Common Ground: 
2005: The Integrated
Back-Office System

by Greg Cohen

    The acquiring business is moving more rapidly every day. Sales representatives, merchants, employees and managers are all looking for breakneck responses and turn-around with less cost and errors. When running a sales force and boarding merchant, in addition to managing a portfolio, there are often as many as ten separate systems an acquirer must oversee. Today, most of the larger acquirers can attribute part of their growth to technology. The efficiencies gained by the implementation of a Customer Relationship Management enterprise system or a single-point-of-entry tool (at the minimum) are tremendous. The streamlining of business processes has changed the face of many organizations paving the road to get them to the next level of business. Automation has allowed acquirers to process applications more efficiently, get terminals out the door more quickly, and manage sales people and processes more effectively.
    The first element of the back-office system is management of the sales process. Numerous large acquirers have created fully-integrated lead tracking and metric management systems to track production, closing ratios, etc. In addition, some of the more sophisticated programs can generate prospect letters or emails, customized proposals, and even fully-completed merchant agreements. By controlling the lead process, marketers can be managed and production can be measured more effectively. Tracking the sales force can also aid in making sure your reps are working when they should be and following up appropriately. Equipping the sales force with tools that make their job easier will only increase production. This first piece of the back-office system allows your sales machine to run more effectively.
    The next component is the order entry system. New merchants must be underwritten, loaded on both front and back-end processor systems, submitted to third-party card companies or service providers (AmX, Discover, check guarantee, etc.), have terminal applications built, and have equipment and starter kits shipped. In the past and even occasionally today, some acquirers must key information into various systems to accomplish all of these tasks. There is often a separate system for each responsibility. A centralized back-office system that can send files to each of these areas for quick turn-around has allowed acquirers to have merchants� set-up for processing in minutes. Five years ago, it took two to five days to get a merchant approved and ready to go. Today, it can take minutes. Organizations that have learned how to tie all these systems together and create a single-point-of-entry platform have gained a significant edge in the market.
    Speed of set-up is great, but informing employees and sales reps of where an order is in the �process� is just as important. A powerful back-office system provides up-to-the-minute details of where an order is in the queue. Is it in �underwriting,� �being shipped,� etc.? By reporting this information back to sales reps and service employees they are able to keep both internal and external customers up�to-date on status and provide enhanced service. Web-based reporting has allowed much of this information to be shared quite easily. In addition, this type of monitoring and reporting allows managers to see how effective their operations facilities are at turning around new merchants and resolving problems.
    At the end of the month it is time for everyone to get paid. An efficient system will be able to track and report residuals at all levels. This type of reporting is best when it is automated directly from the detailed reports sent by the processor. After these monthly files are transmitted, they can be manipulated and turned into useful profitability and residual reports for the acquirer and his sales team. As an acquirer grows, this becomes more and more important since manually processing these detailed reports is extremely cumbersome. As we know, it is crucial to pay the sales force properly and quickly, and an automated system can do this for you.
    Additionally, a full back-office system will tie into the customer service arena. When a customer service representative talks to a merchant, he/she can pull information instantaneously. Records should be kept on all aspects of the merchant account from pricing to file applications. If there is a service call, the representative can make notes on the file that can be seen anytime the merchant contacts the acquirer or whenever information on a certain merchant is needed. This customer service piece really helps bring the entire program together from start to finish.
    As an acquirer grows, efficiency becomes a substantial issue. What was once handled manually is now too cumbersome. Entering data into multiple systems becomes expensive as headcount increases. To be competitive in the market today, it is important to create your own Customer Relationship Management or fully integrated back-office system. If you are a small acquirer, start small. Then, build up your automated systems piece by piece. By adding a new module each year, you will see that the small investment you make today could be well worth the efficiencies you gain. Five years down the road you will have the tools in place to be a world class acquirer. �