For longtime payments exec Robert Carr, a startup brings opportunity

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A less experienced executive with a shorter track record probably wouldn't have gotten away with it, and even Robert Carr said he'd raised a few eyebrows when he said it the day before at an industry conference:

"I've learned in my life that a 100% focus on EPS growth is not helpful to business," said Carr, a longtime executive, philanthropist, author, and as of this week, founder of a new merchant services company called Beyond. "There's more to being successful than growing EPS at the highest possible rate."

Beyond is a culmination of the many things Carr's done in his life. That includes years spent as as a merchant acquiring executive—Carr was the CEO of Heartland Payment Systems; an author who has advocated for improving conditions for working class Americans while detailing his own challenges growing up in Illinois; and a philanthropist. Carr's non-profit Give Something Back is an NGO that helps lower-income students attend college.

Part of Beyond's focus is segments that don't have the perception of having the highest or fastest-growing revenue flows in the payments or merchant services industries. It will seek nonprofits, fundraising companies and small businesses among other segments.

"We have developed tools for our own use at [Give Something Back] that we will resell for others," Carr said.

While many mobile payment apps have features that are designed make it easier for nonprofits to collect funds, Beyond is positioning itself as a full merchant services provider, according to Carr. It will offer ancillary services such as event management and fundraising tools in addition to payment processing and digital technology.

"There will be a focus on omnichannel," Carr said. "There's a shortage of cost-effective technology and services for the small to mid-sized business and smaller nonprofits."

Beyond will also offer human resources, point of sale systems, payroll, payment processing and other services. It's not necessarily directly selling discount rates, but its site includes a mission statement of sorts that promises transparency and simplicity on fees that's in line with some of the calls Carr made to the merchant acquiring industry to improve business standards in a 2013 open letter.

Carr, who stared Give Something Back in response to a $250 scholarship he received from the local Women's Club in Lockport Township, Ill., in 1963, has had a career path in the acquiring industry that forced him to confront some big challenges. Heartland suffered a major breach in 2009, an experience that made Carr an advocate for better security in the merchant services business, a role he hopes to continue to play as the toll mounts from a series of breaches at retailers, hotels and restaurant chains.

"There's still a need for better security," Carr said. "The criminals have gotten a lot better."

As at Heartland, Carr's new venture will also face the rapid introduction of new technology and nimble mobile-savvy startups like Square and Stripe, which have shaken up what had traditionally been a stable merchant acquiring business based on sales volume. Merchant acquiring is now an innovation-driven relationship business, he said.

"There is a lot of turmoil in the acquiring industry and I think [Beyond's diverse] model will work effectively," Carr said. "That, along with a strong corporate culture is going to be the key to our success."

Traditional acquirers have been forced to become tech-savvy, and it's become standard for established companies to recast themselves as broad-based technology companies. First Data, TSYS, Cayan and Heartland have all added technology and merchant categories, and have made acquisitions to bolster their range of services in digital payments. In Heartland's case, it was also acquired by Global Payments to sharpen the buyer's focus on the small-business space.

Beyond's compensation structure will differentiate itself among its competitors, Carr said.

"We are almost 100 percent employee owned," he said of a policy in which almost all employees will be able to have some investment in the company. "All staff will be shareholders and that will be a differentiation in terms of the quality of our service. It will be a motivation to our people to build a strong company."

Despite the crowded market, there is still opportunity for new entrants, according to Tim Sloane, vice president of payments innovation at Mercator Advisory Group.

"A saturated market doesn’t imply existing solutions are perfectly optimized," Sloane said. "This is in part because of the changing consumer, new mobile innovations and ever changing payment technology and regulations."

It's also associated with the complexity of the payment value chain and its integration with merchant loyalty and rewards programs, Sloane said. "There are so many moving parts and changes occurring in payments that opportunities abound in the acquiring industry."

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