The Executive Interview Series provides readers with exclusive insights from movers and shakers in the payments industry. The Payments Industry is under continuous transformation, as such this series provides diverse perspectives on everything from strategy to payments technology and to the future of the industry.
In this interview, TSG’s Market Intelligence team-members Jared Drieling and Alex Ferguson sat down with Authvia President and COO Trevor Rubel to learn more about his journey through the payments industry and his new role at Authvia.
Background: Trevor Rubel brings an unrivaled view of the payments/software ecosystem to Authvia, including hands-on experience launching and scaling new products in the payments space. In addition to his President/COO role at Authvia, and former co-CEO at Merchant e-Solutions, Rubel spent over 10 years as a senior executive at Bank of America Merchant Services and First Data. Rubel’s experience also includes driving innovation, product, operations, and corporate development at emerging technology companies, including Intelligent Results, Personify, and CareCap. His track record includes growing early stage startups through acquisition, as well as bringing enterprise-level products to market.
Q: TSG’s Jared DrielingTrevor, I know you’ve been in the merchant acquiring payment space for quite some time, so we’d be interested in understanding how you got into the payments industry.
A: Trevor RubelI started my career in the software industry and founded a company that was acquired by First Data. This led to an opportunity to work at First Data International, which is really when I was first introduced to the acquiring side of the payments business. Prior to that, I had really only been familiar with the issuing side. From First Data International, I moved into the newly formed Bank of America Merchant Services (BAMS), when the joint venture was created between First Data and Bank of America. There, I had the opportunity to run product and strategy at BAMS for a number of years. Those were certainly informative years, as it was the time when Clover was launched, and the industry saw Square and other mobile payment solutions getting launched. So, I’ve been a part of some exciting times in the payments industry.
Q: TSG’s Alex FergusonFollowing up on that what would you describe as your biggest contribution to the payments industry?
A: Trevor RubelWell, that’s certainly a loaded question, and I like those. In 2012, a guy named Mark Schulze reached out to me. I was running product and strategy at BAMS and he and a few colleagues had a 15-page PowerPoint for an early stage tablet POS company they were calling Clover. One year later, we launched the Clover application through the largest acquirer channel in the country, which at the time, was BAMS. The rest of the history on Clover is very well known, but the start of it was our recognition of what was going on with the tablet POS, mobile capabilities, and the early work Clover was doing.
Q: TSG’s Jared DrielingTrevor, before joining Authvia you were the founder of a data analytics startup, I believe that was Intelligent Results, and that was acquired by First Data. You went on to hold many different leadership positions not only at First Data but Bank of America Merchant Services. So, what did you learn from those experiences that have helped you transition to your role at Authvia?
A: Trevor RubelI was really fortunate to have a ringside seat through one of the most transformative times in electronic payments. By ringside, it may be more accurate to say I was actually “in” the ring. One of the important lessons I learned through that process is that certain aspects of the payments industry have changed, but distribution power has always been the same, and the distribution power of the channel and channel partners, continues to be critical to the success of any fintech company.
For Authvia, this means supporting existing payment companies as partners, while also leveraging software companies – or ISVs – which I know are near and dear to all of our hearts in this industry. We use those ISVs, not only as distribution partners, but also as integrated software partners. This enables us to place our solutions successfully in the payments industry, but also supports strong channel partners both technically and in their business strategies. One of the key things I learned not only at BAMS, but even more so at First Data, is the channel giveth and the channel taketh away. If you’re going to build a fintech company, you need to find ways of working within the ecosystem. While a provider may be extending the capabilities of what is currently in the market, they also need to work within the confines of how channel partners make their money and run their businesses today.
So, here’s an example of this: Our platform provides wallet functionality, but our payment industry partners are still assured that the merchant transactions get processed through them. At the same time, we recognize software companies need to maintain control over the customer experience, which is why when we think about relationships with them, we think about it from an “API-first” perspective. That “API-first” technology strategy works really well for software partners.
Q: TSG’s Jared DrielingCan you tell us a little more about Authvia? You’ve alluded already to some of the key differentiators between Authvia and other platforms. Could you tell us more about those differences that make Authvia unique?
A: Trevor RubelAbsolutely. The Authvia TXT2PAY® solution is a truly seamless conversational commerce software that uses text and chat messaging channels to facilitate instant payments for goods and services. So, virtually every consumer is equipped with what they need to make a payment using TXT2PAY®. It works exclusively through text and chat features that are natively on our phone, so the TXT2PAY® solution doesn’t require a separate mobile app, you don’t need a password, you don’t need a login, you don’t need a local wallet running on your device, and it doesn’t need to link out to any third-party websites. This means customers are never redirected from that text conversation to make a payment.
So, it’s really the only native business-to-consumer text platform out there that I know of. The platform itself is seamless for merchants as well as the consumer. We integrate through APIs and Authvia TXT2PAY® is already integrated to the backend of over 20 different payment processors and gateways, and our APIs are integrated on the front end to a growing number of business applications. Applications like ERP, and applications for field services solutions and so on, as well as chat and messaging applications on the front end. That list of integrated solutions is growing every day. The last part is continuing to look for additional ways to bring our TXT2PAY® solution to the merchants on Main Street, not only through these API-based integrations, but also through standalone solutions.
Q: TSG’s Alex FergusonHow do you see your platform’s technology and services continue to develop over time?
A: Trevor RubelIt’s interesting, “API-first” has served us really well in terms of integrating into other business management applications, but with COVID and the acceptance we are seeing with TXT2PAY®, we really feel like there’s an opportunity to bring a standalone application that’s easily integrated into the back office, but is sort of “no muss no fuss” to deploy for merchants on Main Street. The small to mid-sized clients that might not want to do an integration themselves. So today, we’re working on bringing that enterprise-class technology directly into the marketplace, so that any merchant can have a secure, robust, and truly contactless text-based payment solution.
Q: TSG’s Alex FergusonThinking more broadly, what do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of text to pay and of contactless payment methods in general?
A: Trevor RubelInterestingly, I think COVID-19 is forcing the world to adopt a new definition of what contactless payments really means. Six millimeters turns out not to be six feet and contactless historically had a different definition. For example, pre-COVID, I could swipe my phone across a payment terminal to pay if I knew how to setup NFC based payments on my device and if the store owners knew how to do it. Today, being contactless means staying six feet away from others, whether they are other customers or clerks at the store, as well as offering a merchant environment that is completely touch free from anything but your own device. It’s difficult to do with traditional payment methods, which are dependent on a terminal or a point of sale. Authvia’s TXT2PAY® solution is a truly contactless payment option where a consumer can pay for goods and services using their own personal device – their own cell phone typically – without touching or even getting near a merchant’s payment terminal or interacting closely with service people.
TXT2PAY® works the same whether you’re 6 feet away, 6 miles away, or 600 miles away because we’re using traditional text messaging. Another important consideration on the contactless front is the market readiness. Although wallet-based applications with NFC enablements are gaining adoption due to COVID, there is still a huge gap in the knowledgebase of both consumers and merchants. This was already a barrier to mass adoption of these products, because merchants didn’t have the time to train or really the need to train their consumers and staff on using NFC technology on their devices. It’s even more prevalent in the COVID world.
Jared, I think TSG did a study with ETA about contactless payment options during COVID-19 and it was covered in an article published in May of this year in Digital Transactions. There’s still a huge hurdle on the consumer front to reach ubiquity for these products. There’s still too many stores where cashiers don’t know what contactless is or the merchant doesn’t have the feature turned on. Conversely, everyone knows how to use text messaging. In fact, we had a client in North Philly do about $7,000 in volume on their very first day without training their customers or sales team. It’s just that easy to do a text-based payment.
So, when it comes to text payment options, nearly all the other text-based payment methods in the market today are dependent on an outside utility or website to authorize transactions. Obviously, NFC and traditional contactless applications are dependent on understanding very unique features of your phone, or maybe something like 10 years ago, a go tag. This adds friction to the customer experience, which slows down the process, and results in higher abandonment or disinterest on the part of the customer. As they move through the transaction process, what’s most important to the merchant and the consumer is having an easy way to pay in this age of COVID that is completely safe. We’ve done a couple of studies and we’ve seen from our customers our TXT2PAY® application helps them get paid up to ten times faster, get paid earlier on billing & invoicing applications, and just as importantly, the quality of the customer experience is preferred over other payment methods. We see this time and time again as customers start to engage with text payments. Its just a compelling way to request payment and get paid immediately.
Q: TSG’s Alex FergusonIs fraud a general concern with text to pay platforms? If so, what is Authvia doing to minimize the risk of fraud?
A: Trevor RubelCertainly for industry folks, fraud should be a general concern with every platform, and security is always job one if you’re in the payments industry. Authvia’s TXT2PAY® solution removes all PCI compliance, so both from a fraud and security standpoint, this is important. We remove all of the PCI compliance liability from the merchant, which is a huge benefit to them, obviously every day. In addition, we’ve incorporated a state-of-the-art security system that keeps all of the sensitive cardholder data in a card vault and thereby removes PCI data from all of the touchpoints on a third party software platform, the merchant, and the consumer. So, from a safety and security standpoint, our solution really helps merchants with PCI.
Additionally, similar to how my background includes decades of experience in the fintech space, the founding team of Authvia has a similar depth in wireless and communications experience. This really provides us with both expertise, data, and relationships to help protect consumers and merchants. From a fraud standpoint, because we sit at the intersection of payments and messaging, we have extra data and extra expertise to bear. For example, we have a direct connection to all of the carriers in real time and this enables our platform to do things like validate consumer authenticity and activity while they’re running a transaction. This validation then can be used to further enhance traditional processor and gateway fraud models.
I’ll give you an example: As we watch someone interact and pay a text-based payment, if we see that they’ve done five other payments using this same phone over the last five days, we’re fairly confident. However, if the sixth payment appears to be coming from Zimbabwe all of the sudden, we may throw up a fraud alert, because we have carrier data that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen with a normal card-not-present transaction. We can do the same with things like lost and stolen phones, avoiding SIM swaps, and things like that. So, in fact, from a card-not-present standpoint, a TXT2PAY® transaction can be a lot safer than a traditional, card-not-present, recurring, or website transaction.
Q: TSG’s Alex FergusonWhat are you most excited about in Authvia’s future? Either in shifting industry trends we’ve talked about, or a feature or functionality that Authvia is rolling out?
A: Trevor RubelEverything from the existing integrations we have in place with twenty of the largest processors and gateways, to strategic partnerships, and our partnership model that delivers TXT2PAY® to merchants through ISVs. These include partners like Salesforce, Vonage, and QuickBooks. It places Authvia in the perfect position to scale quickly at a time when it is critical to reach these marketplaces with a contactless payment solution. This helps ensure that merchants survive in a fairly uncertain time and gives them a really great way to interact with their customers in a safe and secure manner. Moreover, our team is invested in developing and driving solutions that will continue to simplify and make the conversational commerce process more convenient for merchants and consumers alike. This is a must in the payments landscape today as we see more and more of the payments process integrated into other workflows, whether it’s into software, or just the interaction you have.
The customer experience is everything in the new payments environment and in the way that Authvia thinks about conversational commerce. It allows us to stay committed to providing merchants with the right tools to help ensure the purchasing experience is frictionless and as friendly as possible and integrated to other workflows that they have. A great example of this is in the pest control industry, as we’ve integrated with some of the ISVs there. An ISV we work with has 8,000 pest control companies as customers. They can now not only send out a service reminder, but they can also ask for payment as the service tech is arriving on the property. This allows them to get paid not only in a timely manner, but often at the exact time that they are doing the service or even before. Historically, these customers were sending invoices through email and were getting paid 10 to 14 days later. So, we’ve accelerated AR for the business in that scenario, but we’ve also been able to make paying more convenient for a consumer and remain in a contactless scenario. It’s really a win-win on all sides.
Finally, one of the most exciting aspects of what’s happening in today’s payments marketplace is the sales demand we’re seeing in the industry for products like ours. It really is changing, as we’re taking various solutions to market. We’re currently in sort of a perfect storm with the COVID crisis and fortunately we’re already prepared to bring solutions to merchants that help scale their business needs, and frankly, don’t cost any more than what they’re doing today.
Q: TSG’s Alex FergusonYou mentioned COVID and moving towards topics related to the pandemic, five to ten years down the line what do you see as the future of contactless payments? Do you feel that the current pandemic will materially change how consumers will make payments in the future?
A: Trevor RubelHopefully for all of us, the pandemic does subside, but I don’t think people will lose their interest in contactless payments. We’re already seeing it as a function of convenience, speed, and integrating payments into an already evolving experience with merchants. Really, what’s happened is this has just accelerated that. The need for contactless, as well as integrated payments, is only going to grow over time. Again, I think we will redefine the definition of contactless payments, but it’s going to continue to garner awareness and continue to evolve.
I also think that this is going to gain speed and adoption in the marketplace. There’s a lot of consumer benefits to self service and some of the other things that contactless has brought along. Whether you’re in a hospitality environment, a restaurant environment, a bar environment, etc., it’s really helped to materialize some of the things we’ve been talking about in the payments industry for some time.
I also think we’ll see additional fintech innovation. Similar to the way Internet of Things and ecommerce has impacted the marketplace, I see contactless payments evolving exclusively by customer experience first, and then things like cost of tender second. In fact, how merchants choose to transact business with consumers, and why, is now more impactful to their success than ever before. The examples that we had pre-COVID – things like Uber and Airbnb – are great illustrations of this, but obviously post-COVID, it is going to continue to accelerate.
Q: TSG’s Alex FergusonLooking more granular, how has COVID impacted Authvia specifically? Have you seen any of these trends that you’re expecting in the future show up yet?
A: Trevor RubelWe definitely have. Pre-COVID we were very focused on solutions that were both convenient for the business and the consumer around primarily things like billing and invoicing. It could be recurring billing, episodic billing, or convenience. To bring the example of the pest control folks I mentioned, with COVID we’ve really been pulled into the point of sale. Areas like curbside delivery or areas where we weren’t expecting to come on and be a text-to-pay delivered solution quite as quickly. We knew it was possible, we knew it was a great experience, but we didn’t expect the demand that we’re seeing today. And, today, we’re seeing huge demand.
There’s an ice cream shop that we work with in Michigan: they did $400 worth of sales over TXT2PAY® one Saturday. If you would have told me a year ago that we’d have curbside delivery for ice cream I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, probably not the market that I’m choosing.” But we’re now seeing this in every single industry. Whether its pharmaceutical pickup, restaurant, curbside delivery for electronics or physical goods, or even restaurants and hospitality where the notion of self-service and self-service checkout over text has gained a lot of traction. So, the demand from both the ISVs and merchants using standalone applications for TXT2PAY® have just dramatically accelerated. That’s not only benefitting Authvia, but also all of our partners, both on the payments side as well as ISVs.
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