you have a marketplace and you’re bringing together essentially thousands and thousands of sellers of goods or services, with potentially millions of consumers, the payout is much more complex.” That complexity abounds and traverses in some unexpected directions. There are the chargebacks and fraudulent transactions to worry about — and those, Villante noted, are considerable and ever-changing.
But then there are things that are less attention-grabbing — like paying out various applicable taxes or making sure various insurance fees are covered. This means that payments going in and out need to be split and distributed in a wide variety of configurations — and Villante noted that in these cases, the money is going through the marketplace, which means the marketplace is responsible for managing all those split payments on its own and dealing with vast sums.
“They are running into money transmitter license territory at some point — which may mean, many years and many millions of dollars for a money transmitter to effectively comply,” Villante said. Or, he noted, YapStone can take over payments, take over chargeback responsibility and make sure that all those split payments are automated and off the marketplace’s plate.
“There are a lot of marketplaces that got big very fast that have no desire to be payments companies but want to monetize payments.”
YapStone lets their clients do that, he noted, which means the payments process goes from being a net loss to a get-profit center. That is good news, he said. Better news, though, is opting out of the unending battle with fraudsters.
Fraud’s Ever-Evolving Presence
“Nothing wrecks a marketplace like fraud. If it becomes rampant, that is a really, really bad thing,” Villante noted.
But attempted fraud is more or less everywhere.
“We have seen so many different schemes,” Villante said of YapStone’s longtime fight against fraudsters on the marketplace’s services.
Some were expected. Collusion schemes where fake merchant accounts are created on marketplaces as mules through which to drain stolen card accounts are an ever popular favorite. On vacation rental sites, posting a photo of a fake property at a too-good-to-be-true price is also a classic. Then, he noted, there are the somewhat more brazen and less expected fraud cases. People who use stolen credit cards to rent houses — and then actually go and stay in them — has been somewhat eye-opening.
Looking at the various types of fraud has also been educational. Once it became clear that even people who steal credit cards like to sit by the beach, it was yet another factor that went into the underwriting and fraud rules engine — since people don’t tend to book vacations with stolen credit cards much more than a day or two in advance.
Traditionally, the war on fraud was fought by identifying abnormalities and patterns of data in motion (authorizations and settlements) and were required to act quickly to block the fraud before the criminal monetized the vulnerability. Winners in today’s war have evolved to using machine learning and artificial intelligence tools driving complex models focused on looking at millions of data elements for both data in motion and data at rest (past processing behaviors, chargebacks, device fingerprinting, geolocation, identity verification) to predict where the next fraud is likely to happen, before it happens.
That decision engine, noted Villante, is an important part of YapStone’s offering since it allows them to essentially take on the risk of the marketplace transactions — and when chargebacks occur, YapStone is the one on the hook for them. But this doesn’t happen often, said Villante, because YapStone has seen a lot of schemes and is really good at spotting fraud. Particularly, he said, because the company is selective about its client base, isn’t recruiting any merchant willing to pay the fee and works in the verticals it knows and where it is confident it can provide the best services. “We go very deep with the fraud tools for our customer. We’ll tailor to very specific needs because we’re taking the risk, and thus we’re highly incented to really know it inside out.”
“The more you know a vertical, the more you understand the risk profile. By any measure, our losses on a basis-point standpoint are incredibly low by industry standards,” Villante said.
YapStone has been around for a long time, so it’s had a very long time to understand that risk profile — at least in the verticals it works with — which means it really knows its fraudsters. YapStone also knows its marketplaces — and that it has rides to connect, houses to rent and crocheted hats to get to people who want them. And given YapStone’s growth rate for the past several years, it seems the company also knows that given a choice, the vast majority of firms will opt out of having to become payments companies if someone else can offer them a better option.
Mobile Payments Come Home
[“Mobile Payments Come Home” originally appeared on PYMNTS.]
Ring out the old — rent checks. Ring in the new — digital rent payments. For the latest Developer Tracker, PYMNTS spoke with Bruce Dragt of YapStone about how mobile is changing the rental payments game for both landlords and tenants.
One-Bedroom, Pet OK, Parking Included, Pay By App
Paying monthly rent by check made enough sense not too long ago, before new forms of payments started
to change consumer expectations. Renters could simply write a check to their landlord and mail it, without
making a trip to an office during business hours or risk putting cash in the mail. But these days many renters, especially younger consumers typically in the market for apartment rentals, want and expect more options.
And they do not like using checks. A survey from the Federal Reserve reported the number of checks in
circulation declined by more than 50 percent from 2000 to 2012 as payments via cards and other new methods
more than tripled.
Despite all that, according to the same research from the Fed, checks still reign supreme when it comes to rent
payments. But new players, like mobile rent-paying app YapStone, are interested in changing the playing field.
The company is looking to answer renters’ requests for another way to pay by offering the most ubiquitous
solution possible — one that accepts a wide range of payment types, according to Bruce Dragt, YapStone’s
senior vice president of product. PYMNTS recently caught up with Dragt for a discussion about the payment
platform and what he sees as a rent revolution.
Focused on options
Checks have been around for a long time, but they can be expensive and time-consuming for property management
companies to process. They can also have significant security flaws and are susceptible to fraudulent attacks,
according to the Association for Financial Professionals’ 2015 Payments Fraud and Control Survey.
Dragt said that YapStone is looking to replace checks with more modern forms of payments such as credit and debit cards and mobile wallets. The company’s solution accepts not just modern methods like card and mobile payments, but also ACH Payment processing, international payments and other acceptance methods. Renters with roommates can also share or split payments across multiple accounts.
Dragt noted that the platform does have certain perks for landlords and other property managers to entice them away from the familiar method of check acceptance. The solution includes features designed to improve upon the flaws of checks, such as PCI compliant security risk management, transaction reporting tools and marketing support.
“We provide as many mechanisms as possible for renters to pay their rent so that it can be as simple and
easy as possible for everyone to use the solution to make a payment,” Dragt said. “We also provide integration,
backing and tools for the property management companies, so they can update their records and keep track of
who has and has not paid.”
But the solution is not just designed for making payments on a full-time home, but also for a home away from
home. YapStone is also used to facilitate short-term rentals, such as a week at a beach house or a cottage on
the slopes. The company has even powered payment processing for HomeAway, a popular vacation rental app
and website, for over 10 years.
Dragt noted that consumers, especially Millennials, have also come to expect a range of payment options when
it comes to making vacation plans, making a solution like YapStone a good fit for the travel industry.
“A very significant part of our business is focused on vacation rentals,” he said. “We have lots of property
owners all over the world that we service, so we work with them to accept payment in whatever currency the
customer uses, and they can be paid in their local currency.”
Partnering for wider acceptance
Dragt noted that a key part of YapStone’s strategy is to accept as many forms of payments as possible,
including credit and debit cards, ACH transfers and eChecks, and mobile wallets, with more likely to come
down the road.
In order to make sure the company can accept a wide range of payment methods simply and quickly, it has
collaborated with several partners, such as real estate software provider Yardi, property management tech
maker MRI Software and cloud-based FinTech firm SS&C Technologies. It has also joined with credit card
giants like American Express, Discover, Visa and Mastercard for payment processing services.
Most recently, the company announced a new integration and collaboration with payment processing provider Vantiv that will allow YapStone to offer single-touch payment acceptance for Apple Pay, Apple’s mobile wallet. Dragt said that the partnership was part of the company’s effort to add integrations for new payment methods as they become more widely used. “The ability to add new payment methods to our platform is really important,” Dragt explained. “The operating model that we use to support all these different payment ecosystems and to add new payment types is to make it very simple and seamless for our end client. So we want to make it available to the consumer as quickly as possible without disrupting the core operating environment for property managers.” Perhaps with a preponderance of partners and a wide range of payment methods, it will not be too long before checks are given an eviction notice and tenants are paying their rent whichever way they choose.
YapStone Appoints Michael Gramz Chief Risk Officer
[“YapStone Appoints Michael Gramz Chief Risk Officer” originally appeared on PYMNTS.]
YapStone, a provider of online and mobile payment solutions, announced Friday (Dec. 9) the appointment of new Chief Risk Officer Michael Gramz.
YapStone said in a press release that Gramz, formerly the chief risk officer and board director at Merchant eSolutions, the U.S. payment processing unit of Cielo, will focus on delivering risk management products and services for YapStone’s customers and partners. Prior to working at Cielo, the leading payment processor in Latin America, Gramz worked at Bank of America, playing a role in the formation of Bank of America Merchant Services. YapStone said Gramz brings broad experience in credit underwriting, onboarding, fraud management, loss provisioning and reserves, compliance and regulatory policy. “Gramz brings a wealth of expertise and experience to the company,” YapStone said in the release.
During the year, YapStone has been broadening its management team, hiring more employees to support its explosive growth. “We have been extremely focused on building the best payments team in the industry, and Michael’s experience and pedigree as a CRO speaks for itself,” said Tom Villante, YapStone’s chairman, cofounder and CEO. “I am personally thrilled to welcome Michael Gramz to the YapStone team, and we plan to capitalize on his expertise as we continue to expand globally and focus on developing innovative payment solutions.”
YapStone has been having a good year in 2016, winning accolades from Forbes and Deloitte. Forbesnamed it to its list of the Next Billion-Dollar Startups. It also landed on Deloitte’s Fast 500 list of fastest-growing tech companies in the U.S.
“It truly is an honor to join YapStone, a FinTech leader relentlessly focused on excellence,” said Michael Gramz in the same press release. “I look forward to working with the YapStone team to continue delivering innovative risk and fraud products to our partners and customers.”
YapStone Adds Seasoned Payments Veteran, Michael Gramz, to Its World-Class Management Team
Forbes’ Next Billion Dollar Startup, YapStone, bolsters management team with the addition of Chief Risk Officer, Michael Gramz.
(PRWEB) December 08, 2016
This week, Michael Gramz joined the management team at YapStone, a global provider of online and mobile payment solutions for global marketplaces and large vertical markets, as Chief Risk Officer. In his role, Gramz will focus on delivering innovative risk management products and services to support YapStone’s partners and customers.
Prior to YapStone, Gramz was the Chief Risk Officer and Board Director at Merchant eSolutions, the U.S. processing division of Cielo, the number one merchant acquirer and payment processor in Latin America. Gramz also spent 17 years at Bank of America, where he was a key strategic contributor in the formation of Bank of America Merchant Services (BAMS). With broad experience across credit underwriting, onboarding, fraud management, loss provisioning and reserves, compliance and regulatory policy, as well as data security and incident management, Gramz brings a wealth of expertise and experience to the company.
Gramz is one of numerous all-star hires YapStone has made over the course of 2016 to support its explosive growth. “We have been extremely focused on building the best payments team in the industry and Michael’s experience and pedigree as a CRO speaks for itself,” said Tom Villante, YapStone’s Chairman, Co-founder and CEO. “I am personally thrilled to welcome Michael Gramz to the YapStone team and we plan to capitalize on his expertise as we continue to expand globally and focus on developing innovative payment solutions.”
In 2016, YapStone has received a number of accolades for its recent growth, including being named to the Forbes list of Next Billion Dollar Startups, as well as named to Deloitte’s Fast 500 list of the fastest growing technology companies in North America. YapStone also significantly expanded its international operations in Drogheda, Ireland.
“It truly is an honor to join YapStone, a Fintech leader relentlessly focused on excellence,” said Michael Gramz. “I look forward to working with the YapStone team to continue delivering innovative risk and fraud products to our partners and customers.”
Finding Payments Innovation In All The Right Places
[“Finding Payments Innovation In All The Right Places” originally appeared on PYMNTS.com.]
The payments landscape is only getting bigger. As more stakeholders and players join the fold, there’s a ripe opportunity to find innovative ideas in unlikely places. As part of the Commanders In Chief series, YapStone President David Weiss explained why it’s necessary to search both internally and externally for a growing number of partners and constituencies when carving out the path to innovation.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation.
PYMNTS: How would you define your company’s approach to innovation?
DW: I would define our approach to innovation as solving problems for trillion-dollar vertical markets and multibillion-dollar partners, not so much innovating for innovation’s sake.
PYMNTS: Where do you look for innovative ideas, and why?
DW: We look to customers and partners — not just to solve problems and pain points but also to identify new revenue and profit streams. We look to our own people across functions — not just product, engineering, QA and dev ops but risk, customer service, sales, business development, strategy, corporate development, finance, legal, compliance and HR.
We look to the card networks, issuers, banks, back-end acquirers and regulators — not so much for innovative ideas from them but how to answer the question, “Do we best innovate for our customers in the most commercial, compliant fashion we can, while satisfying what we need to do to serve all those partners and related constituencies?” Lastly, I get a few great ideas every day from Angie, my eight-year-old daughter — you’d be surprised.
PYMNTS: What is the most innovative thing you’ve ever done?
DW: We built a global payments platform from scratch for one of the largest and most successful global marketplaces in the world — HomeAway — and did it in a fashion that was singularly unique in the industry.
We are the merchant of record, we take all chargeback and financial liability, we built a world-class decisioning engine that has auto-onboarded hundreds of thousands of customers and we built sophisticated split payments functionality, allowing our partner to triple its own revenue and profit opportunity. Unlike other vacation rental marketplaces, we can get property owners paid upon booking a trip that is often several months in advance of the stay (and plan to incorporate instant payments in minutes for all our partners).
We expanded globally with HomeAway and continue to broaden our geographic footprint for all our partners. We provide a wide range of alternative payment methods, disperse funds directly to customers, offer auto-refundable damage deposit functionality and provide 24/7 customer service, which is not the sexy part of payments but critical to customers in our verticals. We are now expanding our unique offering and platform to other partners in our verticals, as well as to other sharing economy marketplaces and softwares.
PYMNTS: What do you wish you had more time to do?
DW: There’s never enough time and money to do what we want to do. We often have to resist the urge to chase every shiny object that comes along. Having said that, there are some interesting new verticals we’d love to penetrate now, but we have our hands full for the next year or so on a few trillion dollars’ worth of market opportunity.
PYMNTS: What do you think that most people underestimate about innovating in payments?
DW: I mentioned earlier the number of partners and constituencies involved: the banks, the back-end acquirers, the card networks, the regulators and, of course, the almighty consumer — innovating in payments often involves having to solve for each of those parties.
PYMNTS: What keeps you up at night? What concerns you most in the payment solutions space?
DW: Security and data protection. We’re investing millions of dollars in people and infrastructure and will continue to do so to vigilantly protect our customers and partners.
PYMNTS: What trends and changes are you watching that are affecting the industry and your role?
DW: We spend quite a bit of time thinking about how we convert cash, paper check and ACH payments to card payments, and we believe strongly we are uniquely qualified and well-positioned to accelerate this trend across verticals. We are also watching and following the regulatory environment very carefully as we believe we’re also competitively positioned quite well in this regard.
PYMNTS: What product has had the most impact on payments in the last five years, and why?
DW: I view this one very much through the YapStone lens and would say the advent of global marketplaces, bringing payments online and large enterprise software and other partners realizing the enormous commercial opportunity and financial returns that can be generated from integrated payment solutions.
PYMNTS: What person or company do you think “gets” innovation, and why? And, conversely, who or what has missed it, and why?
DW: We believe the path to multibillion-dollar payment solutions opportunities run through CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, heads of product, heads of strategy — not necessarily always directly through the developer community — and those large opportunities are where we remain focused.
PYMNTS: What advice would you give a young innovator in this space, and why would you tell them to heed it?
DW: It’s extraordinarily difficult to build a payments company in this market environment, in large part due to many of the challenges I referenced above. I would advise seeking meaningful partnerships that accelerate and de-risk the business plan. We look at Money20/20 and imagine how many of those companies will have thriving businesses three to five years from now. We often refer to the great line from the movie “Jaws” in regards to most of those companies: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
How Millennials Are Influencing the Vacation Industry
[“How Millennials Are Influencing the Vacation Industry” originally appeared in Tech.Co and is written by Jordan French.]
For generations, vacations required a great deal of planning and consideration. Before the digital age, there were no online reviews, no affordable travel websites, and no airlines designed to save you money. Most people relied on travel agents and fancy brochures to plan their trips and sometimes, things just didn’t pan out. Sounds pretty ridiculous now, doesn’t it?
Over the past decade, multiple industries have been impacted by technology, new business paradigms, and new approaches to how the world works. This evolution lies with the much talked about millennial generation.
The millennial age demographic of 20-34 years, now 75M strong in the US, is in many ways the most powerful and influential consumer group that we have ever experienced. And thanks to this generation, the global travel sector is now a $1.6 trillion dollar industry.
The Sharing Economy
Imagine today’s millennial traveler depending on a specific hotel’s advertising, rather than on peer reviews from actual customers. With their inherent lack of trust in advertising, millennials wouldn’t even consider booking a hotel unless it received a glowing recommendation from a person of trust, like a friend, family member, or colleague. With this change in mindset from millennials–the generation powering the economy for years to come–the vacation industry has recognized the need to adapt.
Millennials have trust issues when it comes to businesses in general. They don’t want to be taken advantage of, especially when it comes to spending money. Millennials broadly value experiences over material goods, and they are averse to irresponsible credit card use. With this in mind, the vacation experience is important. They want to “buy” a rewarding vacation experience and will go to great lengths to make sure that it is guaranteed.
“Sharing economy companies give millennials a sense of control when it comes to how they spend their money, especially in the vacation industry,” said David Weiss, president of Yapstone. “Millennials will go to great lengths to research and confirm that their travel experience meets their expectations.”
To meet this demand, the travel industry has upped its game in providing content and reviews as often as possible. They have realized that without it, their sales and bookings risk decline. And while many think millennials only interact with their smartphones, a recent study shows that this demographic is exceedingly social and values face-to-face interactions. Again, this behavior forces vacation industry companies to provide ways to deliver a strong human element and the ones that do will be rewarded.
“Millennials are more informed about travel than ever,” said Weiss. “They often want more privacy, more space, their own kitchens, their own outdoor area, they want to create special experiences when traveling with family and friends. When millennials travel to a new city, they often want to experience it like a local. They want to feel like they live there, even if it’s only for a few days. We try to develop products and payment experiences that help our partners meet these specific Millennial demands.”
Another surprising fact is that millennials are smart about budgeting. Combine their practicality with the needs to “buy” experiences and you have a great opportunity for the vacation industry.
“Millennials also have more buying power than ever. When you’re staying in a hotel, you will more than likely feel like a guest in the city of choice and probably spend a lot of money on the vacation in addition to the rental of the room or house,” explains Weiss. “By renting a vacation home, condo or apartment, millennials get exactly what they want. They are living like a local and can save money by grocery shopping and cooking in, laundry, etc. ultimately leaving more money for other fun experiences on the vacation.”
Millennials Demand Convenience
The millennial generation has grown up with technology at their fingertips. Because it is all they know, they exhibit strong preference for businesses that offer robust online and mobile products and services. They expect the convenience and real-time information that mobile offers and more importantly, they demand that vacation industry companies be on the forefront of technology usage.
The millennial consumer demands to be able to handle all of their needs from their phone. From booking a home to paying for it, the entire process should be easy to complete on a mobile device in just a few minutes.
“If you are not tech savvy, this tech savvy group will leave you and find a company that is,” said Weiss. “Service providers in the vacation industry must innovate on their products and services or be left behind.”
The Mobile Solutions of FinTech
Looking forward, consumers have proven that they are comfortable using small mobile screens to handle vacation booking and payments. Because consumers rely on mobile options when it comes to researching and booking travel accommodations, companies have to deliver efficient mobile solutions that deliver a rewarding customer experience from end-to-end. Consumers are more apt to use credit cards in booking vacation so it’s also important to deliver the necessary security standards for trust and security.
It seems that millennials can take credit for just about everything happening today – they certainly have been instrumental in driving fintech disruption as they adopted mobile wallets and P2P payments. The case can be made that millennials are also driving the economy as companies are evolving or even starting to meet the new product demands.
Millennials have been researched, analyzed, and documented more than any other generation due to the sheer influence and impact they are making on long-standing industries, on products and services, on mindsets and behaviors, on marketing and advertising, and on how we interact with each other. This generation of consumers knows what it wants and will not accept anything less.
Simple Yet Complex
[“Simple Yet Complex” originally appeared on Digital Transactions and is written by Kevin Woodward.]
While simple to merchants and consumers, the rapidly growing payment-facilitator model involves multiple considerations for developers and acquirers.
Some of the best ideas in payments come around only once, but many, such as the payment-facilitator model, come around again when they better suit merchants and the payments industry.
To put it briefly, payments facilitators are companies that sign up merchants for payment-card acceptance accounts under an umbrella agreement that doesn’t require each merchant to have a separate acquirer agreement. And these days, payment facilitators are generating a lot of interest inside and outside of the payments industry.
PayPal Holdings Inc., which dates to 1998, and Square Inc., founded in 2009, are two of the most well-known examples of payment facilitators, which at one time were also known as aggregators or payment-service providers.
As the PayPal and Square examples show, payment facilitators offer an especially attractive tool for software developers and payments companies courting new card-accepting merchants, which are often called submerchants.
Understanding the when, why, and how the payment-facilitator model works could help payments companies find new merchants and provide an additional revenue source from existing merchants. Indeed, Payfac, an often-used shorthand term for the model, is a registered trademark of the big merchant processor Vantiv LLC.
‘We Process Those Transactions’
One example of the model is apparent in how USA Technologies Inc., an unattended-payments specialist, uses it. USAT, which provides payments services and point-of-sale hardware for merchants such as vending machine and parking operators, has used the model since 1993, says Mike Lawlor, chief services officer at the Malvern, Pa-based company.
“We recognized many years ago that the way traditional POS-services companies did business would not allow the industry we work in to easily and rapidly scale” Lawlor says.
The typically low average ticket of vending-machine transactions makes them ideal for the payment-facilitator model. “When we sell or lease one of our [point-of-sale] terminals, we set up the terminal account and the terminal IDs,” Lawlor says. “We process those transactions.”
USAT also has pacts with Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. for reduced interchange rates for small-ticket debit card transactions in the unattended beverage and food-vending merchant categories.
Lawlor says 429,000 machines use the USAT service, of which more than 300,000 have contactless-payment capability. USAT has more than 11,000 clients, each of which pays a blended rate for each transaction. USAT handles settlement to merchants, Lawlor adds.
The payment-facilitator model is well-suited to online merchants, too. YapStone Inc., a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based payments firm, has used the model for HomeAway Inc., a private-lodging booking service. HomeAway is a marketplace that enables property owners to offer rooms, houses, and apartments to renters. HomeAway says it has more than 1.2 million listings.
YapStone enables property owners to accept payments using the payment-facilitator model, says Bruce Dragt, YapStone’s senior vice president of product. “We sign them up for the service directly and direct funds to them,” Dragt says. “We are the entity that handles all of the chargebacks and risk. We take on the role of the payment provider. We make that fit without impeding the flow and process of the marketplace itself.”
‘A Choppy Experience’
Simplifying the payment experience – for the consumer and the merchant – is a key characteristic of the payment-facilitator model. Unlike a traditional merchant-boarding process the applicant typically completes a single online form on one Web site that requests the minimum of information, just enough to verify a person’s identity and to assess risk. The applicant knows he is dealing only with one company, and is unaware of the acquirer or the independent sales organization on the backend.
In this way, payment facilitators “are the entire face to the merchant,” says Todd Ablowitz, president of Double Diamond Group LLC, Centennial, Colo.-based consulting firm. “Everything from the software to the transaction processing to the statements to the finding from the bank account.”
Ablowitz’s firm helped the Electronic Transactions Associations (“Triumph And Challenge at the ETA,” July), a Washington-based trade group for acquirers, develop underwriting guidelines for payment facilitators that were expected to be released last month.
“An ISO is required to show the bank name on the application and the bank is party to the agreement with the merchant,” says Ablowitz. “The payment facilitator doesn’t have those requirements. It gives the software [developer] enormous flexibility to make the merchant application and reporting much more seamless.”
Also, unlike the traditional merchant account, the payment-facilitator account is more apt to be used to serve a particular vertical instead of being a broad-based service for any type of merchant. As with the HomeAway and USAT examples, the payment-facilitator model is best suited to merchant types where the service and payment can be highly integrated. It is especially popular with independent software vendors and value-added resellers.
“They are popular because ISVs and VARs want to be able to focus on the software and services they provide and ensure that payments do not cause friction in the integration of their product or service,” says Cleveland Brown, chief executive of Payscout Inc., a Sherman Oaks, Califor.-based payments company. “When you have payments integrated into the software or service of the payment facilitator or aggregator, it becomes part of the boarding process for that customer utilizing their service, as opposed to a separate process of finding the provider, applying, and getting approved [for a merchant account].”
As Ablowitz explains, those separate accounts, which may include the processor, the payment gateway, and the software provider, carry their own statement and fee structure. “In the end you get a choppy experience, for the merchant and the consumer,” he says. “It’s very hard to solve without the payment–facilitator model.”
‘Show Your Confidence’
While a service setup using the payment-facilitator model may have a simple and easy-to-use interface for merchants or consumers, the back-end setup is a bit more complex.
For starters, MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc. require companies to register as payment facilitators. Visa charges $5,000 to register a payment facilitator as a third-party agent. Each card brand has its own set of rules. To get that registration, the organization that wants to be a payment facilitator must use a Visa client, such as an acquiring bank, to complete the registration process.
Also, being a payment facilitator is not a one-and-done process. MasterCard, for example, requires the parent organization to educate and train submerchants on compliance with the card brand’s rules. The payment facilitator also must maintain the names, addresses, and URLs of its submerchants, and monitor their payment activities. Both Visa and MasterCard prohibit payment facilitators.
Then there is establishing the relationship between the payment facilitator and the acquirer and other payment entities.
RunSignUp LLC, a Moorestown, N.J.-based company that offers running-event registration services, shared its experience last year dealing with rules-enforcement by the card brands. It became a payment facilitator in 2015. Companies contract with RunSignUp for participants to register for an event, with RunSignUp accessing a fee that is dependent on the checkout total.
According to a RunSignUp blog post, the company had been gathering the money it collected from events into its own merchant account and then distributing it to event organizers once its fees had been deducted. As it grew, this practice became less acceptable to the company’s banks.
Having switched banks twice under this setup, RunSignUp in 2013 moved its account to Braintree, the payment service owned by PayPal Holdings Inc. Braintree is an authorized payment facilitator. Last year, RunSignUp made the decision to become a payment facilitator to help improve its process and better comply with rules and regulations as it grows. It still uses Braintree for some services.
Finding an acquirer is a vital step. Dragt says most acquirers support the payment-facilitator model. An acquirer may have staff that specifically supports payment facilitators, he says. But prospective payment facilitators will have to determine if the acquirer’s risk appetite is aligned with their goals.
Acquirers, usually in the initial phase of the relationship, will audit the payment facilitator to understand its risk, compliance, fraud, and boarding policies, says Payscout’s Brown. “There are usually interactions around the boarding process and the issuance of the master merchant ID numbers as the acquirer will generally issue the MID once the payment facilitator has requested the opening of the merchant’s account,” he says.
Underwriting and liability are other matters that present unique challenges for payment facilitators. “To step into doing the payment-facilitator model, one of the key first things to consider is the appetite for risk,” says YapStone’s Dragt. Payment facilitators to function effectively, “have to have the capital to sustain the risk of any of the transactions and be able to provide that and have processes and controls around that,” he says.
At USAT, even though it has minimal fraud activity given the small-ticket transactions many of its clients experience, due diligence is performed on each customer, says Lawlor. “In terms of our clients, it’s the gamut of any retail business, having big global companies and small independent companies,” he says.
Other considerations include having staff in place to ensure operations, underwriting, and technology work smoothly, says Dragt. “You need to consider that and be able to show your confidence in that to an acquirer before you can even consider this an opportunity,” he says.
Confidence in the payment-facilitator model is quite high among many. “It will see a lot of attention because the end business segments it supports are very much growing,” says Dragt. “As you look at digital marketplaces, ISVs, those are segments that are exploding.”
Brown says that the future includes investing in systems that can handle the risk, compliance, and boarding requirements set by regulators and card brands.
“The key is we have to be flexible to continue to expand our services based on consumer demand and consumer payments,” Lawlor says. “We have to make sure, wherever the customer is heading toward, we incorporate that into our solutions and services.”
Peter Rowan: ‘Failure gives us the opportunity to learn and grow stronger’
[“Peter Rowan: ‘Failure gives us the opportunity to learn and grow stronger'” originally appeared on The Business Post.]
Peter Rowan is vice-president of international operations and global customer support with YapStone, the U.S. company that opened international headquarters in Dublin in 2012. YapStone then relocated to Drogheda and expanded its Irish office earlier this year, amid plans to create up to 50 new jobs within 12 months.
Established in California in 1999, YapStone is an online and mobile payment provider that processes payment volumes of up to $15 billion annually. It has raised $110 million to date from investors including Accel Partners, Meritech Capital, and Bregal Sagemount. Rowan is responsible for the company’s international operations and business growth. He leads a global team of 200 people, including 80 in Drogheda.
Tell us about your career to date.
I started my career as a police officer for the West Midlands Police in Birmingham in 1981. After a number of different roles, I transferred to the fraud squad and led investigations into international credit card fraud rings. I travelled between Britain, France, Germany, the US and Saudi Arabia. I quickly realized that the type of people we were dealing with were both clever and technically savvy. Fraudsters know no bounds and are willing to travel anywhere.
After 16 years as a police officer, I joined Visa International as the company’s fraud investigation management lead in Europe. Representing Visa member organizations in the EU, I was responsible for preventing and investigating organized fraud involving Visa payment cards and I travelled to 30 countries over a two-year span.
I then joined AIB Card Services in Dublin, where I led its card fraud team and, from there, moved to PayPal. In 2013, I was appointed senior director of risk operations for PayPal EMEA, with responsibility for 800 employees in Ireland and Germany. In the same year, I received my executive MBA from the Henley Business School through the Irish Management Institute.
In 2014, I joined Twitter, leading teams in Ireland and San Francisco and built a trust and safety presence in Singapore, focused on the Asia-Pacific market, I met Tom Villante, chairman and chief executive and co-founder of YapStone, last year and listened to him talk passionately about the company and his vision for international expansion, before joining last May.
Are you where you expected to be in your career?
Starting out in policing, I never expected to be leading international operations for a fast-growing fintech company. My original plan was to retire early, as both my parents died before retirement age, and I didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. I am still too young to retire today and am really enjoying the opportunity with YapStone and the team I am working with.
The biggest lesson I have learned in my career is: “If you look after your people, they will look after your business.” With this in mind, I have always endeavored to put people first and never ask them to do something that I would not do myself.
What was the best career advice you got along the way?
Believe in yourself. If there is a job you want to apply for but think you can only do half the job, then have the personal belief that you can learn the rest. If you feel you can do the job easily or know everything there is to know, why apply for it? It will not give you the opportunity to learn, grow, or be challenged.
Based on your own experience, what are your top career tips?
Build an environment of trust, respect, and engagement with your teams. It should never be about “me.” If you get your self-orientation wrong, no matter how innovative or clever you are, you will not have your people with you and in my opinion, you will fail as a leader.
Leadership is not just about being liked, you have to earn respect from your teams and colleagues.
Empower people. Guide them in the right direction and let them go.
Take risks. It’s ironic that even though one of my responsibilities at YapStone is to manage risk, I still believe in taking risks in your career.
How would you define your work style, and how has this evolved over the years?
I used to be the person who did everything and always wanted to lead from the front. I have learned that to be an effective leader, you have to step out of the way and let your team figure it out and do what they need to do. It is also vitally important to be there to pick them up when or if they fail and then coach them back to the right path. Failure is a good thing and gives us the opportunity to learn and grow stronger.
In terms of managing teams and individuals, what are your insights?
- “Know what your team had for breakfast” – which means that managers must get to know their people really well and understand what motivates and demotivates them. With this insight, you can understand how to get the best from your people and your teams.
- “It’s okay to say “no”” – it may be difficult at first, but it gets easier. Sometimes, it’s better to say no at the outset and explain why, rather than trying to be nice to people.
What about communication and negotiating the typical ups and downs of working life?
I prefer face-to-face conversations with people rather than email. In a global organization with multiple offices and time zones, a meeting is not always possible or practical so you have to empower your local leaders to deliver your messages. When you make a mistake, be honest and be prepared to admit it – then share what you learned from that mistake and how you will avoid repeating it.
Has networking played an important part in your career?
It’s a bit of a joke with the YapStone leadership in Walnut Creek that I am being tagged “Mr. Ireland.” If I don’t know someone to get something done, then I know someone that knows someone. If you are not prepared to get out, network and get to know people, but also let them know you, then you will struggle in the global village we operate in today.
If you had to choose another career tomorrow, what would it be and why?
I am a passionate cook, and I would love to have owned and operated a restaurant or a small hotel – and maybe I will yet.
How A Poker-Game Brainstorm Produced Fintech Startup YapStone And $235M In Revenue
[“How A Poker-Game Brainstorm Produced Fintech Startup YapStone And $235M In Revenue” originally appeared on Forbes and is written by Amy Feldman.]
Back in 1999, Tom Villante, a former investment banker at S.G. Warburg and a partner at private-equity firm The Seidler Co., was sitting around with a few buddies playing poker and talking about businesses they could start. As the cash moved around the table, Villante recalls, the conversation turned to PayPal and markets that might move away from getting payments by check. “I didn’t want to do anything that couldn’t scale,” he says.
So Villante, now 48 and the company’s CEO, started YapStone, jauntily named after the currency stones used on the island of Yap in Micronesia. Villante started by targeting large apartment REITs, with a hundred thousand units or more, doing not just the payments, but the complex accounting required to deal with prorated rent, security deposits and eviction proceedings. At the time, he recalls, he was fighting an industry that still relied on paper checks.
Today, the Walnut Creek, Calif.-based company offers a secure online payment service for transactions to vacation homes, through clients like HomeAway and VRBO, and multi-family apartment rentals. In addition to those businesses, YapStone also offers online payment processing for churches called ParishPay, which serves more than 1,000 parishes across the United States.
While there’s lots of competition in the online payment space, including major players like PayPal (2015 revenues $9.2 billion) and Stripe, YapStone’s focus on certain large, niche markets has given it an edge. “Our strategy is to be all things payment for the largest marketplaces in the world,” Villante says. Identified in 2015 by FORBES as one of America’s most promising companies, YapStone expects to process more than $15 billion in total payment volume this year with revenues estimated at $235 million. With $50 million in equity funding from Accel Partners, Meritech Capital Partners and others. YapStone, an under-the-radar near-unicorn, made the cut for FORBES recent list of 25 Next Billion-Dollar Startups. “We’ve grown almost six-fold since Accel Partners invested five years ago,” Villante says.
Now, YapStone is looking at international expansion. It recently opened an office in Drogheda, Ireland, and hired Peter Rowan, a former exec at Twitter and PayPal, to run its international operations. “When I first started this business, people’s eyes glazed over. Now it’s fintech. It’s sexy,” Villante says. “Our goal is to be at $1 billion in revenues by 2020.”
5 Telling Virtues of a Billion Dollar Fintech Startup in the Making
[“5 Telling Virtues of a Billion Dollar Fintech Startup in the Making” originally appeared on The Huffington Post and is written by David Wither.]
Emerging from the downturn of the financial crisis of 2008, financial institutions and banks and their respective industry, financial services, was ripe for disruption. As these companies emerged from the ashes and were re-evaluating and rebuilding, technology startups with innovative approaches, products and services began moving into filling the void left. Fast forward a few years, and the newly minted FinTech industry has exploded, with US investments growing from $3.4 billion in 2013 to$13.8 billion in 2015.
Needless to say, the Fintech industry has grown up fast. So fast in fact, that Jeff Gido of Goldman Sachs believes that it is now in its third wave of development – one that will see the new Fintech companies partnering with major financial institutions. Tom Villante, CEO of payment processing platform, YapStone, believes that Fintech is not a threat to banks, but in fact, serves as a golden opportunity.
“While Fintech companies are delivering disruptive innovations to the market, about 21 percent of their investments are directed towards financial services,” says Villante. “To add, these new companies and their respective platforms currently rely on, and will continue to do so, the traditional financial networks, such as existing credit card and ACH rails.” Many soothsayers love to predict the demise of financial institutions, yet when you talk to Founders and CEO’s like Villante, one gets a completely different view – these major and dominant financial institutions will not be going the way of Blockbuster or Tower Records any time soon. Fintech companies are presenting established financial institutions with the ultimate win/win scenario by building new platforms and products, exposing new markets and removing the friction that consumers have been asking for.
Because of its significant upside potential, Fintech has become one of the hottest industries for startups, prompting countless entrepreneurs to seek their fortune. But even with the disruptive idea, an amazing product team and deep pockets of a tier one investor, most startups will not become a billion dollar Fintech company. When it comes to making an impact in this highly regulated and risk averse market, you need more than an impeccable strategy, an innovative product that solves a real consumer problem, and the right team to execute it, you need astute entrepreneurial insights, the steely resolve of persistence and the will to look long term.
After making the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Private Companies for the ninth year in a row, Villante will tell you that to make the leap, successful Fintech companies must be built to last. Villante founded YapStone in 1999 with a vision to change how the world pays and focused primarily on the multifamily industry. 16 years later, the company is now processing over $15 billion in payments this year and has become a leading electronic payments platform, expanding its offering to serve global marketplaces and multiple vertical markets. Just last month, YapStone expanded its international footprint with a 16,000 sq. foot office in Drogheda, Ireland.
Villante will share his knowledge and experience at Money2020, the World’s Largest Payments and Financial Services Innovation event, on a much-anticipated Fintech panel, titled, “When Startups Grow up: How to Build a Billion Dollar Financial Service Business.” But if you can’t be there, here are his 5 Telling Virtues of a Billion Dollar Fintech Startup in the Making:
1. Building a Solid Foundation
In the media, there is an obsession with unicorn companies (those that achieve $1 Billion valuations). However, with Uber making headlines for reportedly losing $1.27 billion in the first six months of 2016, the general public is starting to see that perception is not necessarily reality. In fact, the news has evoked a very uncomfortable conversation across business media, which is that so many startups are burning through their capital with no plan of ever making it back.
Villante believes in building a “real business.” That is, a business with a solid foundation that can stand the test of time. Hefounded YapStone 16 years ago – way before Fintech, was well, Fintech. He didn’t have a sensationalized success story of dropping out of college and starting his business from a basement – just a vision to “change how the world pays” and a solid execution strategy.
“Wherever you are in the journey, you must commit to the process,” Villante says. “Don’t get sucked in by the media hype surrounding your competition. Instead, get your head down and make sure your technology is providing the best service possible. It pays off in the long run.”
2. Maintaining Market Focus
All great ideas start with solving a real consumer problem and Fintech is no different. According to Villante, if you want to kick into hyper-growth, you’ll turn your focus to a large vertical market and become an expert.
YapStone’s long term, consistent growth has been due to its laser focus on specific vertical markets, including the apartment rental and vacation rental. Both industries were significantly under-served industries that were dominated by the paper check, long term business paradigms and extensive risk owed complex, high ticket transactions.
YapStone focused on solving the payments equation for both the property owner and the renter. Today, YapStone serves thousands of businesses in both industries and has expanded its offering to power payments for HomeAway, the world’s leading online marketplace for the vacation rental industry. By maintaining a tight focus on specific industry, YapStone has emerged as a payments leader, and continues to prove that choosing a market for depth, will offer significant upside and growth.
3. Delivering Product Differentiation
Fintech is indeed one of the hottest industries for startups, which means that it going to quickly become a saturated market. To combat that, you must build a product that clearly differentiates you from the competition.
Villante differentiated YapStone by offering online payment options for apartment rental and vacation rentals – going deep into its vertical offering, instead of wide. At the time, most payment companies were focused on offering a ubiquitous platform that served everyone and everything. Since larger payments are a bigger target for fraud, YapStone had to have a fully-staffed team of industry experts to keep customer information secure. While it presents a higher risk, it was certainly worth it – the company makes more money per transaction, due to the amount being processed.
“When you’re thinking about your business model, find an angle that makes your service stand out from the rest,” Villante suggests. “Now, more than ever, it’s important to be unique.”
4. Exceeding Security Standards
This aspect of Fintech cannot be stressed enough. Unlike other technologies, Fintech companies may be dealing with transactional information of its customers. In YapStone’s case, the company also takes on the role of merchant of record so it is vitally important to maintain a sophisticated risk management team and infrastructure.
YapStone is consistently audited and recognized as a PCI Level 1 service, the highest standard for the payment card industry. As a Fintech startup, you may not have the resources, expertise or funds to mitigate risk and fraud, yet it could be the downfall of the company to ignore. If this is the case, Villante recommends to find an external partner to support your growth.
5. Collaborating with Customers
This is, perhaps, one of the most rewarding elements of building a Fintech company. “Sometimes, when you’re so entrenched in your own company, it’s easy to lose sight of gaps in your business model,” Villante explains. “That’s why it’s important to not only listen to your customers, but to proactively let them in on the creative process.”
To differentiate itself from the competition, YapStone offers a customized payment solution to its partners – even partnering with them on the product roadmap. By pairing the respective technology teams and consistently interfacing with the customer, you can build and launch proprietary features and functionality throughout the product life cycle.
Villante notes, “Payments is a very complicated business. And it doesn’t matter if your business is B2B, B2C or both, at the end of the day, the customer is your partner and you have to work together to build great products that are both useful, desirable and secure.
Finally, Villante believes that passion is essential to for building a startup or a billion dollar company – as it will be the one thing that gets you through the tough times and keeps you going in the good times. If you are in Fintech with eyes on being the next unicorn, Villante’s 5 virtues may serve as a guide.
Who knows? You might just launch the next billion dollar Fintech startup.
A Mindful Thought Leader: YapStone CEO Tom Villante gets Personal about his Brand
[“A Mindful Thought Leader: YapStone CEO Tom Villante gets Personal about his Brand” originally appeared in the Huffington Post and is written by Stacey Cohen.]
In 1999, CEO and co-founder Tom Villante started YapStone with an ambitious goal: Converting pesky paper bills into online payments. Shortly after, YapStone debuted RentPayment — the first payment solution for the apartment rental industry — and changed the way payments are processed.
Today, YapStone holds a leading position in the payments industry. It provides online, mobile payment solutions for global marketplaces and large vertical markets, from apartment rentals and homeowners associations to self-storage companies and non-profits. YapStone’s platform powers over $15 billion in electronic payments annually, and projects $235 million in annual revenue in 2016.
I recently spoke with Tom about YapStone, its success, and his thoughts on personal branding. Here’s what I learned:
Payment technologies have become the cornerstone of the Fintech (financial technology) explosion.
Almost two decades after YapStone’s launch, payment technologies are continuing to disrupt the financial industry and accelerate digital transformation. Global investment in Fintech in the first quarter of 2016 reached $5.3 billion, a 67-percent increase over the same period last year, according to Accenture.
Fintech companies aren’t replacing big banks, but they are partnering with them. Consumer data on mobile phone use and mobile payments are rapidly increasing. According to a Forrester report, mobile payments are projected to grow to $142 billion by 2019.
Getting close to the target audience is key.
YapStone took care to learn the nuts and bolts of an industry vertical (apartment rentals) — then they catered to the vertical. YapStone’s recipe: Make it simple for customers and mitigate their risk.
There’s growth and then there’s growth. Only a sliver of companies founded each year achieve $100 million or more in annual sales. Remarkably, YapStone broke the $100 million barrier in 2014 — and is expected to more than double revenue in 2016.
There’s more: YapStone recently ranked on the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest-Growing Private Companies for the ninth-consecutive year. YapStone has raised over $110 million from investors, including Accel Partners, Meritech Capital, and Bregal Sagemount. Headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area, YapStone has additional offices in Santa Monica, California, and Ireland.
What’s behind this growth? Tom cites a focus on being a global leader in payments. “In five years, we’ve transformed the company from being primarily known as a leader in online payments for the property market to globally powering payments in the sharing economy marketplaces, such as HomeAway and VRBO,” he explains.
He adds: “Some people are focused on growing their companies into huge corporation machines. I’m focused on keeping the way we run our business always entrepreneurial and agile.”
395 “Yapsters,” and growing.
Tom recognizes that developing great talent means providing the necessary tools to succeed. “I don’t see my employees as means to an end — I am personally invested in them,” he says.
Tom attributes company growth to YapStone’s talented and diverse makeup. YapStone has made numerous executive hires, attracting top talent from companies like Twitter, Paypal, and Salesforce. “That means being communicative and setting clear goals and objectives,” he notes. “I want my staff to have a level of autonomy and not to be afraid to stand up and let us know what they need.”
A recent strategic hire is a Chief People Officer whose expertise is extended learning. “We have online tools for our staff members to continue to sharpen their skills and develop new ones,” Tom says. “We also keep employees up-to-date on industry news, and suggest books that we feel represent our management philosophy.”
Building lasting relationships is paramount.
Thriving businesses understand that to remain successful, it’s more than just checking boxes. With an expanding payments platform, innovative payment technologies, and cutting-edge customer onboarding features in place, Tom has strategically developed new marketplace partnerships. He’s built lasting, integrated relationships with the leading software partners in the industries they serve — in fact, the majority of YapStone leads are referrals from software partners.
Leading with thought.
When asked about his leadership style, Tom described himself as empowering and more informal than most. “I aim to be approachable, transparent, and communicative with all my staff members,” he says. “In my early days as a CEO, I was far more off-the-cuff and reactive. Over the years, I’ve become much more mindful.”
Personal branding is about getting personal.
You can’t separate “personal” from “personal brand.” Showing your human side is key. Tom is the proud father of two daughters and notes “they have my same drive and positivity, which energizes me in a profound way.”
No ivory tower for Tom.
YapStone understands the importance of sharing content and its expertise. Indeed, studies show that a CEO’s social media engagement leads to brand trust. And so both Tom and the Yapsters are very active on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and the company blog. “We’re also in the press each month, being highlighted as Fintech experts. And I am a frequent speaker and panelist at large Fintech industry events including Money 20/20 on October 24,” Tom adds.
So, what’s ahead? “In five years, we’re going to be one of probably three of the most important companies providing end-to-end Fintech solutions for the sharing economy,” Tom notes. “It goes beyond just payments; it’s about how you create a frictionless eCommerce experience for buyers and sellers in large marketplaces.”
In closing, an interesting note: The company’s name comes from the wheel-shaped currency of the Micronesian islands of Yap. Here’s to keeping the wheels a ‘turning!