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-member Alex Ferguson sat down with Talus Payments CEO Kim Fitzsimmons to learn more about her journey through the payments industry and her new role at Talus.
Background: Kim comes to Talus with 25 years of payments experience in several leadership roles that include J.P. Morgan, Cynergy Data, and First Data. In addition to those leadership roles, Kim’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to start, grow, and exit from her own payments business, EFS Card Services. She has installed this entrepreneurial spirit and drive into the core of the Talus brand where her chief aim is to help both Talus clients and Talus Solutions Consultants build wealth through their business ownership.
TSG’s Alex Ferguson:How did you get into the payments industry?
A: Kim FitzsimmonsWithout giving away my age, I answered an ad in a newspaper after graduating from business school. I was hired by Ed Labry to perform inside telesales. Six months later, I handed in my notice because I had found a leadership role with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). After hearing about my resignation, Mr. Labry fired my manager and promoted me (true story!). To this day he still asks, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t let you quit?”. I always reply, “Yes, I am!”
Q: Alex FergusonLooking into your background, you have held executive positions at larger payment companies such as First Data and JP Morgan but also in leading executive positions with smaller ISOs like Cynergy Data prior to its merger with Priority Payment Systems. Tell me about what you learned most from these experiences and how you feel those experiences will help you in your new role as CEO of Talus.
A: Kim FitzsimmonsI try to learn something new every day. I’ve learned a lot from each company. From First Data, I learned how to navigate across a matrix organization and how to manage channel conflict. At JP Morgan, I learned a lot about compliance, governance, and regulation. What I’ve learned variesacross the experiences, but the one common thread in a smaller company is how to execute.
More specifically, how to make decisions, put them into action, and then modify/adjust/adapt along the way. The buck stops with the CEO in a small company, so you cannot be afraid to make decisions. You must be able to operate at the 100,000-foot strategic level and come all the way down to the most granular issue that the frontline employees are dealing with. In all of my experiences, though, the most important part of the business is the people…both customers AND employees. It’s really as simple as the ‘Golden Rule.’ If we take care of our people, they will take care of us. Employees will look out for the company by treating the customers properly. Customers will be more loyal and willing to provide referrals or references if they aretaken care of.
Q: Alex FergusonDescribe your biggest contribution to the payments industry thus far.
A: Kim FitzsimmonsMy biggest contribution was the idea of a vertical strategy. For example, the identification and proliferation of acceptance in what used to be an extremely large non-acceptance category, Supermarkets. We were able to gain rapid traction of acceptance through partnerships, such as the National Grocers Association (NGA). From there it was the state associations to the wholesalers that the supermarket bought their goods from. It is now common to see orgs specialize in a vertical or two, partnering with related associations or software providers that have a similar vertical expertise.
Q: Alex FergusonSince becoming the CEO of Talus in July what were your first impressions of the company and how do you see the company growing over the next five years?
A: Kim FitzsimmonsAfter being here for 8 weeks, my first impression was two-fold. First, the people are committed, driven, and passionate for the business. Second, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to execute on our growth vision. I say tremendous because of the unusual times we are all dealing with including remote work, businesses either not open or going out of business, and other unique challenges. Our volumes are rebounding nicely, so that is a positive. However, the need to re-energize and redesign a new organic sales engine is evident. We have a clear strategy and a strong supportive owner in A & M Capital who is ready and willing to invest in the business. The return on their investment will take time to realize, but in 5 years I could easily see Talus being one of the most consistent and unique sales teams in the industry, potentially growing at 20% YOY. While we will continue to have an inorganic growth strategy (we are very interested in this to gain size, scale, and/or technology), it will be our unique go to market approach at the merchant level plus our Solution Consultant team that will set us apart from the competition.
Q: Alex FergusonThe SMB retail, restaurant, and personal services verticals that Talus focuses on are certainly some of the largest industries in the payments ecosystem, but also some of the more saturated and competitive amongst ISOs and acquirers. How has Talus managed to differentiate itself in this market?
A: Kim FitzsimmonsTalus has been very successful in some of the most competitive verticals. We plan to continue focusing on these verticals with a unique simplified value proposition for the merchant community. Additionally, we will broaden our approach to include more financial institutions and other partnerships that increase our opportunities beyond these saturated industries. There are still sectors with low penetration that we will be attacking through a variety of avenues and alliances.
Q: Alex FergusonHow has Talus been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Kim FitzsimmonsWe’ve been impacted like most other companies in our industry. We’ve experienced reduced volumes at the onset of COVID, business closures have risen, and employee morale has dipped. The good news is that the volumes are back to normal for prior year (even slightly better!) and attrition has stabilized. However, we do believe there will be a tail of attrition in the coming months ahead as business closed today due to the pandemic may not recover. As for the employee morale during these disconnected and isolated times, there’s nothing like introducing a new CEO with a vision and plan to get everyone on the edge of their seat!
Q: Alex FergusonDo you feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has created or will create any long-lasting changes to the payments industry?
A: Kim FitzsimmonsYes, for sure. Like every other history-making event, COVID will have a long-standing imprint and impact on the payments industry. It will drive increased business to eCommerce and mobility. Social distancing and increased sanitization, if you will, will likely create permanent changes to how we take payments. The use of mobile payments and QR codes will be more prevalent. I believe the pandemic will result in the acceleration of the self-checkout experiences that we were originally seeing as just ‘pilot’ programs.
Q: Alex FergusonWith COVID-19 intensifying the growth and movement towards eCommerce, what are Talus’ current eCommerce offerings, and what is Talus’ strategy in handling eCommerce merchants in the future?
A: Kim FitzsimmonsWe believe eCommerce is the way of the future. Interestingly enough, eCommerce has been here for quite some time, it’s just become much more noticeable. If a business isn’t doing, learning, working on the eCommerce side of their business then they could struggle in the years to come. At Talus, we’re putting products in place that help them sell more online including some of the best mobile payments technology, eCommerce education, and Point of Sale systems, like our Talus POS.
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