Executive Profile Series with Christopher Spinella from Apriva

by Christopher Spinella 0

Christopher Spinella has built management experience in both the healthcare and technology industries. Chris co-founded Smart Technologies, Inc. in 1996.

In 1999, he was a Co-Founder of Apriva and merged Smart Technologies into Apriva to continue the development and advancement of smart card technology and wireless applications. Chris was also a Co-Founder of NetSearch, LLC, a wireless application company acquired by Aether Systems in April 2000. Likewise, he co-founded and served as CEO and chairman of Zanova, a B2B e-commerce company acquired by Onvia in July 2000.

Chris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Arizona State University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

PJ: In December, Apriva reported it has seen a 300% increase for mobile payments solutions in the U.S. What exactly is driving this adoption rate?

CS: There are a number of factors that are contributing to this growth. One, of course, is the steady penetration of smartphones and tablets in the marketplace. While we are all aware of the massive acceptance rate among consumers, there has also been an increase among merchants, particularly for tablets. Businesses are beginning to recognize how convenient, cost-efficient, and secure these devices are, and now see them as a very compelling tool to accept card payments in any location. Another important aspect is the growing number of banks and merchant services providers that are now delivering mobile payment acceptance software to merchants. We work with nearly 900 of these organizations around the country, and I can tell you first hand that acquirers and ISOs absolutely recognize the appeal of a mobility solution, and are working diligently to ensure that their merchants are able to satisfy the growing demand that consumers have for making card payments through these tools.

PJ: How does Apriva attempt to stand out from the rest of the mobile POS space when there are so many different providers available to merchants and/or acquirers?

CS: One of our biggest differentiators is that we understand the power of the merchant’s brand, and we don’t look to interfere with the dynamic of the merchant-consumer relationship. Apriva’s strategy is to deliver a mobile point of sale solution that can be branded by any provider in the mobile ecosystem. For example, we offers white label mobile payment solutions to two of the top five banks in the country, and our technology is used by over 40 percent of the top retail banks in the country. We also provide solutions for some very large merchant acquirers. Our philosophy is to deliver a reliable, secure mPOS product that will allow our customers to effectively compete with some of the newer entrants in the marketplace by allowing them to deliver much sought after technology, while leveraging the power and credibility of their individual brands.

PJ: In your opinion, what makes a successful mobile wallet? What factors are preventing mobile wallets from gaining significant traction with consumers?

CS: It’s probably too early to give a definitive answer regarding what will comprise a successful mobile wallet. One issue is that there is no uniform definition for what a wallet is. For some providers, they define a wallet as a mobile payment app, because that’s the limit of their technology. Other providers like Apriva are delivering an application that has a multifunctional feature set that incorporates all elements of mobile marketing and payment technologies. But as of now, all of these mixed messages are confusing the consumer, and causing havoc amongst providers. Clearly, there are too many wallets that do too little. Once a natural consolidation occurs, I’m sure we’ll see these offerings begin to gain more acceptance.

PJ: What are you hearing from merchant acquirers about the mobile space? How do you help them stay on top of a rapidly changing environment?

CS: Probably the most common concern we hear from acquirers is that they acknowledge that their business models are changing, and they understand the importance of a mobility play. Many acquirers and ISOs now see that the credit card processing business has been by-and-large commoditized, and that their business will rely more and more on delivering merchants value-add services that create stickiness. Mobile commerce solutions have already been proven to help acquirers break out of the commodity cycle by giving them a new revenue stream, and most importantly, delivering a service that reduces churn. As a result, we’re getting many inquiries from acquirers and ISOs asking how they can best integrate mobile commerce into their product portfolios.

And when they do adopt these solutions, they also know that our core technology is very well suited to support all the change and innovation associated with mobile commerce technology. Our mobile point-of-sale technology supports both iOS and Android phones and tablets, and our solutions are completely PCI compliant, so we have the market very well covered.

PJ: One of the issues facing merchant services providers is maintaining security and compliancy across multiple terminal endpoints, including fixed line and wireless terminals. How does Apriva help these providers address this challenge?

CS: One of the biggest advantages of our technology platform is that it connects to a wide variety of dial, IP and wireless terminals. We’ve substantially built on this capability by creating Apriva’s Universal Application software, which represents a quantum leap forward in enabling our customers to expedite security, compliance, and even feature updates across multiple terminal families. The Universal Application allows merchant services providers to push software updates simultaneously to the disparate terminals without any significant disruption to the merchant. This not only ensures that the device is secure and compliant, but it also helps the provider eliminate the problems that previously ensued through existing software update methods.

PJ: How will EMV change mobile acceptance, and acquiring, in general? Are merchants and/or acquirers worried about the transition and what is Apriva doing to educate affected parties?

CS: There’s no doubt that the card brands are serious about introducing EMV in the United States, and given all the recent security breaches that we’ve read about, you can certainly understand the growing sense of urgency among everyone in the financial services community. Like any disruptive technology, there are always questions and concerns from providers and merchants, and that’s completely true regarding EMV. But the fact is that EMV is not new, and has been deployed around the world for many years. We’ve already taken many steps to help our customers transition smoothly to an EMV world. Our core gateway is already EMV compliant.. But just as important is the education and communication process we have implemented. We have a number of online tools available to help our customers understand the responsibilities associated with this technology, and our account teams have been directed to become very proactive in helping our customers through this transition. We fully anticipate that our community of acquirers, ISOs, and other providers—and their merchants—will be able to make this transition in a completely seamless manner.

PJ: How significant are integrated processing solutions becoming with merchants and acquirers?

CS: This is a tremendous growth opportunity for everyone involved in mobile commerce, particularly for both merchants and acquirers. The growth of mobile commerce has helped spawn a number of independent software vendors, or ISVs, that are in essence, developers that are expert in quickly writing and marketing new software applications and services that are relevant to our industry. These apps can cover a wide range of services, from new mobile marketing solutions, to powerful analytics, to inventory management. These features are very much in demand by both providers and merchants, who see these as very compelling tools to improve productivity, enhance consumer satisfaction, and differentiate their specific organizations.

There are number of hurdles facing ISVs in terms of penetrating our market, and that’s one of the things Apriva is focused on addressing. Our core platform is technology-agnostic, which means that developers can use the Apriva technology to comply with a wide range of different operating systems and device standards. This helps simplify their development processes, and greatly improves time to market. In addition, while these ISVs may be extremely knowledgeable in writing software that can boost marketing or manage back end processes, writing an app that is PCI compliant to accept payment is, for many, a cumbersome, complex task with a lot of moving parts. By providing ISVs access to a development environment within our secure payments gateway, Apriva can streamline the security and compliance certification processes for these developers, and give them unfettered access to a rapidly growing market.

PJ: When you look at the international space, what is happening in other markets and how might it affect what will happen in the U.S. going forward?

CS: The international market has been much more advanced in terms of mobile commerce for years now. These solutions are well accepted in areas like Asia and even in Africa, where paying for products or services by a mobile phone is considered more secure than carrying cash. One of the more interesting things that we can learn from our international partners is how to prepare for the rollout of EMV. These solutions have been in place for years throughout Europe, and other parts of the world, even Canada. There were some initial bumps in all of these locations when EMV was first introduced. If we take a look at how merchants incorporated EMV into their own POS systems, particularly in advanced economies like Western Europe or Canada, we can better prepare our own customers to manage this transition.

PJ: How do you see this space playing out in 2014 for Apriva?

CS: I don’t see any reason why the mobile commerce space will slow down. For Apriva, we’re anticipating that we will process some $12 billion in mobile commerce transactions in the coming year, and that our mobile payment software for smartphones and tablets will continue to gain traction with banks and merchant acquirers that are looking to tap into this vast market. On top of that, we have every reason to expect that our vending and core gateway services will capture more marketshare in 2014. And when we introduce our ISV program sometime in the middle of the year, that too, will also translate into new business. We feel very good about 2014. The opportunity is certainly there, and Apriva has the perfect solutions to satisfy these growing demands.

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