When the opportunity arose to build a new brand under Orion Payment Systems in May 2010, Empower Processing was the result. From the outset, the Houston-based processor's core mission embraced the concept of charitable giving. After a thorough review of worthy organizations, Empower selected Wounded Warrior Project to be the focus of its philanthropy; the company feels it couldn't have found a more perfect match.
"I had heard of cause-based marketing, but we were a little bit concerned because we knew that cause-based efforts can become gimmicky if you don't do it the right way," said Reese Kimball, Chief Executive Officer at Empower. "We decided, because we are a fairly patriotic bunch, to support Wounded Warrior Project because of the work that they do for our young servicemen and [service] women coming home from battle."
The company also decided to give back more than "just a little piece" of its revenue. "We give back 10 percent of our revenue, not 10 percent of the profit but of the revenue we make off the accounts, back to Wounded Warrior Project," Kimball said. In July 2010, Empower began making monthly donations with the goal of one day reaching $1 million in donations to WWP.
Empower President and Chief Operating Officer George Norvell said one reason Empower was intrigued by WWP was that a significant portion of the group's funding directly benefits current war veterans, which was reported by WWP to be 82 percent of its total fiscal year 2010 expenditures. Since 2003, the nonprofit organization has endeavored to raise public awareness and aid for the needs of injured service members, while facilitating rehabilitative efforts to assist veterans in transitioning back to civilian life.
Russ Goebel, Executive Vice President for Empower, said that since Empower is an official corporate sponsor of WWP, its marketing licensing agreement with WWP allows Empower merchants to display company-approved window decals, POS terminal overlays and checkout placards carrying the WWP logo. Merchants can also display a printed message stating that a portion of the proceeds from each transaction is donated to WWP.
"What's unique is that when you become part of the Empower team, you're helping the men and women of our military," Goebel commented. "I think that's a differentiator. One of our core values when we started this company was to create the Empower brand and do marketing agreements and work closely with Wounded Warrior Project and other military charities that help our troops when they return from the Middle East."
Goebel said Kimball and several Empower sales representatives have visited WWP headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., where they were able to witness the organization's programs firsthand. "They came back changed guys, because they could see what these individuals have gone through," Goebel said. "It's a moving experience. [Veterans] need some additional training, mentoring and education to help them return to society, find employment and get their mind, body and soul healthy."
Empower employees also participate in local events, where public recognition and support of veterans' organizations is encouraged. "Our CEO is huge in the international livestock and rodeo show, and they have Armed Forces day," Goebel said. "So we just try to get involved in anything having to do with the military, and we feel strongly about helping these organizations." He added that the organizations are funded through public and corporate donations rather than by the government.
When discussing benefits to ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs), Kimball said, "I think it gives you an advantage in bringing potential customers that may not show interest in seeing you in the beginning of the sales process. It opens doors. I think that it helps with retention and is a win-win for everybody."
Empower ISO Bobby Williams, agreed. "The typical salesman going out and trying to convince somebody why they should be changing to you over Brand X is mostly an exercise in mathematics these days, and very small number mathematics as well," he said.
"My experience with this is the story or the cause is such a compelling one that the math is really a secondary issue, if at all."
Williams noted that initially he hadn't realized "how this was going to touch people and how many people Wounded Warrior Project has already touched directly, having served over 6,000 wounded soldiers. It's added extra fire in my spirit for getting out here and doing the work. It's a mission now. It's not just a sales project."
Anthony Cecil, a Texas-based ISO affiliated with Empower, said, "I'm finding that once it soaks into merchants that they can redirect the money they're already using and send it to a worthwhile cause, they're very much in favor of it. I like to do a lot of the outdoor sports type places, and the response has been overwhelming."
Empower has found connection to WWP appeals to more than outdoor recreation and sporting goods merchants. "We initially thought that different retail stores, like hunting and fishing and outdoor shops [would be most interested], but everyone has been welcoming to participate in this program," Kimball said.
Goebel pointed out that, unlike war, helping veterans isn't a controversial issue. "A good thing, too, about this program is you walk into merchants, and then you might be against the war, but the program is really apolitical," he said. "So, you can be against the war, but no one is against our troops. When we walk into businesses, and we work with chambers of commerce and different associations, a 20-minute conversation usually turns into a two-hour conversation because everyone is touched by our military."
Goebel added that he's encountered a number of merchants who had been interested in supporting veterans but hadn't known where to turn. "Through Empower, they have an opportunity to get involved," he said. "They realize that by doing one transaction with a credit card, they're going to be giving back to a deserving organization. We would encourage anybody that's interested in our program to give us a call, but not only that, we always encourage everyone to give directly to WWP."
In the fast-paced world of business today, finding good customer service can be more difficult than in the past. When an ISO, MLS or merchant calls Empower, someone is always there to answer the call.
"We don't have automated answering devices for the phones or the auto attendants," Kimball said. "We actually pick up the phone whenever someone calls. I think there are a lot of reps out there that are looking for that. They're not getting it right now."
Goebel believes the root of great service is getting to know your sales offices and your sales reps. "We pride ourselves in building that relationship," he said. "And as far as the programs, we're as competitive as any other program out there."
As a registered ISO/MSP of HSBC Bank USA, Empower offers one-stop shopping for financial instruments, which, in addition to credit and debit card processing, include recurring payment solutions, a capital and cash advance program, online bill payment and other services. Empower also offers PC and terminal products, wireless terminals, Internet integrated POS systems, PC-based card processing and a program that specifically targets the petroleum industry.
"We're full service, so we do just about everything," Kimball said. "We provide services for check processing, software products, payment gateways and gift cards. We do our own underwriting."
According to Empower, there is no cost to participate in the company's WWP program, nor are there any hidden fees. When a customer makes a credit or debit card purchase at participating Empower merchants, proceeds from transactions are automatically calculated and included as part of the company's monthly contribution to the project.
One year into the project, Empower's website indicated the company has already raised more than $60,000 in donations for WWP. But as word about the program spreads, Empower expects that number to grow exponentially.
For ISOs and MLSs who partner with Empower, benefits include the ability to give back to charity through merchants boarded, twice daily electronic merchant tracking reports, complete online reporting, true interchange revenue sharing programs, ownership of residual streams and the flexibility of nonexclusive agent agreements.
"We have competitive programs," Kimball said, "They're all based around a revenue share model. We don't have gimmicky upfront bonuses and terminal giveaways. It's very straightforward. It's a real deal revenue share."
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