New Ways to Pay

John Shlonsky leads TransFirst on a mission to streamline how America handles payment processing

John Schlonsky's payment insight: “Electronic and mobile payments aren’t going to shrink in the future.”

You brought a lot to the table when you joined TransFirst in 2006, drawing from a background in sales, operations, and technology, not to mention finance itself. How has that manifested itself in terms of the company’s growth? 

John Shlonsky: Since I got here back in 2006, I think the company’s gone through a bit of an evolution. There were multiple acquisitions that developed our vertical channels, and they were managed independently. TransFirst’s evolution really was a shift from a holding company to a fully integrated operating company. When I got here, we started moving toward a fully integrated service model … and currently, we’re leveraging technology and the service model to create some level of differentiation in how we support our clients.

I know you credit company culture, specifically something you call “nimbilization,” with TransFirst’s success. Can you explain that a bit?

Shlonsky: Things change daily—one part of the month may not require as many customer service reps as another. A good example of this is during statement week. We have crossed-trained 90 percent of our service personnel to ebb and flow with our workloads. In addition, the merchant business is extremely fragmented, and the entry points are various for new participants. So nimbilization, for us, is having a culture where our employees understand that we need to be flexible and innovative, and that working within the market to come up with the right solutions for our customers is extremely important. We pride ourselves on being big enough to have that scale and weather the rough storms, but nimble enough to navigate toward new opportunities. We believe that’s one of our strengths.

Another word that’s big in the TransFirst company culture lexicon is “over-communication.” 

Shlonsky: Absolutely! When you look at core values as a company and what you’re setting out to get accomplished—employees can’t just hear those words. I think it gets a little obtuse if you’re just talking in general terms about nice things to put on a page because it looks good on a management slide. So they need to see executive management behaving that way every day … that’s number one. And number two, in addition to communicating those words, they need to understand the things that they’re doing every day and how they contribute to the overall goal. We really put a lot of effort around making sure people understand that.

And it’s paying off nicely, especially with regard to the way TransFirst now does business with American Express. Would you talk about what’s happened there? 

Shlonsky: We’ve done something really leading edge in our relationship with American Express. We have come together with them to provide a one-price, one-settlement, one-statement service model for all card types. It’ll be available to all processors eventually, but again, those kinds of initiatives are really challenging the norm of what’s been traditionally available in this space because businesses are changing. If you don’t want to change with them, you’ll miss out on opportunities. We are very pleased we are one of the first to market with this initiative.  

Small businesses are bound to be great beneficiaries of these new initiatives, right? Can you break down the way that would work in tangible terms?

Shlonsky: I’ll give you an example: A small business is starting up, and they’re only going to do a certain amount of volume, and they want to have a way of accepting payments. Instead of dealing with a complicated statement and miscellaneous fees from both the processor and American Express, we’re one of the first that will incorporate the service into a one-stop shop. Our merchants can even opt for a one-line fee on their statement that says you can process up to a certain amount of volume for $49.95. The consolidation of all card types and simplified pricing makes it easier for a small business owner to focus on his or her business. 

Do you engage with one type of small business more than others, or is it more of an across-the-board sort of involvement? 

Shlonsky: It’s more across the board, but you bring up an interesting point. If you think about the types of businesses and different verticals, some business owners are more sophisticated in the use of all of the new solutions we’ve talked about. So they may want an integrated cash register that takes payments and does rewards, but maybe they’re not ready to do loyalty yet. Or they’re not ready to do any kind of employee management. Having the flexibility of that integration and being able to add that value-add functionality for a small-business owner in a seamless way is going to be critical going forward. If you can find a way to integrate and make it easier for them to use all those features and leverage the relevance of all those services to help the small business grow in the market, you win! It’s that simple.