As rivals get stronger, Elavon builds muscle in key verticals

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The year 2019 kicked off with a series of mutli-billion-dollar mergers and acquisitions designed to shake up the dynamics of the payments industry. While this was taking place, Elavon had its own plan for extending its influence through M&A.

Elavon's interest in advancing digital payment capabilities for large businesses kicked off in January when the processor acquired B2B software provider CenPOS, and its acquisition of Sage Pay last month addressed its need to better serve small merchants in Europe with digital payment advancements.

The payments landscape was subject to great upheaval this year through major deals such as FIS acquiring Worldpay, Fiserv buying First Data and Global Payments obtaining TSYS. Meanwhile, Atlanta-based Elavon, the payments unit of U.S. Bancorp, chugged along with its various acquisitions and partnerships that strengthened its position across a vast customer base.

"In terms of strength, Elavon has done a good job of focusing on verticals, most notably hospitality and airlines," said Thad Peterson, senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group. "If they stay focused on that, they should do well going forward."

In the modern payments environment, companies providing payments technology, gateways and security tools have to bring a full menu of services to the customer-sales table.

"Every major processor is building out a full suite of offerings across the merchant spectrum, and a strong focus in a few areas will help a processor differentiate from the competition," Peterson said.

By agreeing to acquire Dublin-based Sage Pay, Elavon boosted its small business holdings and capabilities in the U.K. and Ireland. This allows it to more easily bring a payments gateway and integrated international processing platform into the mix. Sage Pay will be the engine that helps Elavon convert customers to digital payment technology.

"Sage Pay has been a long-term partner and has strong digital solutions that will help us meet our customers’ needs across difference channels, particularly in the e-commerce space," said Elavon CEO Jamie Walker. "Small business is an important segment for us in both Europe and the U.S. and are by far our largest customer base."

Elavon focuses on solutions that help small merchants improve revenue face-to-face, online, in app and via mobile. That focus has served the company well in one of its signature contracts — 22 years of providing payments processing and merchant services for Costco Warehouse business customers.

In the face of growing competition, Elavon is sticking to the basics of simplifying the payment process for customers to create repeat business, loyalty and revenue.

The addition of Sage technology will also help Elavon address a weakness it sees in the U.K. and other markets.

"Our research shows that in the U.K. only half of the small businesses are trading online," Walker said. "This is a significant opportunity to help them grow their business and an investment in Sage Pay is one way Elavon is deepening its digital capabilities and invest in technology in a way that makes sense in our major markets."

But Sage Pay is only the latest piece in this puzzle that Elavon is putting together.

Elavon and Mastercard have established a partnership to advance AI-powered fraud detection into the Elavon network for its merchants in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.

In working with Featurespace, a behavioral analytics company, to develop an e-commerce fraud prevention network this year, Elavon wants to be able to help its European clients navigate PSD2 implementation and authorization requirements, while also moving 3D Secure 2.0 forward for e-commerce.

Elavon is also working with online travel agencies to incorporate virtual cards as a way to streamline payments and improve fraud protection and limit chargebacks.

A year ago, Elavon established support for payments at more than 650 postal locations in Belgium. Known as bpost, the Belgian postal service handles 6 million payment transactions annually.

"The Belgian postal service was a great win for our European team," Walker noted. "We've had a great year there, especially in the U.K and Poland."

To boost distribution capabilities to both corporations and small businesses, Elavon also established banking partnerships with Regions Bank and Societe Generale.

"The payments space is evolving at a rate we haven’t seen before and it is a really exciting time," Walker said. "With the advancements we are making in technology we have the opportunity to be both a differentiator and a driver for our customers growth and really show the value that having a strong payments system can have for businesses of all sizes."

Momentum can be challenging to sustain, but that is the nature of the payments business, Walker added. "We can’t afford to sit still for even one second — and that is a huge opportunity as we build the payments models of the future."

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M&A B-to-B payments Digital payments Acquirers Elavon