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Graying Acquiring Industry Seeking New Blood

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About a year and a half ago, Merchant Data Systems Inc. started a college internship program in an attempt to attract younger workers to the firm.

So far so good.

“It’s just been wonderful,” says Drew J. Freeman, president of the Miami Beach, Fla.-based ISO. The interns, who work in the marketing department, are exposed to myriad aspects of the payments business so they can learn and perhaps become employed full time at the company after they graduate. “It’s the best way to find out what their talents are and where they want to go,” Freeman says.

Mindful that the industry needs a steady influx of youthful beginners, Merchant Data Systems and other ISOs are taking steps to make it happen. They are also attempting to compete with widely known, technologically savvy companies like Square, Google and PayPal, which are actively recruiting young blood.

“I think our industry is at a crossroads. If ISOs aren’t reinventing themselves now, they are not going to succeed,” says Ryan O'Connor, director of product innovation at Vantiv, a processor in Louisville, Ky.

To reinvent themselves successfully, ISOs have to be willing, like their competitors are, to think outside the box—and the industry—to attract young talent. They need to offer internships, develop a greater presence on college campuses, use online recruiting tools and consider changing the commission-only compensation model for new sales agents.

In many ways, hiring young workers today is easier than it used to be. There’s no shortage of young workers looking for jobs, and the younger generation has a greater-than-ever-before familiarity with the payments industry thanks in part to companies like Google, as well as the proliferation of news about the credit card industry. The payments industry will likely become even more attractive to young blood as mobile payments gain more traction.

The industry is “not as behind the curtain as it used to be,” says Mary Winingham, a senior consultant at Omaha, Neb.-based Planet Group Inc.

Yet many ISOs have been slow to pursue the young market. They’re not recruiting on college campuses for the most part. Many also don’t offer training programs geared to newbies or compensation plans that appeal to young workers.

“As a whole, we’re a bunch of older dinosaurs” because of the way we’re used to doing business, says Steve Eazell, vice president of sales and marketing at Secure Payment Systems, a processor in San Diego. “If you continue to embrace the same old-same old, eventually it’s going to kill you.”

One way progressive ISOs are trying to attract younger talent is through the “cool factor.” They are taking a page from Silicon Valley’s book and attempting to offer more open, interactive and creative work spaces, as opposed to a stuffy office environment. They are also offering remote work environments and non-traditional hours. Free food, entertainment and fun team-building exercises are also often included in the mix.

“If you want to attract younger talent and you’ve got a bank environment working nine-to-five hours, good luck,” says Vantiv’s O’Connor.

Having a young CEO (38-year-old Henry Helgeson) and a strong internal referral program help when it comes to hiring younger works, says Jenn Reichenbacher, director of communications at Boston-based Merchant Warehouse. “Internal referrals comprise more than 50% of our hiring and this drives the younger group as well,” she says.

Merchant Warehouse also offers several perks to attract the younger crowd. For example, the dress code is business casual Monday through Thursday, while Fridays are casual. There’s a game room equipped with foosball, air hockey, Wii and more. The company also sponsors monthly events such as a trip to Six Flags, a charity poker tournament and a Halloween contest. Merchant Warehouse also provides workers with free coffee and popcorn.

For many ISOs, hiring young people also means going to where the young people are. Once a month, for example, Freeman of Merchant Data Systems attends an informal networking event at the University of Miami where he talks about payments with numerous students and introduces them to the industry. He gets resumes on occasion and while they aren’t always a good fit, it is an opportunity to get in front of potential employees.

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