Original article

The career of a merchant level salesperson (MLS) in the financial services industry is personally gratifying and financially rewarding. But it can also be challenging. Merchants may be frustrating, interchange can be confusing and competing with larger offices is sometimes overwhelming.

Why someone would choose such a demanding career is something only those who have worn an MLS’ shoes can understand. Michael Segura, Owner of Group ISO, has walked far in those shoes. He knows what it’s like to be an independent MLS among large ISOs; he’s been there. And after years of financial services industry experience, Segura decided to create an ISO that serves the needs of merchants and agents. So in 2001, he established Group ISO.

Group ISO is an organization of, by and for bankcard sales professionals. The company’s founding belief is that all agents deserve the resources and payment processing options that are usually only available to larger organizations. “I have been in the industry a long time,” Segura said. “I understand the challenges and opportunities available, and we do our best to assist agents in reaching their goals.”

Group ISO strives to treat its agents as partners, with respect, dignity and support. And the company doesn’t compete with them. All of its merchant volume comes from its outside ISO and agent programs.

Group ISO enables agents to provide payment processing to almost any type of merchant, from small mom-and-pop startups, to Fortune 500 companies. Group ISO also boasts a 98% approval rate; it works to find ways to approve merchants rather than identify reasons to decline them.

It provides processing for all types of card brands including Visa U.S.A., MasterCard International, American Express Co., Discover Financial Services, Diners Club International Ltd. and JCB International Credit Card Co. Ltd. It also offers debit processing on all national and regional networks including those of STAR Networks Inc., Maestro, Honor Technologies Inc., Interlink Networks LLC, Cirrus Network and PULSE EFT Association Inc.

Additionally, Group ISO has partnered with Global eTelecom Inc. to offer check conversion, guarantee and verification services. Through this partnership, agents are able to offer merchants electronic MO/TO checks, accounts receivable entry lockbox conversion, recurring debit, represented check entry and electronic check image capture.

A generous gateway

Group ISO recently launched ISO Gateway, a co-op venture that is unique in the industry: It is jointly owned and operated for the benefit of its member-owners. The great news for MLSs is that the company doesn’t charge agents or merchants an application fee. “Some other gateways charge between $100 and $200 just to get set up,” Segura said. “With ISO Gateway, the only costs to the agent are a $10 statement fee and $0.10 per transaction.”

Gross revenue generated from the ISO Gateway is allocated to the gateway’s operating costs, Group ISO and its agents. Each agent’s share of net revenue is equal to the amount of gross revenue generated by the agent. “For example, if an agent’s merchants represent 35% of the gross revenue received through ISO Gateway, this agent will be paid 35% of the profits distributed to agents,” Segura said.

ISO Gateway is certified through the following platforms: FDMS Nashville, FDMS North, FDR-7, NDC eCommerce, TSYS Acquiring Solutions, Chase Paymentech Solutions, NOVA Information Systems, Digital Courier Technologies Inc., Network One and Electronic Clearing House Inc.

The gateway is also integrated with more than 20 shopping carts, including Mercantec Inc., CartManager, ezStore123, ShopPal LLC and Qualiteam’s X-Cart.

Group ISO has staff dedicated to helping agents and merchants integrate shopping carts. It also supports recurring billing and provides a customizable fraud and risk management system.

Small agents/big producers

Group ISO works with smaller agents, including those just starting out in the industry. “We are open to working with brand new agents who want to get up and running,” Segura said. “The bigger agents can rent their own [bank identification number] BIN, get their own risk department, etc. Our program is ideal for a small agent who handles a deal with a firm handshake.”

Realizing that smaller agents are its best producers, the company focuses on supporting them. “We provide ongoing support to assist the agents,” Segura said.

“Our agents can call us if they need an answer or help on something. We are more than happy to make them look good in the eyes of their merchants.”

The company also operates as its agents’ partner and, as such, provides necessary services as well as motivational resource. Segura explained that the lower business volume that many new agents generate doesn’t enable them to get the assistance they need. But, with Group ISO, “Our agents can be independent, but still have the support of someone behind them.”

A fabulous 50/50 split

From his experience as an agent, Segura knows that earning potential is a large part of the equation when MLSs are choosing professional affiliations. This is why the company offers agents a 50/50 split of all fees and income.

“If we get $500, you’re getting $250 [of that $500],” he said. “I don’t think anyone does that. Others cut all the income stream off the top, and then do the split.

“Our program is a true split of profitability including discount rates, transaction and statement fees, monthly minimums, voice authorizations, chargeback fees and a variety of other revenue streams.” While there are other companies that offer a greater than 50% split, Segura explained that Group ISO uses its 50% to provide ISO support.

“I know other people pay 70 to 80%,” he said. “We pay 50%, but we are true partners; we take care of the backend. We take care of the processing, setting up new accounts, issuing merchant numbers, agent relations, answering new ISO questions, risk management, etc. With our 50% we are helping the ISO.”

An open book policy

Not only does Group ISO split its revenue evenly with agents, it also shares all income information with agents through its open book policy.

“We open our books each month and share details on all of the income we receive so that our agents can be assured they are receiving a true 50/50 split,” Segura said. “No one will disclose a copy of the report they receive from the bank; we will. Our open book policy keeps everyone honest.”

Additionally, along with monthly commission payments, agents also receive a sales report that breaks down exactly how the commission was calculated. Commenting on the litigious climate of the industry, Segura said, “What is beautiful is we have no one suing us. You hear about all these lawsuits; everyone else is getting sued by 12 different agents.”

Group ISO is also straightforward when it comes to informing prospective agents about what they can earn on specific transactions and fees. Detailed rates for items such as chargeback fees, annual fees and statement fees are posted on the company’s Web site, www.groupiso.com . Segura acknowledges that interchange is at least in part to blame for some ISOs’ and MLSs’ unhappiness with the split they receive from their processors.

He thinks the confusion surrounding interchange makes it possible for agents to be in the dark about what they are really receiving in a revenue split, and he shares the frustration that most industry professionals feel about this topic.

“The industry should have a class for people to understand interchange,” he said. “No one can read the statements; no one understands it. It is crazy to have people selling this stuff with something like 128 interchange tables.”

With its deep understanding of the challenges facing independent agents in the bankcard industry, Group ISO works to support agents while also enabling them to remain independent.

Group ISO is just that: a group of ISOs and MLSs who have joined together to share their experience, knowledge and collective processing to make the bankcard industry a bit easier for small agents to navigate.

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