To the Cloud and Back: Sionic’s Mobile Model Sidesteps Terminal Tech... >>
Eager to appease EMVweary stores, Sionic Mobile is finishing tests on a system that uses a three digit code to execute payments via mobile devices.
“We’ve had zero fraud in beta testing this system,” said Ron Herman, CEO of Sionic Mobile, adding the new system is “absolutely” an alternative to EMV. “When we say we’re better than EMV, that’s because there’s still fraud in EMV.”
Either a consumer or merchant can initiate a checkout, and Sionic’s fraud protection system generates a three digit code that authorizes the transaction. Both smartphones—the consumer’s and the merchant’s—are geocoded for a short time, usually less than 10 minutes, to facilitate the transaction between them.
Calling the checkout process mobiletocloudtomobile, Sionic tokenizes consumers credit and debit card information through JPMorgan Chase, and nothing is stored on the mobile phones or in Sionic’s app. “We have a relationship with Chase as a fullliability fraud submitter,” Herman said. “If we can’t detect fraud up front, we’re on the hook for that transaction.”
Sionic Mobile is leaning on its existing loyalty program and security protocols to promote the new checkout system. “Merchant participation in the loyalty program is crucial,” Herman said.
Under Sionic’s model, merchants pay a 1% payment fee and a minimum 1% reward to the consumer. Sionic Mobile rewards a virtual currency called “Ions” which can be redeemed at the company’s merchant network. Consumers earn an average of 3% at small businesses, and 5% at national merchants. Sionic recently added a feature that allows free advertising to bolster its appeal to small businesses.
Security is provided by “selfie authentication” on the front end and a 15point fraud detection system that the company updated after it noticed spikes in fraud after data breaches at national retailers. “We’re confident that’s better than EMV,” Herman said.
Sionic is also betting that using the consumer and retailers’ mobile phones to execute transactions will be easier for both parties than a combination of a mobile phone and a merchant’s point of sale terminal.
“It’s mobile to mobile, so the payment gets processed in a second,” said Keith Morrison, manager of Zocalo, an Atlantaarea restaurant that’s using Sionic’s three digit checkout code, who added the restaurant has had problems in the past with plastic credit cards getting lost, which is a hassle for the staff and consumers.
Zocalo does not accept EMV chip cards right now, though it is considering its options.
Sionic Mobile is not alone in pitching mobile apps as an EMV workaround. MyCheck offers an ordering and payment app designed as an alternative to EMV for restaurants.
Still, merchants that accept cards will need to accept EMV as a baseline, said Tim Sloane, vice president of payments innovation at Mercator Advisory Group.
“Merchants planning that investment then need to consider if mobile engagement is important for their customer base,” Sloane said. “If it is then clearly they need to start considering mobile solutions.”
There are also different mobile models, which won’t appeal to every consumer, Sloane said.
“A mobile app caters to a different customer than NFC mobile payments,” he said, adding NFC caters to walkin customers of infrequent shoppers while an app targets repeat and persistent shoppers.
Mobile and multichannel solutions help businesses succeed... >>
As brands, hotels, goods manufacturers and others increase their outreach via mobile and multichannel messaging, advertising and sales, knowledge management is an increasingly important element of those strategies. One of the biggest KM challenges for retailers is tracking inventory across the supply chain.
GameStop, with 4,000 stores in the United States and an active online business of buying, selling and trading video games, faces the challenge of many retailers—inventory that might be desired in one location, but not physically available there.
Although the retailer had more than 10,000 games and a well-stocked warehouse that could offer ship-to-store convenience for customers, its systems did not show what games might be available in the individual stores, because once sold to or exchanged at the store, the game might stay there rather than returning to the warehouse, says Bill Graham, the company’s director of multichannel integration.
“Like any multichannel retailer with a large number of stores, we had a robust buy online, fulfill direct [in-store] business,” Graham explains. “But due to the nature of our business, with buy, sell, trade, purchase and resale, it was very hard to keep track of inventory and the supply chain spread out across all of our stores and in our warehouse. We always want to meet our customer needs by offering the best selection.”
So the retailer needed a new e-commerce ordering system that would enable in-store employees and online consumers to have visibility throughout the entire GameStop system, enabling a Florida customer, for example, to purchase a game that was only available at a store in Oregon.
The company started by developing a proof-of-concept system in 2014 with a vendor that Graham declined to name, then tested it in early 2015, rolling out the system to 250 stores in March of that year.
Following the success of those efforts, the full rollout started earlier this year and was completed by the end of February, Graham says, describing the company’s newly expanded ship from store program as an “absolute success.”
“The hardest part was getting started,” Graham adds. “The stores are very excited about it. It’s a great customer service opportunity as well. The second we turned it on, we had our 4,000 stores and thousands of active online customers who had twice the selection they had previously. You can imagine the impact. We’re really pleased with the success of the program.”
McBride Research Labs, a manufacturer of premium and natural hair care products sold through a distributor network to beauty salons and individuals, was looking at ways to increase customer retention, an issue the company had researched for many years, according to Terry Armstrong, McBride’s VP of sales and operations. “If you lose too many customers, you will be out of business soon.”
Customer retention is essential because the loss of one salon customer typically costs McBride $7,000 to $8,000, a significant sum for the small company. One of the major aspects of any successful retention program is to have the knowledge management to be able to track customer activity, according to Armstrong.
Another essential element is mobile capability because McBride’s distributor network spends plenty of time on the road selling to salon chains and independent beauty parlors as well as to some individuals.
After examining several different programs, McBride chose Sionic Mobile’s Ion program, which enables McBride to provide merchant-branded gift cards for a variety of retailers and other rewards to its distributor network, which in turn can offer those incentives to their most loyal customers. The salons can participate as well, offering Ion rewards to its most loyal customers.
The Ion program tracks all customer activity, rewards, redemptions and other data essential for the program to be successful, and allows McBride to offer targeted rewards. If customer retention lags in a certain area, McBride can accelerate the Ions (points) it offers to customers in that region.
“What we were presented allows us easily to monitor all of the customer activity,” Armstrong says. “If we want more sales in the Northeast, we can offer more rewards in that area. The primary metric the program offers us is the retention rate.”
McBride completed the beta test of the program earlier this year and rolled it out to its entire sales network at the beginning of February. Although no hard figures are available yet on the success of the program, Armstrong says the distributor in the beta provided positive feedback.
Crown Reef Resort was acquired by Vacation Myrtle Beach Resorts in 2013, which has spent more than $13 million to upgrade the property, build a water park and add other amenities. Matt Klugman, director of sales and marketing for Vacation Myrtle Beach, says, “We’ve always looked for better and more efficient ways to deliver data and analytics to our people so that they could make the right decisions. We have worked with Fuel for many years.”
Fuel’s GuestExpress Mobile App was implemented at the beginning of this year and is already showing benefits, with more expected as Crown Reef executives familiarize themselves with the way to use the customer-facing app to drive revenue through flash sales, room upgrades and in-app guest service purchases. The app also enables guests to check via their smartphones while also researching detailed room and property information and receiving push notifications from the resort.
“It’s a great tool for the customer; it’s a great way for us to enhance the customer experience,” Klugman says. “From a marketing perspective, we can connect with customers on a more personal basis.”
Customers who use the app are also less likely to go to a third-party site, like Kayak, to book a room, Klugman adds. A third party collects a portion of the revenue, so using the app enables the hotelier to keep all of the revenue. With the app, Crown Reef can track the customer’s behavior, how they navigate, what incentives tend to prompt conversion from prospect to booked guest and other information, according to Klugman.
“We are using [the app] to increase our exposure with potential guests,” Klugman adds. “The marketing is shifting. People want something where they can just press a button.”
The app makes it simple for Coral Reef to collect information about the guest’s preferences regarding his or her visits to the resort, enabling it to customize offers, incentives and discounts. Klugman adds that the resort is still in the early stages of offering the app, so he expects other opportunities to use the knowledge the technology provides as he and other resort execs become more seasoned in working with it.
Mobile campaign ups ice cream sales in Ecuador
Geolocation knowledge management is an increasingly important element in the mobile/multichannel strategies of many companies from small to large.
Unilever, the multinational conglomerate that manufactures everything from soap to high-end ice cream, wanted to increase the awareness of and the traffic to its ice cream stores in Ecuador, which offer Unilever’s Magnum premium ice cream.
The goal was to attract customers and offer them an experience that would prompt them to return. But Unilever didn’t have the geolocation or the targeting expertise to attract its preferred audience—teenagers and young adults at least 15 years of age who are near Magnum stores in Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador, according to Monica Albarracin, brand manager of ice cream at Unilever.
The geo-located banner ads were the work of Adsmovil, which uses geographic data and publisher relationships to find Spanish- and English-speaking customers. When smartphone owners who were reading publications appropriate to younger people came within range of a Magnum store, they were shown a geo-targeted rich-media banner ad inviting them to design their own ice cream bars and then pick them up at the shop. The ads invited them to select flavors and toppings and even to name their customized ice cream bars.
Out of more than 1 million impressions delivered, the ads received more than 15,000 clicks. The average click-through rate (CTR) was 2.01 percent—four times the average rich-media CTR.
The ad campaign doubled the company’s record for the number of ice cream bars sold in a Magnum store in a single day. Additionally, in-store sales volume increased by 14 percent over the brand average. The results were strong enough to convince Magnum to double its budget and repeat the campaign for the following year.
Knowledge management will continue to be at the core of programs and services that companies adopt in their mobile and multichannel strategies as they look to connect with and sell through the channel that customers find most convenient, which several studies show is increasingly dominated by mobile.
FinTech Atlanta Task Force Names Founding Members... >>
FinTech Atlanta, the financial technology task force founded in 2015 by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Technology Association of Georgia and American Transaction Processors Coalition, has named the 20+ companies who will serve as founding members of the organization. These companies met in late February to begin the task force’s work to develop Atlanta as the recognized global capital of the FinTech industry.
“FinTech companies deliver the financial infrastructure every organization utilizes to manage their operation, from accounting to payments and beyond. FinTech solutions power the global economy.” said FinTech Atlanta’s chair, Barry McCarthy, executive vice president of Network and Security Solutions at First Data. “Atlanta has quietly become the global capital of this critically important sector. Through the FinTech Atlanta initiative, I am confident Atlanta will become the recognized global home of FinTech by 2020, just as New York and London are the recognized headquarters of finance.”
The task force will have three main goals: to recruit companies, capital and talent in the FinTech industry; to retain our existing companies and workforce, and to expand our presence in the industry via organic growth and by extending the FinTech ecosystem. The Task Force will do this by developing a skilled workforce, fostering innovation, promoting the story, and working with legislators to make Atlanta and Georgia the best place to conduct business.
FinTech Atlanta is modeled after MAC’s successful Mobility Task Force that launched in 2012. Today, Atlanta is home to more than 90 FinTech companies employing 30,000 people. Additionally, 85 billion transactions, or more than 70 percent of U.S. credit card swipes, debit card payments and gift card purchases, flow through Atlanta, according to ATPC.
“Metro Atlanta’s strong density in FinTech – which includes established corporations to emerging startups – is a major driver for job growth and innovation,” said MAC President and CEO Hala Moddelmog. “The FinTech Task Force serves as a powerful voice for growing and sustaining the region’s preeminent financial technology ecosystem and adding jobs to our economy.”
“Georgia’s FinTech companies process over 118 billion transactions per year; this is one of Georgia’s best kept secrets,” said Tino Mantella, President/CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia. “TAG and the TAG FinTech Society welcomes the formation of this new group and we look forward to strengthening and increasing its dominance as a global FinTech leader.”
“If Georgia’s public and private sectors continue to come together in support of the industry through initiatives like the Task Force, in less than a decade we will see Georgia’s Transaction Alley emerge as the center of gravity for all things FinTech,” said ATPC Executive Director H. West Richards. “Transaction Alley with be the global go-to resource for FinTech innovation, education and talent.”
The Atlanta-based organizations who are founding members of FinTech Atlanta include:
American Transaction Processors Coalition
Bain and Company
The Coca-Cola Company
Delta Air Lines
Georgia Department of Economic Development
Holland & Knight
The Home Depot
Metro Atlanta Chamber
Priority Payment Systems
Technology Association of Georgia
University System of Georgia
Sionic Mobile Releases White-Label, Digital Merchant Marketplace API for Partners... >>
ATLANTA–Sionic Mobile today announced the availability of a new white-label version of its ION Digital Merchant Marketplace. Designed to integrate with existing mobile applications, the application-programming interface (API) gives partners’ app users access to Sionic Mobile’s premiere mobile rewards marketplace representing more than 100,000 merchant locations nationwide.
By partnering with Sionic Mobile, companies may utilize their licensed API to drive greater adoption and more frequent usage of their own mobile apps. It can also be used as a powerful customer acquisition and retention tool by enabling users to make purchases and receive real-time incentives for every checkout at big brand national retailers, restaurants, spas, hotels and cinemas. Companies may determine how they wish to reward their app users, whether in points or instant savings at the point of sale.
“Sionic Mobile is committed to helping businesses leverage innovative technology and the mobile channel to better engage and connect with customers,” said Spencer White, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sionic Mobile. “Leveraging our new API allows companies to offer new and unique rewards opportunities to current app users, and cultivate adoption of new ones. Access to our digital mobile marketplace provides an immediate and vast footprint for our partners.”
A full list of retailers included in the ION Merchant Marketplace can be found here: http://www.ionrewards.com/marketplace/.
About Sionic Mobile
Midtown Atlanta-based Sionic Mobile provides low-cost payments bundled with mobile marketing and customer loyalty to businesses and instant rewards to consumers at checkout. The Company’s universal rewards, called IONs, help merchants keep good customers coming back more often and are awarded in addition to customers’ credit card points. Consumers may spend IONs (1,000 IONs = $1.00) at any merchant in the ION Marketplace on anything at any time. Businesses use ION LoyaltyⓇ securely online, on mobile devices or through their POS system, eliminating the need for new equipment. Consumers use the free ION RewardsⓇ app for iOS and Android for in-store checkouts.
Contacts For Sionic Mobile
Anna Stanley, 678-781-3072
A Guide for Small Businesses: How to Launch a Mobile Loyalty Program... >>
Mobile plays an integral role in almost every aspect of consumers’ lives and has forever changed the way society interacts, lives, works, plays, shops and conducts business. In 2015 for the first time, app usage surpassed desktop usage and now accounts for more than half of all U.S. digital media consumption. With more than half of consumers in North America expressing interest in making payments with their phones, research indicates that mobile payment transactions could reach as high as $5.4 billion by 2018.
Consumers not only expect, but also demand mobile-based solutions that offer immediate, real-time results. In the past 24 months, major launches including Apple Pay, Chase Pay, Android Pay, Walmart Pay and most recently, Samsung Pay have quickly propelled the mobile movement, forever changing the way merchants interact with consumers. For many retailers, new business and growth are contingent on mobile engagement of customers. Today’s merchants are challenged to provide customers with a seamless purchasing experience regardless of the location or type of device used to complete the transaction.
Despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to mobile as the future, small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) lag behind the rest of the industry and are the slowest segment to adopt mobile technology. Exorbitant fees, expensive hardware upgrades, complex technology integrations and rising security threats are just a few of the perceived obstacles preventing many business owners and the vast opportunities mobile affords. Ironically, many of these perceived barriers are false, and when implemented strategically, launching a mobile commerce platform should not only boost revenue, but also reduce costs and create consumer loyalty.
Dispelling Mobile Misperceptions
Lack of resources, time, or capital to invest into the mobile channel combined with the growing costs associated with upgrading point-of-sale terminals have prevented many SMBs from taking advantage of the vast opportunities afforded by mobile. The majority of mobile commerce platforms on the market are designed for larger, big-box retailer and are unfortunately not feasible for most small businesses to implement.
However, advances in technology have made mobile platforms accessible to small businesses. Solutions designed specifically for SMBs should seamlessly integrate with existing POS hardware and software, require little to no technical knowledge to implement and leverage automated processes, requiring minimal time and resources to actually launch and maintain mobile campaigns. In fact, many of these solutions can be installed and operational in a matter of hours. These solutions have bridged the gap between merchants and the mobile movement, eliminating the previous barriers to entry impacting the majority of the SMB market.
For small businesses, integration of a mobile commerce platform with existing software is critical to ensuring an immediate return-on-investment, and also a seamless and positive user experience. And while the convenience of mobile payments is a major benefit, payments alone will not yield the adoption and usage levels needed to be successful. For small businesses in particular, mobile must move beyond payments and include value-add features and functionality that strengthen relationships with customers and build brand loyalty.
Building Brand Loyalty
Data recently compiled by SCORE revealed that it costs a small business nearly seven times more money to attract a new customer compared to the cost of cultivating a relationship with an existing one, and savvy business owners know that fact. Building a loyal customer base is a priority for every small business, and this remains true when implementing a mobile platform. Consumer adoption and usage of mobile is directly related to the value-adds and benefits received. For this reason, integrating a mobile loyalty component is critical to ensuring customers not only download, but also continue to use small businesses’ mobile apps.
In today’s market, the number of loyalty programs available to consumers is overwhelming. Research has proven the best and most effective loyalty programs are simple, easy to use and provide a valuable incentive. To garner the most success, loyalty programs should have very few, if any, requirements and restrictions regarding when and where users can redeem earned rewards. Additionally, rewards should be available to the customer immediately for redemption to avoid frustration and confusion over pending rewards. In a 2015 ranking of the best and worst loyalty programs, Spirit Airlines was ranked the worst program primarily because of the long list of restrictions and 90-day expiration mandate, giving users just 3 months to use or lose earned rewards.
Offering a robust loyalty and rewards program is perhaps the most critical component for ensuring a successful mobile channel. Complicated, confusing, programs will hold little to no value, even possibly driving customers away.
Attracting and Engaging Customers
Mobile provides small businesses yet another opportunity to attract customers and increase foot traffic. When selecting a mobile commerce platform, look for features designed to promote your business to nearby customers, including unlimited mobile advertising and location-based mobile offers. Integrating digital gift cards is another effective tool to reach new markets, provide additional value to customers and further generate awareness.
Research indicates that mobile offers are redeemed 10 times more frequently than print coupons. More than 50 percent of consumers have indicated they would be more likely to shop at a nearby store if they received a relevant offer on their phone. For small business owners, it is imperative that mobile platforms have the ability to send location-based, customized, tailored offers to customers. This not only provides yet another user incentive, but is also an opportunity to promote high margin products. To be effective, these ads and offers should be optimized for mobile devices and deliver a compelling yet concise message with a clear call to action.
Finally, built in security, fraud prevention and data security measures are essential when selecting a mobile commerce platform. Look for a platform that is designed to protect small businesses and guarantees while guaranteeing against chargebacks. One advantage of mobile-based payments is a decreased fraud liability for merchants. This is an especially important in today’s environment with the increasing number of high-profile retail credit card breaches. Ensure the platform has safeguards against fraudulent activity, limiting the small businesses’ exposure to risk.
In many ways mobile is the new frontier for small business owners. At the heart of the small business industry is the unique connection between the merchant and its customers. Mobile offers yet another channel to engage current customers, reward loyal patrons and connect with the greater community, generating brand awareness and attracting the next-generation of consumers. As the mobile movement continues to surge, small businesses can no longer afford to simply watch and wait from the sidelines.
Sionic Mobile’s Award-Winning ION Loyalty® and ION Rewards® Apps Enhance Social Experience Between Small Businesses and Their Customers... >>
New features include hassle-free, mobile-to-mobile checkouts, instant rewards and reviews, merchant-branded eGift Cards and bonus IONs shared among friends
ATLANTA–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Sionic Mobile today announced the newest releases of its ION Loyalty app for small business merchants and ION Rewards app for consumers; both available for free download in the App Store and Play.
These latest releases further enhance the social experience, by cloaking the physical payment (plastic cards stay tucked safely away), while adding the ability to connect and share with other ION users. A simple, one-tap rating feature (coming soon) encourages customers to rate the experience after checkout.
“Having built the nation’s premier mobile rewards marketplace with more than 100,000 big-brand locations where consumers can earn and spend IONs, we’ve turned our attention to address the needs of small business merchants,” said Ronald Herman, Sionic Mobile CEO. “We’ve made it even easier for business owners and managers to connect with their customers using their mobile device, creating a more intimate and social experience.”
In addition to hassle-free mobile checkouts, ION helps small businesses attract new customers through unlimited advertising in the mobile marketplace and by offering their own eGift Cards for customers to send to their friends, family and coworkers – all conveniently through their phones.
“We’ve simplified the mobile payment process, giving business owners the ability to accept phone-to-phone payments using a simple, 3-digit code,” said Herman. “ION Loyalty users can now side-step the confusing maze of mobile payment offerings from Apple, Android, Samsung, PayPal and others and focus on what they do best – serving their customers. Additionally, customers earn instant rewards following every checkout, providing business owners with yet another opportunity to build brand loyalty and engage patrons.”
“This system is a catalyst for socially marketing small business merchants in the ION marketplace, as well as driving business in the door,” Herman explained. “Unlike ratings from Yelp or TripAdvisor, which may not be tied to actual customer checkouts, ION customer ratings will influence decisions of potential customers to visit that merchant based on confirmed experiences.”
ION merchants will have access to their business’ ratings and reviews within the ION Loyalty mobile app and in the online Small Business Center. There, merchants will be able to evaluate their ratings to gain valuable insight on their business operations, food and staff, and determine ways to improve the overall customer experience and increase social interaction.
Consumers earn IONs that spend like cash every time they checkout with their phones, on top of credit card and other loyalty points. It is the only universal loyalty program, allowing consumers to earn and spend rewards with zero restrictions at any ION merchant. All mobile-to-mobile payments are processed securely and exclusively by J.P. Morgan Chase.
A full list of retailers included in the premiere ION Merchant Marketplace is available here: http://www.ionrewards.com/marketplace/.
To learn more, please visit www.IONRewards.com.
See it in action. Find out how it works, click here to watch the new ION Rewards video: http://bit.ly/1R9PEr6 #ThisIsIONRewards
About Sionic Mobile
Midtown Atlanta-based Sionic Mobile provides low-cost payments bundled with mobile marketing and customer loyalty to businesses and instant rewards to consumers at checkout. The Company’s universal rewards, called IONs, help merchants keep good customers coming back more often and are awarded in addition to customers’ credit card points. Consumers may spend IONs (1,000 IONs = $1.00) at any merchant in the ION Marketplace on anything at any time or they may donate their IONs to a local charity or cause. Businesses use ION LoyaltyⓇ securely online, on mobile devices or through their POS system, eliminating the need for new equipment. Consumers use the free ION RewardsⓇ app for iOS and Android for in-store checkouts.
For Sionic Mobile
Anna Stanley, 678-781-3072
Atlanta’s ‘Transaction Alley’: US Payment Processing Capital... >>
Every time you swipe, tap or insert your card and even pay with your phone, there’s a good chance the transaction will be processed here in Georgia.
That’s because nearly 70 percent of all payment card transactions are processed here, and more than half of U.S. financial technology firms are based in the Atlanta area.
Tino Mantella, president of the Technology Association of Georgia, said you can expect to see more financial tech companies setting up shop in the Atlanta area in 2016.
“Our Fin Tech board has been around for a long time before Fin Tech was cool, and now we’re the payments capital,” Mantella said at TAG’s annual FinTech conference, where more than 500 people gathered to discuss the future of the industry. “A new term is ‘Transaction Alley.’ We’re gaining traction and the combination of talent and capital and innovation is going to get stronger and stronger here.”
Several big names in the field already call Atlanta home, including Pindrop, Bitpay, Worldpay, NCR, InComm and Global Payments. And the list is growing: Brazilian payment-processing firm Merchant e-Solutions has announced it’s moving its U.S. headquarters from Silicon Valley to Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, adding 140 jobs.
According to TAG, Georgia first began to attract financial technology companies in 1987, when state lawmakers lifted caps on credit card interest rates and annual fees of 18% and $12, respectively.
There are now approximately 100 financial technology firms in the Atlanta area, employing more than 300,000 people, according to TAG’s latest report.
Sarah Tourville is a member of the Greater Alpharetta Tech Network’s board of directors. The group is located just off Georgia-400.
“GA-400 is called the payments corridor of the world, I believe,” Tourville said. “You’ve just got so many new, growing, very disruptive technologies coming out to really impact and revolutionize what’s happening in payments.”
According to TAG, there are now approximately 100 financial technology firms in the Atlanta area, employing more than 300,000 people.
CREDIT COURTESY OF TAG
One such “disruptive” technology is the growing use of mobile wallets, which use cellphones instead of credit cards during checkout to make purchases. Spencer White is chief operating officer of Sionic Mobile, based in midtown Atlanta, which operates a free mobile rewards program called ION and promotes mobile wallets.
“You’re seeing hardware is changing with merchants en masse and the need for consumers to change ingrained behaviors from swipe to tap,” White said. “So that opens up the opportunity to interject a new and superior behavior of using mobile to pay and the additional enticement of ION Rewards gives them a value proposition to move in that direction.”
He predicts the introduction of Samsung Pay will lead to greater adoption of mobile wallets this year because it’s not as limited to where it can be accepted and stores are upgrading their payment terminals.
Haskell Garfinkel of the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the keynote speaker at TAG’s annual FinTech conference, said “Atlanta has all the right ingredients” for a strong financial technology innovation hub. That’s because the city has strong private-public partnerships, private companies focused on innovation, capital and a strong university system.
Garfinkel said partnering with universities would be key to the industry’s future growth.
“As much as things happen in the labs at companies like Google and Apple and Amazon, they happen even earlier in academic research,” Garfinkel said.
He also noted that companies will need to work more closely to get private dollars for research and development.
TAG’s FinTech conference focused on mobile payments, security trends and new technologies, but also ways to increase access capital for underserved groups.
Rajesh Koppula founded Lend Lift in 2013. It helps banks and lenders manage their risk and provide financial literacy tools for consumers. It’s also developing a scorecard for banks to use for consumers without access to credit, so banks and lenders can provide these customers with alternative payment options.
“I had the opportunity to start this in New York or outside of the U.S. as well, but I felt like Atlanta is a great place to start,” Koppula said. “It’s got a vibrant Fin Tech community and very good schools.”
Ron Herman Executive Profile: The Rewards of Loyalty... >>
Ron Herman grew up appreciating the benefits of loyalty and hard work. So it comes as no surprise that he is enjoying great success as the CEO and founder of Sionic Mobile, one of the most innovative companies in the electronic mobile rewards and loyalty space. Starting with the premise that mobile personal devices would disrupt all future human transactions, Ron’s Atlanta-based company has focused on compensating customers for making mobile purchases at merchants via accumulated rewards – called IONs – and is today the nation’s largest mobile rewards marketplace.
Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Ron grew up in the small farming community of Frankenmuth, about one hour north of Detroit. As in early America, everything was about the land. His family’s 44 acre farm was two and a half miles outside of town, and they grew the majority of their own food. “I grew to love it,” Ron says, “and to this day I keep a working garden at my house. It’s gratifying.”
Most of Ron’s neighbors and friends were farmers, and farmers, Ron will tell you, have a very distinct work ethic. “Everything depends on you and there isn’t anyone else to do the work so you just get used to it,” he says. Somehow, Ron managed to farm, play various high school sports and work full-time all through high school, a feat that is even more impressive when you consider that the school record he set for the high jump was not broken for nearly 30 years. Clearly, here was a very hardworking young man. “It’s true that I was never afraid to work hard,” he says, “but then, I was always properly rewarded for my work.”
At the age of 12, Ron decided that he wanted a job to earn money away from the farm so he got his local phone book and simply started cold calling businesses to tell them he was available to work. After quite a few hang-ups and rejections, Corky Leslie at Leslie’s Hardware store told him to come to the store to meet with him to discuss a possible job opportunity. “When we met, I told him that I could sweep, mop, stock shelves or whatever needed to be done. Thank goodness he hired me,” says Ron, “but I still had a problem.” With his tight schedule of farm work and other school activities, travel to and from work was going to be a time problem – he needed faster transportation. “Corky decided to invest in me by buying me a bicycle and letting me pay for it by working free for the first six months. I received regular pay after that.”
Ron worked at the hardware store for two years before switching to the Ford dealership across the street, where he started detailing cars. When it was time to buy his first car, you can be sure that he loyally bought a Ford. “I traded in the bicycle and bought a used Mustang; I was so proud of it,” he says. Senior year of high school was the usual mix of his many activities plus a full-time job as the assistant manager of McDonald’s.
Working his way through college, Ron became an engineer and worked in that profession for a number of years. He had a natural curiosity of understanding exactly how things worked. So the day his sister asked him to review the technology for a new company she was working for, Jet-Fax, and then write a report on what he thought of it – he was ready to accept this challenge. His report listed a number of problems and functions that could be improved. The CEO of the company got in touch with him and offered him a job in Menlo Park, California. Ron also helped raise money for Jet-Fax, which later became E-Fax. “The most important part of this experience for me was learning how the Silicon Valley system of investing in and developing technology worked,” he says.
In 1994, Ron moved to Atlanta in a transition plan with EDS, but by the end of the decade co-founded a locations-based mobile phone data technology company, IntelliOne Technologies. The company’s primary goal was to deliver useful traffic data accumulated from anonymous mobile phone signals, and the company’s technology was eventually used in one of the first applications for Apple’s iPhone.
Sionic Mobile was spun out of IntelliOne Technologies in 2011 with five employees, and from the beginning, their goal was to use mobile devices and the cloud to create a loyalty and rewards platform that was innovative and unique to anything else on the market. At its core, Sionic Mobile is a one stop network for loyalty. The company offers two mobile applications: ION Rewards for consumers, and ION Loyalty for merchants. “Our goal,” says Ron, “is to make sure that customers are rewarded for their loyalty with IONs – which they can spend at over 100,000 major retail and restaurant locations like Barnes & Noble, Lowe’s, Maggiano’s and many others.” The size of the network and ease of use are key. “Loyalty and rewards become unstuck – you earn IONs at one place but can use them in many, many other places,” he says. “We truly built the world’s first universal rewards program.”
The ION platform and app have been extensively refined since 2011 both in terms of the business model and the technology. First, unlike Starbucks, which gives one star per visit regardless of the amount spent, customers using Sionic Mobile’s ION Rewards app earn IONs instantly for every dollar spent, and there are no restrictions on how and when users can spend IONs. Second, their partnership with J.P. Morgan Chase makes the payment and reward system seamless for business owners using the ION Loyalty platform. “It has to be easy for customers to use,” says Ron, “but most important for merchants are the reduced processing rates we offer. Plus, we take full liability for the transaction.”
Ron is very proud of the company’s relationship with J.P. Morgan Chase and the benefits it brings to merchants. “Merchants keep telling me that interchange fees are killing them,” he says. “With our ION Loyalty platform, we offer a way for them to both save money and get a turnkey rewards system.” According to Ron, Chase has 20% of all US payment transactions and Sionic Mobile is now positioned to “ride that 20% and become one of the largest players in the co-op marketplace by this time next year.”
Now in discussions with an auto insurance company that has millions of customers, Ron clearly sees a future in which customers should get rewarded for all the payments they make, whether in-store or online. “Why shouldn’t a loyal customer be rewarded for making that monthly insurance or security system payment, or even paying the cable company?”
Ron is most excited about Sionic’s move into small business. “It’s great to have more than 100,000 national brand locations to use ION Rewards, but what we really believe will be game changing is our new ION Loyalty Small Business Center,” he says, “because it helps small business compete with larger retailers in ways they could not in the past.” Small businesses get unlimited mobile advertisements in the ION mobile rewards marketplace and their own-branded eGift Cards. “We are also providing an industry low 1% credit card processing fee,” he says. “We are now in the process of rolling out over 3,000 individually owned restaurant locations.”
With everything going so well, Ron expects a huge ramp-up for the company in 2016 – including hitting two key milestones: cash/EBITDA positive operations and double the transactions and revenue of the two closest competitors combined – all from rewards. “People work so hard for their money,” he says, “so they should be rewarded for their loyalty in where they choose to spend it. Additionally, merchants really want to give customers these rewards. It just hasn’t been easy for them to do it in the past.”
Not until Sionic Mobile, that is.
“I am curious about one thing,” he says. “I’m starting to wonder how long it will take for the word ION to enter the language as a new word for currency.”
Sionic Mobile Launches ION Loyalty Small Business Center for Merchants... >>
ATLANTA–Sionic Mobile today announced its highly anticipated ION Loyalty Small Business Center is now live, providing small business owners and local merchants an affordable, easy-to-use mobile loyalty, payments and marketing platform. ION Loyalty helps increase traffic and sales through unlimited advertisements in the ION mobile marketplace and with merchant-branded eGift Cards. The service also cuts costs by providing an industry-low, 1% credit card processing rate and keeps good customers returning more often through automated rewards at every checkout.
With more than half of consumers in North America expressing interest in making payments with their phones, research indicates that mobile payment transactions could reach as high as $5.4 billion by 2018. Despite the continued surge in mobile, the majority of small businesses (which currently make up more than 90 percent of the businesses in the U.S.) lack a sustainable mobile strategy citing the growing costs associated with upgrading POS terminals, lack of resources and increased fees as the primary challenges.
“Small business owners recognize the significance of mobile, and it’s not a question of if they will integrate mobile commerce, but rather when and how,” said Ronald Herman, CEO and founder of Sionic Mobile. “The biggest obstacles preventing these merchants from entering the mobile marketplace is the time and cost associated with replacing existing technology, and the increasing fees associated with these types of transactions. ION Loyalty, however, gives business owners a robust mobile payments, loyalty and marketing platform at an equal or lower rate than what they are paying for credit card processing alone and they use their existing, familiar equipment.”
There are no upfront costs, monthly fees or equipment requirements for merchants to use ION Loyalty. Business owners simply download the free ION Loyalty app to their smartphones or tablets and add an ‘ION’ tender key on their existing POS systems. Merchant settlements on all ION activity occurs nightly and payments are processed exclusively and securely through J.P. Morgan Chase.
“Small businesses need to invest in mobile strategies that go beyond simply accepting payments if they want to see a real return and long-term benefits,” continued Herman. “ION Loyalty adds the convenience of mobile payments at a very affordable rate, but also gives the small business owner tools needed to connect with its customers, attract new ones, and re-invest in loyalty.”
Small business owners may log in to the ION Loyalty Small Business Center to manage their accounts, create compelling mobile ads and view real-time payment activity and history.
To learn more, please visit www.IONLoyalty.com.
About Sionic Mobile
Midtown Atlanta-based Sionic Mobile provides low-cost payments bundled with mobile marketing and customer loyalty to businesses and instant rewards to consumers at checkout. The Company’s universal rewards, called IONs, help merchants keep good customers coming back more often and are awarded in addition to customers’ credit card points. Consumers may spend IONs (1,000 IONs = $1.00) at any merchant in the ION Marketplace on anything at any time or they may donate their IONs to a local charity or cause. Businesses use ION LoyaltyⓇ securely online, on mobile devices or through their POS system, eliminating the need for new equipment. Consumers use the free ION RewardsⓇ app for iOS and Android for in-store checkouts or the ION Rewards Member Center to earn IONs when shopping online.
For Sionic Mobile
Anna Stanley, 678-781-3072
Remaining Agile is Key to Success in 2016 Payments Market... >>
By Ronald Herman, founder and CEO of Sionic Mobile
In 2016, the payments space will continue to evolve as stakeholders adapt and evolve processes to meet these growing demands, and those that remain agile will ultimately be successful.
Networks like Visa and MasterCard continue to invest heavily in securing and tightly controlling their respective payment networks, both announcing tokenization of their eWallet products earlier this year. The networks will continue to aggressively monetize data via third-party providers’ card-linked benefit programs ranging from offers, promotions and advertisements to card-less customer loyalty “earn and burn” services.
JP Morgan Chase leads the big banks, being the first to allow consumers to redeem Chase Sapphire rewards at the point of sale during checkouts at select retailers. Expect Chase to leverage its substantial base of business and consumer credit and debit cardholders alongside its Chase Pay, Chase Net and other commerce services to compete favorably against processors, ISOs and the various “Pays.”
Top-tier processors have highly diversified service portfolios and will continue to grow their businesses through M&A activity, including a potential merger of equals within the top ten list. Expect processors to invest heavily in value-added services and long-term agreement strategies to reduce churn and thwart competition from the networks.
As the large processors continue to fold merchant acquiring within their core businesses, M&A activity among ISOs and Super ISOs will continue. Look for ISOs to invest in a wide variety of value-added services to help create additional stickiness with their merchants.
The battle will continue between Apple, Android, Samsung, PayPal and Chase to secure their payments at big-brand retailers. Consumers will ultimately decide their preferred mobile pay program, requiring big retailers to accommodate, at a minimum, the four bank-device backed providers.
PayPal, Intuit and Square collectively account for a significant portion of small business payment processing. Payment processing rates among “the big three” are considered premium, prompting programs like Amazon Local touting an introductory rate of 1.75%. Amazon shuttered the program along with its attempt at mobile POS with Amazon Register. Small business merchants will seek out easy-to-use solutions that reduce card payment fees and help them effortlessly grow their business. Small retailers will not embrace programs provided or offered by Starbucks, MCX or other organizations they view as a competitive threat.
Ronald Herman is the founder and CEO of Midtown Atlanta-based Sionic Mobile. The company provides low-cost payments bundled with mobile marketing and customer loyalty to businesses and instant rewards to consumers at checkout.