First Data Accelerates Tech Development Under Its New Management

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First Data is releasing new services that stem from a strategic shift that followed the company's restructuring over the past year.

The latest offering will follow a recently inked partnership deal with Capgemini meant to address the pain points felt by their joint customers. For example, customers on First Data's VisionPlus and VisionPlus Flex processing systems were delaying upgrades to avoid breaking the workarounds they installed on earlier versions.

"At some banks, they were actually doing customization of old versions of VisionPlus," said Guy Chiarello, president of First Data.

By working with Capgemini, First Data hopes to develop and add consumer-facing offerings such as alerts, customized payment processing, prepaid products and lending capabilities.

Capgemini can also aid First Data as its merchant base faces a number of adjustments, said Gareth Lodge, a senior analyst at Celent.

"When you buy a large, complex piece of banking software, you usually have an integrator. I see this as moving in that direction," Lodge said. "For example, as the U.S. moves to EMV, all of the terminals need to change. For large chains, that's massive and is more than just 'unplug, swap, plug.' Equally, it's an opportunity not just to replace, but future-proof as well."

First Data will market the new services jointly with Capgemini in some cases, while in other cases each company will sell directly to issuers, sharing revenue between the companies based on the nature of the sale.

"It's a big opportunity that allows us to build these different products and leverage a much lower cost structure," Chiarello said.

First Data began a long process of technology-driven product diversification following the hiring of former JPMorgan Chase Co-COO Frank Bisignano two years ago as the company faced a debt crisis and an earnings slump.

Chiarello, who was a CIO at JPMorgan Chase, joined First Data soon after Bisignano did, and the company has added a number of other new executives charged with adding new technology and services to complement the company's payment processing rails.

The strategy received an early nod of confidence in the form of a debt restructuring, giving First Data more financial flexibility for its tech-infused expansion.

A series of new projects have followed.

First Data is updating its tablet-based Clover point of sale system, adding support for Apple Pay and enhancing support for loyalty and digital gift cards.

The company's preexisting scale has aided the strategy. "There's a great installed base and we realized when we came in with new management that there are a lot of ways to keep innovating off of these products," Chiarello said.

The pace of change in the payments industry makes it difficult for incumbents to keep up, making partnerships as the First Data/Capgemini useful, said Thad Peterson, a senior analyst at Aite Group.

"Every player in the payments space should be looking for opportunities to accelerate innovation and enhance service delivery," Peterson said.

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