Besides serving as one of the industry’s first female CEOs, Kim Fitzsimmons is wielding the gavel as president of the Electronic Transactions Association and just finished a stint as president of Women Networking in Electronic Transactions, or W.net. She ‘s also earned the Midwest Acquirers Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
Along the way, she’s seen 25 years of change in the payments processing industry.
Her journey through those changes began straight out of the University of Mississippi, when she took her first job in the industry at Concord EFS.
There, Fitzsimmons rose through the ranks to become a sales executive, while helping to pioneer PIN debit, supermarket card acceptance, community-bank partnerships and cooperation with trade associations.
After joining First Data, Fitzsimmons led independent sales before leaving for a new opportunity.
She’s now finishing her first year as the chief executive officer at Cynergy Data.
She’s learned from the industry’s leaders and strives to share those lessons with the next generation by engaging and recruiting millenials – the next talent base.
Things were simpler when Fitzsimmons was starting out. She even used books, printed on paper, to quote rates to clients. Today, she’s inspired by the rapid pace of change and sees opportunity in the uncertainty inherent in the coming years.
ISO&Agent: What do you see as the industry’s most exciting challenges?
Fitzsimmons: It is true, there is a ton of change in the industry, and it is happening at a very rapid pace. We are seeing changes with new players entering the market and with new technology being introduced.
One of the reasons I wanted to be at Cynergy was to be closer to all this change. My roll at First Data was great. And certainly it was a great company, but I was not as close to the action from a product perspective. And I just wanted to roll up my sleeves and get a little bit dirtier.
ISO&Agent: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
Fitzsimmons: Back when I started there was a lot of leasing of terminals and equipment, and that was how everybody made their money out of the gate. It was all about “I am going to lease you this piece of equipment” and nobody was really concerned about the recurring revenue.
But then the tide shifted because the merchants became wiser. And as they became more educated they saw leasing a piece of equipment for $60 or $70 per month didn’t make a whole lot of sense if you could buy it for $200. The merchants definitely have gotten a lot smarter.
The ISOs and the banks’ sales channels have all had to adapt and change and get more creative and forthright about how they earn their business. So it is not just place a piece of hardware and you never see that merchant again. Now it is a lot more about service than maybe it used to be back in what I would have called the Wild West days of the ‘80s.
ISO&Agent: In the past the industry failed to put the merchant first. Has that changed?
Fitzsimmons: Absolutely. Absolutely, it’s changed. It had to change because, as margin compresses, you have to keep your merchants. It’s so much cheaper to keep a merchant than to acquire one.
So, just simply the math of that is evident. And also, it is much easier for merchants, as they get more technology-savvy — and as their front-end systems get more integrated with IP technology — it is much easier for a merchant to change than in the past. Now, ISOs can up and move a whole book of business by simply repointing their application and their gateway. So, service is paramount and it is going to continue to be.
You also have to be thinking product. You have to be able to bring the merchant different products. Whatever level you are at in the transaction stream, there has to be some differentiation in the products and some product stickiness. You just can’t go in and talk about rates anymore. It is tough to beat everybody up over fractions of a penny, which is what we are talking about.
ISO&Agent: How receptive is the payments industry to prominent women?
Fitzsimmons: You know, I don’t know that I would call it receptive. Certainly, all the individual companies and individual organizations are great to work with. And I have personally never had any issue with people being receptive to women in this industry. But there is a lack of women in leadership to choose from at this point, which is one of the missions and big reasons I got involved in W.Net.
There are a lot of women in the industry at mid-level management positions, and now the question is how do we elevate them to the next level and train them to be ready to be elevated to the next level.
That is one of the things I am extremely passionate about because as a leader, there just aren’t a lot of women to choose from that I see. We have got to get more.
ISO&Agent: Why is there a lack of women at the top levels?
Fitzsimmons: I don’t want to offer conjecture, because I think it is a lot of things. Typically, the industry was born from the banking industry, and typically the banks were all navy- suit-and-tie environments — a man’s world. That’s much like many other industries. I don’t know that ours is any different than others.
But at the entry levels we’re starting to see more women enter the workforce and stay in the workforce and have a chance to move up.
I think that it is just timing at this point. But again, as a participant and active member in W.net I am a big believer that women should help other women. And believe it or not, that’s not always necessarily the case. We have to help one another. And there are women out there who are very, very intelligent and if they want to move up, there are great organizations out there the women can work with and find a mentor and/or a sponsor who can give them advice, if that is what they want to do.
ISO&Agent: Who were some of your biggest influences in the industry?
Fitzsimmons: Obviously, I have to say one of the primary people who have helped me most in the industry is Ed Labry. He hired me from the onset. He wouldn’t let me quit when I tried to quit six months in. He still laughs about it. One of the hardest things about leaving First Data was leaving him. We have had such a great working relationship in some form or fashion over the years.
I also had one of the industry’s great female mentors who pulled me aside midway to late in my career by the name of Diane (Vogt) Faro. She pulled me aside at First Data when I first joined there and just said, “You have got to begin building your individual brand and get out in the industry and become a part of the industry and give back to the industry.” And I do, I look to her for getting me involved in many of the associations – W.net and ETA. It really broadened my horizons and got me exposed to so many other great minds in this industry and leaders in this industry and I really thank her for that piece of it.
ISO&Agent: How does their influence affect the way you reach out to younger people?
Fitzsimmons: I use the lessons they taught me on a regular basis. I love to mentor people. I always have somebody I officially mentor outside of my company and inside my company, and I spend at least an hour a month and talk to them about their career and what they are wanting to achieve. And I often find myself referencing things that they taught me.
ISO&Agent: What’s the biggest change the industry will see over the next few years?
Fitzsimmons: I wish I had a crystal ball. Because it really is changing so fast, nobody knows today what the next chess moves will be for tomorrow. And it really is like a chess match.
When you are dealing with the card brands, and they are making acquisitions, and you know that they are strategic acquisitions, you try to interpret what are their next moves going to be. And they dictate what a lot of the rest of the industry is going to do and you have to be ready for that.
And then you have new players who are joining forces, people like PayPal joining forces with Discover. It is just a lot of change.
Then there is mobile. What are the carriers going to do — the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world? They are certainly going to play some role as mobile gains some traction.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some international companies move in, especially from an EMV capability standpoint and expertise. EMV is definitely coming to the states. I don’t think it is a matter of if, but when. Visa and MasterCard certainly have put their dates out. Those may shift a little bit, and historically they do, but we know that it is coming.
But yeah, it is exciting. It is extremely exciting the amount of change that has taken place.
ISO&Agent: Will new technology completely change the industry?
Fitzsimmons: I think new technology will just mean more tools in our tool chest.
Technology is obviously going to change the space and the way we interact as consumers. And the merchants are really going to drive that, and consumers are going to drive that.
Take the digital wallet, for example. There are a ton of wallets out there, but I use the analogy that it is not as important what is on the outside of your digital wallet, much like it is not as important what brand of physical wallet you carry. Nobody cares if you have a Fossil or a Louis Vuitton wallet. What matters is what you carry inside and chose to use to make your payment. The same is going to be true of the digital wallet.
I think technology is fascinating for everybody, but this is just the next evolution of payment — going from looking things up in the book, to an electronic terminal, to then all of a sudden debit, where you had a pin pad and customer interaction at the point of sale. But now, it is just my phone – It is just another vehicle to facilitate the transaction. It is just another evolution. Who knows what the next thing is going to be? Maybe we won’t even need to carry a phone.
ISO&Agent: We’ve talked about change. What will stay the same in the coming years?
Fitzsimmons: You are always going to have the ISO, independent sales channel. The reason I say that is there has been a lot of debate and a lot of talk about the future of the ISO as the industry changes. But I believe that there is always going to be a need and probably even a more prevalent need for that independent sales channel.
ISOs are nothing more than a distribution arm. As the industry changes, you are going to have a lot of entrepreneurs in that space who are quick to adapt to change and who are willing to look for the next shiny object and run toward it. As the industry changes, you need that enthusiasm and that entrepreneurship and people who aren’t afraid to trip, fall and stub their toe, but keep on running. And you need distribution.
And if you have a new product that is being launched or a new entrant into the marketplace that wants to get distribution, a PayPal for example, or if Google comes up with a new product, I could easily see them looking to that independent channel to hit the ground running because that is what that space is known for — fast distribution.
ISO&Agent: What really makes you feel optimistic?
Fitzsimmons: It really is the technology and the change. I find it invigorating. I am one of the sick people who really thrive on the change. I get excited about the unknown.
(A version of this article appeared in the March print edition of ISO&Agent magazine.)