Merchant-level salespeople who want to assess a potential employer might do well to consider the results of a survey released this week by The Strawhecker Group, a merchant-acquiring consultancy.
In "The Emerging ISOs of America" rankings, the consultants examine four components of the ISO business, says Kurt Strawhecker, managing director of the Omaha, Neb.-based firm.
More than 40 ISOs were evaluated on the number of new merchants signed to contracts in a month, the merchant portfolio size, the number of transactions made by those merchants and the dollar volume of those transactions.
Each value was scored and averaged to create an overall result. The top five list, in order of how The Strawhecker Group ranked them, includes Nashville, Tenn.-based CoCard Marketing Group LLC; Alpha Card Services Inc., based in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.; BluePay Inc., based in Naperville, Ill.; Fast Transact Inc., based in Olympia, Wash.; and Glendale, Calif.-based UMS Banking. The Strawhecker Group is not releasing the complete list, citing confidentiality agreements with participants in exchange for their information.
Lazaros Kalemis, Alpha Card CEO, sees usefulness in the survey because it provides a context for evaluating how well ISOs perform.
"You work very hard," Kalemis tells ISO&Agent Weekly to build sales and increase the merchant portfolio. He and Dimitrios Tsikoudis, Alpha Card chief operating officer, started the company in 2000 as street-level agents.
"At least for us, we didn't recognize how big we've grown," Kalemis says, because he spends so much time is spent on selling without measuring the company's performance in a larger context.
At Fast Transact, David Solomon, CEO and chairman, says such lists as this one could help bolster an ISO's credibility, even outside the merchant-acquiring industry.
His firm recently signed a six-year lease for new office space. As Solomon recited the Strawhecker ranking as part of Fast Transact's history, the building manager remarked that it appeared Fast Transact would be around for the length of the lease, Solomon recounts.
The ranking also seems notable because only Visa Inc. and MasterCard Worldwide have lists of registered ISOs in the United States, and they have declined to release them.
Strawhecker says the industry welcomes information because it can provide some measurement of how well each company is doing.
The majority of ISOs are privately held, which complicates any attempt to build a list because companies tend to keep financial information to themselves, Strawhecker says.
In other instances, an ISO may choose to stay off such lists to "stay below the radar," Strawhecker says. One ISO said it would share its data, but only if it was not included.
Some may want to avoid attention because they have found sales among a category of merchants they do not want other ISOs to intrude upon.
For ISOs that want to sell the business or acquire a competitor, making the list may help establish name recognition in the industry, Strawhecker says.
As Alpha Card's Kalemis says: "It's very useful because it shows you what other [ISOs] are doing."

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