Texas-based Forte Payment Systems is rooted in technology. In 1998, its founder, a software developer by trade, saw an opportunity to build automated clearing house (ACH) solutions as the transition to an all-electronic network supported by the Federal Reserve Banks two years earlier was gaining momentum commercially.
"We built our platform, our systems and capabilities with ACH in mind initially," said Jeff Thorness, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Forte. "Our customers liked our solution set for ACH, but were looking for total solutions, so we added card services. We then became a gateway, where we integrated to all the big processors initially, and we also did some acquiring as well, in time."
Even today, ACH remains core. "All of our solution sets take advantage of our ACH capabilities, so it's hard to find a stronger ACH provider out there," Thorness said. "But beyond that, we're also a tech shop. We've been catering to integrated VARs or partners who need to build out payment functionality. We have a fantastic set of APIs that I would rate on par with PayPal, Braintree and Stripe."
As a tech shop, Forte continues to innovate. It currently serves the retail, government, healthcare, education, nonprofit, property management, fitness and utility sectors with a spectrum of billing, payment, authentication and security solutions.
The company recently introduced the Account Updater for businesses that enhances recurring billing. From the tokenized accounts of the merchant's recurring transactions, the updater compares the data against the issuer's database and then autocorrects account information for each merchant.
It also launched the REST API platform for developers, which the company describes as being focused on the user experience, scalabe and able to remove the complexity of payment management in such areas as data security, funding and billing. And Forte recently extended its acquiring and payment processing solutions to Canadian merchants. Additionally, to streamline merchant boarding, the company offers an optional online API for U.S. and Canadian merchants.
Forte's newly released hybrid EMV POS functions in both standalone mode as a countertop system and hybrid mode in which software controls the terminal and performs payments. "We've engineered it so that companies can implement it in a PCI-scope minimized fashion," Thorness said. "It allows the software to control it and get the information it needs, all while keeping sensitive information out of scope for PCI compliance."
For Thorness, it's not just about core processing, but also all the extras the company offers to help boost ISO margins and strengthen merchant stickiness. Noteworthy among them is transparency: pricing is posted online at three levels, Starter, Merchant+ and Enterprise.
"We like to be very transparent with not only our pricing, but everything we do here," he said. "We have solutions around mobile payments and other phone-based systems, like IVR. We've built solutions for recurring and back-office type payments and continue to retail and online," essentially covering all commerce channels as merchants need them.
Thorness believes a tremendous opportunity exists for ISOs to differentiate themselves. "The bottom line is that we love to work with ISOs," he said. "We don't necessarily have to be the total solution. We can just be a piece of the puzzle. If they just need us for ACH, that's fine. If they need us to be a gateway instead of doing the acquiring on the card side, that's fine, too. We can configure and set up the relationship exactly to meet the needs of the partner or merchant."
For its integrated partners, Forte offers revenue share opportunities, access to APIs, integration support and customer support.
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