Diane Vogt Faro, a pioneer of the acquiring business, has served as president of the Electronic Transactions Association and was a founder of Women Networking in Electronic Transactions, or W.net.
After a distinguished career with First Data that included stints as president of Global Merchant Services and CEO of Chase Merchant Services, Faro is now president of the National Benefit Programs and Faro Payments Consulting Inc.
Shes also served on the Merchant Link and Front Stream Payments boards.
Faro recently sat down with ISO&Agent to reflect on her career and the industrys future.
ISO&Agent: Where are you from?
FARO: Im from the north side of Chicago, Ill. I grew up in the great Midwest. I love Chicago. Love it!
ISO&Agent: Thats where were based. We love it, too. Where did you go to school?
FARO: Youre going to find this interesting. I did not attend college. Are you familiar with Good Counsel High School on Peterson and Pulaski? Thats where I went to high school. My career started from growing up in this industry.
ISO&AGENT: How did you get into payments?
FARO: In my senior year of high school, I went to work part-time for First Chicago, a big bank which was later acquired by Citibank. I applied for a business position and was put into the bankcard division.
ISO&AGENT: Were you approaching merchants for First Chicago?
FARO: When I first started out in the business world I was in the acquiring business always acquiring. When I was in high school, I was key punching. There werent terminalsthere were sales slips. It was data entry.
When I graduated from high school, I went to work in customer service at First Chicago and started getting involved with merchants. I built my career up then. I enjoyed working with the merchant community.
I then got involved with sales, but I wasnt part of the Sales Division. I was part of Merchant Relationship, so what I did was go out with the sales people and talk to merchants about the back end, the operations, the service side of the business. Back then, a lot of these companies were still regionalized. At that time even Kmart was regional.
I worked my way up to management within First Chicago, managing the Customer Service Division.
ISO&AGENT: Where did you go after First Chicago?
FARO: I relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a company called NaBanco in 1982, which was owned by First Financial Management Corp. of Atlanta and then bought by First Data Corp. Paul Garcia was NaBanco CEO. NaBanco was the No. 1 acquirer in the U.S. at the time. We did electronic payments credit, debit. We owned TeleCheck.
NaBanco was the first to implement gifts cards, and I was part of that program. In December of 1995, Blockbuster was our very first customer to roll out a gift card program as we know them today.
NaBanco went through a lot of changes at the end before the acquisition by First Data.
ISO&AGENT: Did you move to Fort Lauderdale to work For NaBanco?
FARO: Yes. Thats when I relocated from Chicago, Ill., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. And Im still here today.
ISO&AGENT: You were able to stay there after First Data bought NaBanco?
FARO: I was. Ive been very fortunate. Ive stayed here even at the time when First Datas headquarters were in Denver. Now, theyre in Atlanta, Ga. Ive traveled my entire career. I was always on the road.
ISO&AGENT: What did you do for First Data after they bought NaBanco?
FARO: Ive held many hats at First Data, but when they first came in I ran the entire sales operation and relationship management for the T&E industry. I was the executive vice president responsible. I was in charge of travel and entertainment, overseeing restaurants, hotels, airlines.
My sales staff, my service staff and relationship-management people were all over, so I was traveling all over.
ISO&AGENT: What was the next big move?
FARO: In 97, I became CEO of Chase Merchant Services Alliance. That was a joint venture of First Data Corp. and JPMorgan Chase at that time it was Chase Manhattan Bank. I ran that for five years, until 2002.
I spent most of my time in New York those five years what with the bank in New York and I had the Melville operations outside New York. But I commuted when I was responsible for that group. My home residence was always in Fort Lauderdale.
ISO&AGENT: You must like Fort Lauderdale.
FARO: I like the idea that I can travel and go anywhere and be part of winter and all the different seasons. But I like the Florida sunshine and ocean.
ISO&AGENT: We all like it. Anyway, how long were you with First Data?
FARO: If you count the time I was with First Financial Management before First Data acquired it, I was there 27 years.
ISO&AGENT: You moved on and began consulting?
FARO: I retired from First Data at end of 09 and was not sure what I wanted to do. I knew that this industry part of me, and I wanted to continue to be part of the industry. So I did consulting for a couple of years and worked with various companies and was on Merchant Links board and FrontStream Payments board. FrontStream is owned by Arsenal Capital Partners. I worked in consulting primarily with ISOs and/or processors until I went full-time with NBP in 2011.
ISO&AGENT: Thats the National Benefit Programs, where youre now president.
FARO: I worked with NBP as a consultant and liked what I saw. I knew I wanted to be an investor and partner in this company. That was my goal when I started with them.
ISO&AGENT: What does NBP do?
FARO: We provide discounts to small merchants on shipping, travel and office supplies. ISOs promote the program to their merchants.
ISO&AGENT: Sounds great. Youve been involved in trade groups, too. Could you tell us about your work with the Electronic Transactions Association?
FARO: During the time I was CEO of Chase Merchant Services, from 97 to 2002, banks were still apprehensive about ISOs. I told my board of directors that I felt we needed to move into the ISO community in order to grow. We had the Chase Manhattan Bank branches for referrals. We were cold calling. We were very big in the national arena and we were growing in the mid-market, but we still needed more footprint. I presented to the board that I wanted to grow the business more on the ISO side.
If I was going to ask ISOs to come in and be sponsored by Chase Manhattan Bank, I needed to work with the association, so I joined the board of ETA in 98. I knew I had to make people believe that I believed in the ISO community and wanted to be part of it. I was actively involved until I left as outgoing president in 2006.
We made a lot of changes in the ETA board. We brought in in-house staff. I worked with Mary Gerdts and Mary Dees and others on the board to bring staff inside instead of having an outside management company. I had an opportunity to work with some fabulous people within the ETA community.
ISO&AGENT: You were one of the founders of W.net.
FARO: Yes. Four of us were very close, and we were all on the board of ETA. That was Holli Targan, Mary Gerdts, Linda Perry and myself. We got to know each other because of ETA. We always said we wanted to give back to the industry so we started talking about how we could help the younger women coming into the industry. We wanted to make sure they had a better opportunity than we had. We formed W.net.
It took us a good 18 months of discussions. We started in 03 and it wasnt until 05 we got started. We discussed how we were going to brand ourselves and what we would name it. We had to write a mission statementeverything that goes into forming a 301C.
We had to knock on doors of the CEOs of large processors to sponsor us. We had to go to a lot of CEOs, who were males, and explain what we were doing and what we believed in, and they were wonderful. They knew who we were and that we were working for something that is great for the industry.
ISO&AGENT: The first W.net award went to Bob Carr of Heartland Payment Systems.
FARO: Bob Carr sponsored his women to be part of W.net. He believed in W.net, sponsored W.net, ensured that his female employees all became members of w.net. The award is for a person who did something to influence W.net. Dont think of the gender. Its for somebody who believes and has invested in the association.
ISO&AGENT: What are some of the most interesting events youve seen in the industry?
FARO: Being CEO of Chase Merchant Services was one of the highlights of my career because of the dynamics of the people, the comradery, the growth we were experiencing, the opportunity and what we were able to accomplish.
Some other interesting parts of my career were expanding in the international markets. I was involved in implementing Canada for NaBanco. I was responsible for implementing Mexico when I was running the T&E Division of Division of NaBanco. We were the first to bring hotels into Canada and then into Mexico. Mexico is a very male-dominated country and here I was a woman and had to have a translator. I was negotiating deals in Mexico and didnt speak the language.
We were successful in bringing opportunity to some of the major hotel chains in those countries. In Canada in the mid-90s duality existed. Hotels had to have two banks, and a lot of them didnt have the point of sale integration to make the transaction seamless. The same situation existed in Mexico to a worse degree of having multiple hardware machines at the point of sale. We came into Canada and created one unique system so hotels could have a system that accepts all card payments and then transacted and settled whatever they needed to settle. We did the same thing in Mexico.
It was exciting, fun times. With Mexico youre going into a country thats governed by certain rules. You have in-country and out-of-country transactions. There are rules from both sidesthe card brands and government.
I remember sitting at a negotiating table and being a female. The only other female in the room was bringing the coffee in. It was different then. But we did gain the respect, and we closed the deal.
ISO&AGENT: Was gender a problem in general in the payments industry?
FARO: I love that question. Yes, gender was a problem. Back in the early 70s, I cant think of any women in management. You had to address people with Mr. Back in those days First Chicago was a very stuffy bank. It was very strict. Women had dress rules. You couldnt wear pants. Men could smoke at their desk and women could not.
First Chicago had a division called Womens Banking. It was for the very wealthy, and had special services for women. The women would come in all dressed upin their hats and gloves and high heels. Why not have mens banking?
Thereve been big changes from then to now. Were still not where we need to be. There are maybe 12 women who are CEOs of fortune 500 companies. Weve come a long way but still have a long way to go. It should no longer be a question of gender. It should be credentials, background and experience.
ISO&AGENT: Some say acquiring was a boys club.
FARO: I can agree with that. I have been fortunate, but it was a good old boys club. That was the reason for W.net. We didnt want women to go through what we had gone through early in our career. Even in the 80s there was a male running every acquirer and processor. There were not many ISO females. Joyce Cook may have been the first. The Eta itself was good old boys. Over time, things have changed.
ISO&AGENT: Will the industry continue to improve?
FARO: I still believe in the ISO community. ISOs have more opportunities than the big companies that are not as nimble and cant make changes. ISOs can provide unique opportunities at the point of sale for small businesses. Theres a demand for that community to grow.
Will there be new players? We all go through change, but its like evolution. It all comes back to be the same thing. I dont see the industry changing to where we will look totally different. Some people say PayPal is coming in. They will be part of it, and maybe there wont be the big names we know today.
But the face is not changing. We still need ISOs. We still need feet on the street. Small businesses like the touch and feel. Even moving to mobile and iPads and iPhones, there still have to be people there helping the merchants and selling. Its going to become a more comprehensive sale. So salespeople need to change how they do business, really expanding their knowledgenot just selling credit cards but more the point-of-sale solution.
ISOs are here to stay, but there might be smaller number.