Elavon Inc., a global acquirer and processor, operates in more than 30 countries but strives for small-company virtues by operating an entrepreneurial innovation center that it likens to a startup. It also promotes a culture that management says puts merchants first.
Worldwide, Atlanta-based Elavon provides transaction services for 1.3 million merchants, of whom 675,000 are in the United States and Canada, said Guy Harris, the company's President for North America. "That makes us the second-largest acquirer by number of customers in the U.S. market," he said. Even though Elavon is in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Europe, it uses only two platforms, and they're well-integrated with each other, Harris noted, adding that this is an important differentiator because competitors that operate internationally tend to run each country on a different platform.
Having just one or two platforms keeps operations simpler, Harris pointed out. "That has real business benefits to organizations that do business in multiple places, whether that be Abercrombie & Fitch, Hilton Hotels, Delta Airlines – those kinds of organizations," Harris said. It's made Elavon the world's No. 1 payment provider for airlines, with 37 percent of that industry's transactions, and provided strong market share in hospitality and healthcare, he added.
Besides working with corporate behemoths, Elavon provides transactions to small and midsize customers. Finding and keeping such a range of businesses requires a multilayered approach. "We have one of the most unique and varied channel strategies to get to customers," Harris said.
Elavon reported that in the United States, it works with 250 merchant services providers, who bring in 22 percent of the company's business. "It's a very significant channel," Harris noted. "We have some very large partners who do substantial volume."
Much of Elavon's business originates with referrals from banks. In addition to working with its parent, U.S. Bancorp, the company maintains relationships with Regions Bank, Bank of the West, Union Bank and other banks, Harris said. Elavon also receives referrals from Costco Wholesale Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., companies that provide goods and services to small-business owners in need of transaction services.
The company serves its largest customers through an in-house sales staff of what it calls "relationship managers" and a direct inside sales staff that pursues new business among large businesses. "We have over 700 salespeople in the U.S.," Harris said of the direct sales team.
To support merchant service providers, the company launched Fanfare, a loyalty program that rewards patrons of small and midsize businesses at the POS. An Elavon cloud-based tablet for restaurant and retail customers captures data to help manage and grow businesses by tracking operations ranging from tips to menu items, the company said.
Elavon maintains a mobile-payments innovation center known internally as "The Grove," where about 70 employees pursue new approaches to payments and work with third-party partners.
Elavon has its roots in a company called NOVA, which was started in Atlanta in 1991 and purchased by its current owner, U.S. Bancorp, in 2001. NOVA assumed the Elavon name in 2008. Asked about the origin of the word "Elavon," company officials noted that it contains the word "NOVA" spelled backwards.
Pamela Joseph, widely regarded as one of the most influential women in banking and payments, became President and Chief Operating Officer of Elavon in 2000. In March 2015, she retired as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Elavon and Vice Chairman of Payment Services at U.S. Bancorp. Simon Haslam serves as Elavon president and CEO today.
Looking to the future, Harris said Elavon will grow through "the execution of good, value-based sales capability." He also emphasized the critical value of customer retention. "We can become much more customer-centric," he said. "The customer is the center of everything you do."
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