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Interviews

Joel Leonoff, President & CEO, Optimal Payments: Customer experience is evolving

Friday 28 November 2014 | 02:05 PM CET

More merchants are looking to merge a customer’s journey with the brand to be consistent across brick-and-mortar, mobile and online shopping

Could you give us some background on the history of the company and its position in North America and the latest on the acquisition of Meritus Payments?

The company started in the late 1990s as a payments service provider. It targeted the online gaming market as part of the early days of online transactions and ecommerce. Originally, the company was publicly listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange as SureFire Commerce. It was acquired by the Optimal Group in the early 2000s, changed its name to Optimal Payments and was listed on NASDAQ. The company was privatized in 2008. In 2011, the company was purchased by Neovia and listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Over time, the company developed a specialty in moderate to high-risk merchant transactions. It began helping merchants accept more Visa and MasterCard transactions on their websites as well as assisting merchants in managing risk and fraud and reducing chargebacks. As a result, the company developed significant knowledge and expertise in fraud management and helping merchants to process transactions in a safe and secure environment.

Today, Optimal Payments operates in more than 200 countries worldwide and processes billions of USD in transactions each year.

Optimal Payments has had many clients over the years across the US and Canada. The acquisition of Meritus Payment Solutions and Global Merchant Advisors was a step toward having a more robust presence and a stronger foothold in the US market. Plus, Meritus already had a well-respected payment processing arm with a robust client base. We perceive it as a huge opportunity to increase our resources in the local market.

Optimal Payments has recently launched its Acquiring Service for UK and European merchants. How do you position Optimal Payment in Europe and the UK? What differentiates Optimal Payments from the competition?

Optimal Payments has deep roots in the UK and Europe and had previously been working with acquiring banks. Recently, we were granted principal membership status with Visa and MasterCard in Europe, which allows us to offer acquiring services directly to our clients without having to enlist an acquiring bank.

This improves efficiency on multiple levels. Previously, we would do our due diligence for approving a client and then the acquiring bank would have its own due diligence – a process that was time consuming. With the principal member status, we are a more competitive payment solutions company. We are now able to turn around merchant applications quickly to better serve the market, as well as offer better rates to our clients.

Optimal Payments is a global provider of end-to-end payment solutions with a specialty in moderate to high-risk merchants. We have a tolerance for risk, evaluating risk and catering to that category of merchants, which is not catered to by traditional banks.

We have relationships with acquiring banks around the world. Merchants have the ability to easily and seamlessly process transactions across borders through one connection to the gateway.

Omni-channel commerce is one of the big topics next year, what kind of solutions does Optimal Payments offer to improve the shopping experience?

We have always been an omni-channel payment solutions provider. Our solutions are oriented to work on any platforms – mobile, online, etc.

From a retail standpoint, the customer experience is changing. More merchants are looking to merge a customer’s journey with the brand to be consistent across brick-and-mortar, mobile and online shopping.

Imagine a scenario where you are running late for work and don’t have time to wait in line at your local coffee shop. But, you have a mobile app to a local coffee shop that allows you to pre-order and pre-pay for your morning coffee and breakfast without having to step foot in the door until you pick up your order.

Mobile environments and applications are evolving extremely rapidly and we are continuing to add technology that includes mobile point-of-sale to address this. In addition, we are always looking at ways to make it easier for merchants to accept payments. For instance, we’ve already integrated Apple Pay into the NETBANX payment gateway, as well as other technologies that allow merchants to accept payments online, via mobile devices and in brick-and-mortar stores.

From your point of view, how will the payments space evolve in the upcoming years?

Customer experience is evolving. Companies are working hard to make it more refined and more efficient. Soon, there won’t be anymore waiting in line to pay; it will all be facilitated via mobile devices. There’s a movement toward facilitating payments in a way that is frictionless. The use of mobile, near-field communication (NFC), geo-location and other new technologies yet to enter the marketplace will make it a more convenient experience for the customers.

For instance, Uber has adopted a digital wallet methodology by paying for taxis and cars through the mobile app. The overall experience is much less cumbersome and doesn’t require the customer to have a physical credit card or cash on-hand to facilitate payment.

What are your objectives for 2015?

There are a number of initiatives ahead for Optimal Payments in 2015:

1) We are continuing to pursue aggressive organic growth. I believe that our principal membership status in Europe and the UK is a catalyst and contributor to the potential. It allows us to be a lower cost provider and react to market opportunities much faster than before.
2) The company is investing heavily into developing more omni-channel solutions. We are a premiere technology provider today, and want to make sure that our technology maintains a leading edge perspective in the marketplace.
3) We hope to pursue more M&A targets to add value to our business. The focus is on growth in new geographies and markets. With our principal membership status in Europe, we’ll be looking to add feet on the ground in more local European markets.
4) The US gaming industry continues to be a strong focus. We’ve been working hard at positioning NETELLER in states where online gaming transactions are now legal. As more states come online, we’ll be looking to capitalize on our reputation to facilitate the growth across the US in this industry.

About the author

Joel Leonoff serves as president and CEO of Optimal Payments Plc. Joel is an entrepreneurial leader and visionary, with a proven track record, having served as CEO, COO and CFO of private and publicly traded companies. Together with Danny Chazonoff, Optimal Payments’ COO, Joel was named as the Ernst & Young IT Entrepreneur of The Year 2014.

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