Asif Ramj EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 US in Financial Services
Atlanta fintech executive Asif Ramji won the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 US in the Financial Services Category on November 18th and kindly took the time to explain how his amazing success came about. It was instinct and core values that propelled him to the top of his game. Some people don’t shift careers unless the opportunity is just right. Others, like Asif Ramji, follow their gut.
Paymetric was losing millions when he joined the integrated payments company as Chief Revenue Officer in 2009. “I would be lying to you if I told you that I thought, ‘Hey, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life’ at the time,” Ramji says. He joined “on just blind faith, knowing that I could impact the organization.”
Ramji set his sights on the cloud, where few were operating at the time. He wanted to change Paymetric’s business model from licensed software to a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription.
The board was skeptical, and clients balked because they already had bought the licensed software. Ramji and his team stressed that payments and data security were constantly changing and evolving. Licensed software requires multiple patches to maintain Payment Card Industry Compliance. “We told those clients: let us manage all that complexity for you in the cloud,” Ramji says.
The conversion also included the creation of new industry solutions, such as tokenization, which secures raw credit card data.
Within 18 months, the value that Ramji envisioned started to materialize. Paymetric transformed every client from licensed software purchaser to monthly recurring subscriber — generating monthly recurring revenue. The company’s client base tripled, and it began to turn a profit.
In September 2013, Paymetric sold a stake to a private equity firm, and in May 2017, the PE firm sold Paymetric to Vantiv, a leading payment processor.
That transaction changed lives, Ramji says. Stock options turned employees into millionaires and enabled them to pay off houses, save for college and care for elderly parents.
“The impact is really what I would say I’m most proud of,” he says. “It’s stuff like this that really drives the excitement, drives you forward, gives you the passion every day.”
Today, Paymetric is recognized as a global leader for integrated payments and data security.
The desire to find a way to do something more effectively and create value is what drove Ramji to become an entrepreneur. His family used to tease him about having big dreams. “I always got accused of building castles in the sky,” he says.
But he also credits his family for his work ethic. He was 3 when his parents moved from Kenya to Vancouver, British Columbia. His father worked in early printing technology, and his mother in finance. “They still have this core foundation of just treating people right, working hard and living a good life,” he says.
Ramji’s first venture was importing accessories from China when he was 18. Several businesses followed, including his first internet based company, Executive Card. The multi-merchant coalition loyalty program provided restaurants with websites and customers with a card for discounts. He sold that business to a local venture capitalist and started another.
With each business, Ramji honed his ability to creatively sell potential clients on the benefits of an offering. He used those skills when he became an executive at a company that pioneered gift card and loyalty technology.
Gift cards are commonplace today, but the merchants he initially encountered weren’t big on the concept. “Anytime you take new, emerging technology to the market, you’re going to face a lot of roadblocks,” Ramji says.
He sold clients on the value of collecting money up front with each gift card, along with the idea that customers would likely spend even more when they had money left on a card. “We came up with all of these different attributes and learned how to creatively tell a story to make sure that this emerging technology was received very well,” he says.
The experience taught him the importance of storytelling and articulating a value proposition, key themes that have been important throughout his career.
That organization sold to a payments processing company, and Ramji stayed to help with product strategy, integration and scale. Then a large financial institution recruited him to Atlanta.
The new position helped fulfill his dream of coming to the US, but then the financial downturn hit. The organization “went from being a very growth oriented company to selling off different assets, which ended up changing the culture,” Ramji says. “My skill sets have always been very growth-oriented.”
Joining Paymetric allowed him to return to a more entrepreneurial environment. And just as culture played a role in Ramji’s decision to leave the financial institution and join Paymetric, it was a factor in Paymetric’s success.
“It’s really something everybody talks about,” Ramji says. “This isn’t something that’s just on a wall. It’s something that has really truly been embraced.”