Merchant services are riding a wave of innovation. For many years, the broadest distribution channel for merchant services was the independent sales agent. Merchants relied on their personal relationship with agents for competitive pricing and local customer service.
Now there is a new trend where merchants are starting to value technology over the traditional merchant-vendor relationship. The sales agent relationship is still very important, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated consumer demand for omni-channel payment facilitation. Access to technology is now a key piece of any payment solution sales agents might offer merchants.
To learn more about changes in the payments industry and how the APEX technology suite from Agile Financial Services provides omni-channel merchant services, PaymentsJournal sat down with Dustin Siner, Chief Revenue Officer at Agile Financial Services (AFS), and Don Apgar, Director of Merchant Advisory Services Practice at Mercator Advisory Group.
Transforming the payments industry into a service-centric space
Back in 2017 when it was first founded, AFS was called Rev19. “Rev19 was an independent sales organization whose mission was to transform the payments industry into a transparent service-centric space,” said Siner.
At the time, the industry was fraught with sales organizations looking to reap rewards through unethical rate hikes and cost-cutting by offshoring service centers. Rev19 wanted to ensure it was aligned with best-of-breed legacy technologies and a sales model designed to deliver quality service at a fair price.
After four years of 60-70% year-on-year growth and with an established network of several hundred independent agents, Rev19 rebranded as Agile Financial Systems in 2021. The name change signaled a committed response to the market’s need for an omni-channel solution allowing consumers make purchases wherever they wanted to transact.
The demand for omni-channel
“Omni-channel certainly is not a new concept,” Siner clarified. “We’ve been talking about omni-channel for decades – building platforms where merchants could sell their goods online or at the storefront. But really, the pandemic brought that to a new level.” Whether at retailers or restaurants, customers want to be able to pick up in-store, check on orders via mobile, and make purchases from anywhere that is convenient.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions have the ability to bring these new features to market overnight. “A lot of merchants got caught flat-footed and didn’t have that technology when the pandemic came upon us,” added Apgar. “[However,] the technology is not replacing the merchants’ desire for a personal relationship with a sales agent, but almost reinforcing it.”
Omni-channel solutions delivered by AFS offer a unique opportunity for small and mid-sized businesses that might not have the same size and scale as big merchants to draw in tech providers. “We need to be able to create solutions that are turnkey and out-of-the-box to bring to those small and mid-sized guys that don’t have their own marketing assets to help deliver UI [user interface] that is attractive to their customer base,” Siner noted. “That is what allows us to bring a solution like APEX to market that is really relevant to those small and mid-sized guys.”
The APEX technology suite
The APEX brand from AFS has an arsenal of products that carry a full array of solutions to address specific client needs. “APEX is our proprietary technology that takes out-of-the-box turnkey solutions to the next level by tying them into several different APIs,” explained Siner. “It can [also] be tailored to specific verticals that are looking for additional features.”
There are three interconnected products in the APEX suite:
- APEXNow – The out-of-the-box point-of-sale (POS) solution, which enables everything from mobile apps on Android and iOS, to restaurant management systems with cash register support and inventory tracking, to mobile POS devices and pay-at-the-table options
- APEXGateway – The e-commerce platform, which includes elements such as posted pay forms and Buy Now buttons
- APEXConnect – The library of APIs upon which APEXNow is built, allowing merchants or software developers to integrate any turnkey solution into an SAP Cloud Platform
While these products may initially seem unfamiliar to sales agents, they are actually remarkably easy to explain to merchants. “Agents, just like business owners, are looking for things that help separate them from the rest of the pack,” emphasized Siner. “If we can give them a customized solution that is user-friendly, intuitive, and easier to wrap their heads around, they can in turn not only sell their business to customers, but also really understand the functionality from A to Z and easily support that customer when they have questions.”
AFS works with its agents every day to ensure any service or support needs are being addressed. This includes providing ongoing training both online in real time and in-person. “There is always a market where business owners or consumers are looking for better quality service and support at a quality price,” Siner concluded.