Heartland Payment Systems Inc.'s executive chairman and CEO, Robert Carr, leaves little doubt as to where he sees his company's mobile pay future heading — attached to the wagon of mobile-payment pioneers such as LevelUp.

In March, Heartland announced an expansion of its relationship with LevelUp, SCVNGR's mobile payment and loyalty system.

During a first-quarter earnings conference call April 30, Carr confirmed his company views LevelUp as a key player in the crowded mobile payments field.

"An area receiving a great deal of our attention, of course, has been mobile, where we have already been a participant in the Isis NFC-enabled Mobile Wallet pilot," Carr told analysts. "But the mobile application that seems to be getting the most attention is LevelUp."

After a successful pilot, Heartland began a nationwide rollout of LevelUp's technology.

"One of the reasons we have chosen LevelUp from the staggering number of potential partners that have approached us is … we believe LevelUp's performance-based model is consistent with our merchant-friendly philosophy," Carr said.

LevelUp's biggest challenge has been achieving scale, and Heartland's 800-plus strong sales organization and 250,000 merchants "may just be the ideal solution to this problem," Carr said.

Heartland points to its sales force structure and core products as catalysts for a record first quarter that resulted in a 21% increase in net income at $19.4 million.

Its partnership with LevelUp won't produce an immediate boost in earnings, however. Heartland's rollout of LevelUp will be slow and on a market-to-market basis, because LevelUp doesn't have the infrastructure to support a nationwide rollout, Carr said.

"It's going to be slow going in terms of dollars as they impact Heartland, but it's going to be very significant for LevelUp because we hope to keep them very, very busy and at capacity for quite some time," he said.

The number of mobile payment companies approaching Heartland and seeking distribution partners makes it "a fun time to be in the business right now looking at opportunities," Carr added.

The restaurant industry is particularly receptive to mobile payments, he said. "Mobile payment at the table is picking up a lot of steam.”

On the EMV smart-card migration, vice chairman Robert Baldwin told analysts that Heartland remains frustrated by the "ongoing implementation challenges" because of the differences in the U.S. market with the multiple PIN debit networks.

Acquirers had a mandate to have platforms ready to handle EMV message formats.

"We've all accomplished substantially all of that, but as we look out, it's still frustrating to have the card brands not have a well-articulated rationale for merchants," Baldwin said.

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