OB Rawls, CEO of Global Payment Processing at Paysafe | Episode 13

Greg: Hello, this is your host, Greg Myers. You are listening to the Leaders in Payments podcast. This is episode 13 featuring my special guest OB Rawls, the CEO of Global Payment Processing at Paysafe. OB. grew up in a small rural town of under 2000 people in North Carolina on a tobacco farm. He was in the army and the army national guard for 21 years and had many different jobs after the military. He was a parole officer, a repo guy collecting cars and worked at Bank of America for 18 years where he first got into the credit card business. OB was at First Data and iPayment before becoming the CEO of Global Payment Processing at Paysafe. In April of last year, the ETA honored OB with the Distinguished Payments Professional Star Award, recognizing his 30 plus years in the payments industry. OB provides some great overviews of the Paysafe products and services that they provide to their merchants and partners. OB has a passion for collecting wine and he provides some great advice: keep an open mind, adopt change, explore and be bold. OB really is one of the great guys in the payment space, so let’s get started…

Greg: Hi OB, thank you for being here and welcome to the Leaders in Payments podcast.

OB: Hey Greg. Thanks for having me. It’s nice to talk to you again. I’m looking forward to this session.

Greg: Me too. Let’s start off by telling the audience a little bit about yourself, maybe where you grew up, where you went to school, where you currently live, a few things like that.

OB: All right. That’s always fun to talk about. I grew up in the country, Greg. In rural North Carolina on a tobacco farm, lived in a town of under 2000 people. Grew up, went to school really without a purpose. Just taught by my parents that I was going to get a college education. Neither one of our parents had been to college or graduated, but they were successful business people and farming and agri-industry. So they had instilled a discipline in me about education, the value of it, and working hard for a living. So I went to East Carolina University while I was there my father got sick and I stayed out of school for a year or two to help my mom run the farm for a little while. During that time, I also enlisted in the military, ended up spending 21 years in the Army and the Army National Guard and retired from that.

And then I went to work for the state of North Carolina as a parole officer. And so, I’ll tell everybody I’ve been handcuffed to felons on every continent, handled extradition as one of my duties there. And it was a lot of fun, learned a lot about people in that role. And from there I went to work for Bank of America, started out as a repo guy collecting cars along the way from people that had an unfortunate set of circumstances in their lives that enabled them, unfortunately it didn’t enable them, to pay for their cars. So it was a task trying to get, learning how to get people to pay me when they had money that could only pay so many bills. And from there I went to the first consumer loan school that the bank had and went to commercial loan officer development school after that and then a lot of different jobs and 18 years with the bank and ended up in the credit card business running the acquiring business for bank of America. Lived in Northern Virginia and along our way we created a joint venture with First Data to create United Merchant Services and we were the largest ISO in the country back in 1994.

Greg: Great. I didn’t actually know all that about you. That’s a fascinating background. I appreciate you sharing that. Let’s talk about Paysafe now. Tell the audience what Paysafe does.

OB: Well, we’re a very interesting company. We’re the leading provider of specialized payment services for verticals like petroleum, small businesses, gaming, digital wallets to promote the gaming space. We’re a very diverse private company owned by Blackstone and CVC. And I’m the CEO of our payment processing division, which handles a variety of merchant services across the globe. We do regular acquiring in the UK and Europe where we are a direct member of the card brands over there. We have an ISV and a US gaming business based in Montreal. We also serve as a payment service providers supporting a lot of our ISV clients. In Irvine, California, we operate a high risk or a specialized vertical in nutraceuticals. And in Houston we run our large merchant services division, which is the traditional business that was created by iPayment and MCPS. We have about 200,000 merchants in the U. S., Greg.

Greg: Wow. And how many employees roughly?

OB: In the U.S. we have about 800 in the U.S. in this company and 3,000 across the globe working for Paysafe.

Greg: Okay. And I know you guys do a lot with partnership programs, so maybe talk a little bit about, what you guys do that may be a little unique in the partnership area.

OB: You know, our number one hallmark is defined by good service. It’s easy to entice third parties to come to work with you and to sell on your behalf in the marketplace today. But a lot of people in our industry haven’t always been the most reputable, haven’t always paid third parties, ISO and agents on time and accurately. And we do that. We take care of our clients. We have I guess over 200 ISO partners. Our ISO business produces about 6,000 new deals a month for us and through our direct services, we do another 2,500 so we’re an active producer in the U.S. acquiring business and across the globe we do maybe 10,000 new accounts per month.

Greg: Great. And I know you mentioned this already a little bit, the ISV area that’s obviously become a growing area with software companies wanting to get into the payment space and ISVs and marketplaces. So anything you want to talk about sort that space that you guys do?

OB: We have a variety of programs Greg, that range from our standard offering to highly customized integrations for certain VARS and the rental in the home fitness and gym businesses. We’ve specialized in certain verticals over the years and build a pretty robust operating system that handles everything from online boarding to automatic payment of residuals and a really unique, fully comprehensive servicing platform.

Greg: Greg and OB, as you know, the payment spaces incredibly competitive. What do you feel like differentiates Paysafe from your competitors?

OB: I think for us as size and scale. We are probably the largest independent ISO in the U.S. today operating as an ISO. And I think we offer three things. Greg, you probably used to hear me say this while we worked together at First Data. We sell three things. We sell price, quality and service and the merchant or the partner can always have two of those and we keep one. And so it’s an easy way to rotate the offerings, the products and the revenue that we expect to make. So if a merchant wants quality and service and they pay out a higher price, if they want a discount offering and bare bones service and they pay a lower price. So offering that variety to merchants and the partners enables them to build disparate revenue models and we can service those in the unique fashion they each require.

Greg: Where do you see the payments industry headed in the next couple of years? I know things have changed since the global crisis we’re in, but let’s hope things get back to normal or close to back to normal. But where would you see the payments industry headed in the next say two to three years?

OB: This is going to be a fun question for me to answer because I think to answer this question, we almost have to delete from our memory the word payments, right? We will see, and we’ve already seen payments become invisible in offerings today that are presented by a lot of our partners by ISVs, by VARs, even by sophisticated ISOs and agents. So the continuation of the invisibility of payments into a continuation of highly specialized vertical players is the future. So I think we, especially all of us in the industry and especially a lot of sales agencies in this business have to redefine merchant services. We have to get better at selling multiple products that are interrelated, connected to each other, that offer value to small and large businesses. We used to hear this at our former employee, right? We just want to help small businesses stay in business longer and if we help them stay in business longer, we stay in business longer.

Greg: Right, right. Makes total sense. Going back to the company a little bit to Paysafe, you guys have had a few people, Patrick, Turiano and Paulette Rowe who have won some awards from the ETA and other organizations, and to me that speaks of culture. So maybe you could talk about the culture there a little bit.

OB: It’s like a family business. To me. I look at it that way. We hire people that embodies the same values we have, you know, which are trust, integrity, belief in people, support of your coworkers, taking care of everybody and people drinking from the same cup, which is a military term I learned a long time ago. We all share in the goodness of the situation, and we’d share in the misery of not so good situations. And if we begin with our hiring profile and we bring people into a company that cares and that shows that care through a lot of leadership programs, educational programs health and well-being situations, things like, offices would fresh fruit and free sodas and things that make it comfortable for people to come to work and big break rooms that allow people to socialize while they’re not at their desk. It’s all part of this familial belief that together we’re really more strong as a family than we are as individuals just working somewhere.

Greg: Great. I think would also be a little remiss in this conversation if we didn’t touch on what’s going on in the world today. So what is Paysafe doing to help support your employees and customers during these challenging times?

OB: Well, we were prepared for the crisis we’ve allowed, we’ve actually moved 3,000 employees out of our facilities, Greg, into a work from home environment. And along with this environment we, we’ve learned a few lessons along the way. We’ve never done this, we’ve never operated call centers from people’s homes. So, we have people that work at their kitchen table sitting on a hardwood chair for eight hours a day. Now we have families at home going through self-schooling. We’ve seen some issues with bandwidth. We’ve seen people working from home missing the social aspect of work. And so we’ve listened to our employees, we do a survey every week. We hear what they tell us about their working conditions right now and we’re helping them survive through this time. I’ve been running work from home salesforces since 1994 so I’m really used to this. For someone who’s worked in a call center environment or in a development environment, in a structured office, this is new to them. So as managers, we’ve asked them to listen, to hear what our employees have to say and to take that into account, be more lenient than we may be and coach them through this conflicts of different lifestyles in different words. 

As for our partners and our merchants, we’re in some uncharted water too, we’ve never seen the risk like we’re seeing right now. You think about it, if it flies or floats, airplanes or cruise ships or river tours, that business has ground to a halt. And so a lot of these businesses are really struggling right now. So we’ve offered a reduced processing rates, we’ve waived processing rates, we’ve offered other incentives to certain merchants or certain categories of merchants and some of our merchants just have to leave us. They’re going out of business. And so we’ve waived early termination fees. We’ve made it easy for them to depart and then offered them a carrot and an incentive if they come back. We want to do business with them again. And so I really believe that we’re going to rebound. Everything has a beginning and an end and we’re going to come out of this crisis. Hopefully along the way we’ll, we will have left great impressions with our merchants and with our associates.

Greg: Great. And you know, thinking about this, you start reading some of the things about what might come out of it for the payments industry. What are your thoughts on things, like contactless, you think that might take off and cross border payments I think have gone down, but will that rebound in a different way? So any thoughts on those or other sort of trends or things that might come out of this in a positive way?

OB: I think contactless payments will continue to grow. A lot of people who weren’t afraid of germs are now, and so this may be, this pandemic may be something that pushes people to change, right? For a lot of people pulling the card out of her wallet to swipe it versus inserting it, it’s just habit, muscle memory. And so now people are more concerned about germs, about the spreading of Covid-19 so I think contactless and tap will be accepted more by consumers. But I think it’ll push us again towards more, alternative forms of payments, more invisible form of payments. The concept of Apple Pay and wallets are really powerful now. So we’ll see a lot of changes that are unforeseen. Greg, I don’t know if I can predict the future, but I know it’s going to change.

Greg: Yeah, no doubt. All right, well let’s pivot and talk about you a little bit. This will be a little more of the fun part of the show. You talked already a little bit about your journey to your role there. Maybe pick up from when you were at B of A, how did you get to your current role as the CEO of the Global Payments Processing unit at Paysafe?

OB: So, when I worked at the Bank of America, we were a very inquisitive bank. Interstate banking was just coming about and as we were buying, our first acquisition was in Florida. And then we bought a series of banks all over the Southeast for 10 heavy years. And we had a policy inside the bank that you had to go to grow. So every time I was asked to move, I just picked up, packed up the tool box, packed up the families, got into moving van and went wherever the company needed me. Lived in, golly, I guess eight towns in 18 years moving around for the bank. But with that I picked up an incredible set of tools that have helped me in my entire career. I’ve learned a lot about managing people, about running branches, about finance, about lending, credit cards. I even spent a year working out really bad loans in what we called euphemistically, the special loans group in the company.

OB: And we have that sort of journeyman set of tools, I became more than a generalist. I became highly specialized in certain arenas and I really enjoyed it. But the most valuable part of the job was learning how to be a change agent, learning how to move from new bank to new bank, to new city, to spread the Bank of America culture to bring people and align with the goals that the company had. And it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. It was tough moving a lot. But the educational experience, the career experience and the life experience was unbelievable.

Greg: And so from bank of America you went on to?

OB: Oh golly, at Bank of America I ran the joint venture with First Data and the bank for a couple of years and then from there I went to the UK and built the Lloyd’s Bank joint venture and ran that for a First Data and Lloyds. And from there I came back to the U.S. and joined a start-up healthcare company. I kind of missed Atlanta and being on the road so much, you know, living on another continent and we took a small healthcare company public, we turned it into a dot com and then eventually sold it. And from that company I went to Hypercom and at Hypercom we were the second largest of terminal manufacturers in the world. And during my period of time there I lived in the UK again. I helped to rebuild our distribution network in Europe and the rest of the globe, ran our development teams, ran our marketing and sales teams and support businesses.

We actually even served up several hundred thousand terminals on the countertop in Brazil. So, a broad range of experience on every continent – manufacturing plant in China. A really, really good experience. And from Hypercom, I came back to First Data right at the time First Data was going public and I ran the hardware business, TASQ and during the next nine years I had a variety of jobs at First Data. I helped negotiate the joint venture in Brazil. I ran the, the large account sales and support team for national and global retailers. And my last job there was running the third-party channel and creating the ISO business. And that’s where you and I worked together back during that time. And when I left there, when we had our public event, I went to iPayment. It was a troubled ISO partner of First Data and one that suffered from both reputational and financial issues. And we were able to build a path to turn our payment around. We went to Wall Street, we refinanced on bonds, we were a private company with public debt owned by a venture capitalist. But we are really owned by hedge funds to be correct. And we created a company that had value. We took it from a negative net worth into a company of significant value and then we sold the business to Paysafe. And here I am today.

Greg: What a journey from the farm to Paysafe, right?

OB: Yeah. We had, we always used to joke that we had opossums for yard dogs growing up. We were so poor.

Greg: That’s great. Let’s tell the audience something you’re passionate about could be work related. It could be non-work-related or maybe just one of each.

OB: Well, anybody that knows me knows that I’m passionate about work and work has also been my hobby, which is unfortunate at times. But I really immersed myself in my role and I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the social aspect of meeting our clients and meeting our customers and meeting people in the industry. There’s always so much to learn and being open to these, this education and being willing to hear new things has been really important to me. But my real passion, my real hobby is collecting wine and I’ve been collecting wine for over 30 years and I have way too much of it. But it’s a lot of fun and I enjoy looking at it and I enjoy sharing one and I enjoy learning about nuance from around the world.

Greg: Great. And you know this as well as I do. The payment space has been growing over the last several years. There was a time when I think everyone said they just sort of fell into payments, whereas now I think there’s opportunities to actually start your career in payments and kind of see it as a future. What would your advice be to people coming out of college or very early in their career that want to be in payments? What kind of advice would you give them?

OB: Well, three out of five children in this household work in the payments space, all in different kinds of jobs. So it’s kind of nice to watch your children follow what you do in business and want to have a successful career and the business has been good for their family, but it’s just like any job, you know, keep an open mind, adopt change, don’t become set in your ways and be flexible. The world is offering us so many opportunities and what I’ve enjoyed watching is a creativity in the Fintech space now. And Atlanta is a hotbed for growth in the Fintech space. We’ve got a very active financial investment community in Atlanta and Atlanta that helps fund a lot of venture and angel investments. So have your eyes open, don’t have a traditional mindset and explore. There are very few things that we do wrong in this world that we can’t correct. So take a path. Sometimes it’s uncharted. If it doesn’t work, you can go back, find a new job and grow, but be bold, be adventuresome and embrace, embrace the business, embrace your life and don’t fear it.

Greg: Yeah, I think that’s great advice. Well OB, we’re about to wrap up. Any final thoughts for the audience today?

OB: We’re in a fun space. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and it’s provided a good living, a lot of friends, riches way beyond financial success, so work hard, enjoy what you do and be good at what you do. Thanks Greg for having me.

Greg: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you so much. I know your time’s very valuable, so I really appreciate you being here.