Tom Bell | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
A Game Changing Move
By Robert Green
Atlanta is the new home for Merchant e-Solutions, not your typical payment processor/acquirer, according to CEO Tom Bell. Built with a heavy focus on e-commerce, over 60% of the transactions they process are card-not-present and initiated by clients in the B2B/wholesale space. “We were founded in the Bay area in 2000 and are very Silicon Valley influenced. We have a modern technology stack; it’s a single omni-channel platform based on Java and Oracle. We’re definitely not your father’s payments company,” he says.
Merchant e-Solutions turned 15 years old in 2015. The West Coast company was acquired by payments giant Cielo in 2012. Based in Brazil, Cielo is the dominant payment processing company in South America - Latin America and one of the top five processors in the world. Merchant e-Solutions currently has about 200 employees, processes around $20 billion in annual volume and has been growing top line revenue at double-digits for the last 3 years.
The goal of relocating headquarters to Atlanta this year was to unite their very agile technology approach with the payment industry resources available here. “The good news is that our hunch about Atlanta talent is proving to be correct,” Tom says. “I’m meeting people with deep payments and technology aptitude and I’m quite bullish on being able to build the right team here.” Acquisition and retention of smart people who want to see the direct impact of their contributions is a significant driver for Tom and his executive team. The buildout of their new offices at the intersection of Lenox and Peachtree employs the most up-to-date ideas about how people live, work and interact today.
The move of Merchant e-Solutions to Atlanta from Silicon Valley was not a one-sided desire on the part of the company. They were aggressively recruited by both the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta. “The state and city economic development people were very impressive in the way they targeted us and then aligned their efforts to help us make the move,” Tom says, “Same goes with the business community, including the American Transaction Processors Coalition and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.”
Governor Nathan Deal visited Cielo while on a trade mission to Brazil sponsored by the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Deal personally asked Rômulo de Mello Dias, Cielo’s CEO to move his North American headquarters to Georgia. Equally instrumental in building a relationship with Cielo were the efforts of Invest Atlanta and the personal involvement from Mayor Kasim Reed. The incentive packages granted by both the city and state were quite meaningful and definitely helped solidify the decision to move. Atlanta also puts them much closer to many customers and partners.
“Now that we’re here in Atlanta, we’re excited to be more involved in the payments ecosystem,” says Tom. “It’s now much easier for us to work with the ATPC, for example, in having a voice regarding the impact of federal and state laws and public policy on payments,” he says, “and our work with other components of the payments community becomes easier as well. We’re members of PeachPay, the Payments Advisory Board for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and I’m a member of the new FinTech Atlanta Taskforce. Working with these groups becomes much easier with proximity.”
But the main benefit, says Tom, is the proximity to more payments people. “This is a town that loves payment processing – there are simply more people here who eat, sleep and drink payments, and that’s great for us.” Merchant e-Solutions worked with Atlanta-based Transwestern to locate an ideal location for their new headquarters, settling on the Buckhead community. As the construction on their new space is finishing, Tom emphasizes that his move to Atlanta is not just a relocation, but an investment in a state-of-the-art headquarters featuring collaborative work environments to foster teamwork and innovation.
Tom and the company have great respect for the young talent being produced by Georgia universities and hope to put it to the best possible use. “We want to recruit the top talent from the universities, leverage what they have learned and apply it to payments,” he says. “We want to combine their young, entrepreneurial spirit with our deep payments experience. The objective is to provide recruits with an equal, if not better, experience than they would get in Silicon Valley.”
Everything the company is doing is a deliberate endeavor to be better prepared for a fast-paced future. “The payments industry is moving to a much more open, cloud-based, API-driven world,” says Tom. He believes that his company is uniquely positioned to be a game changer in the new world of payments, primarily because they are nimble and have built everything from the ground up. “We’re not as bogged-down as legacy players in this space,” he says. “We hold an advantage in that we are profitable and we’re growing faster than the industry as a whole. It’s an exciting time for us.”
Tom’s insights into the company that he leads today comes from experience. He is a veteran of the payments industry, having served as the CEO of Bank of America Merchant Services. Prior to that, he served as the executive vice president of strategy and business development at First Data Corporation, where he was responsible for emerging product development as well as M&A activity and divestitures. In that role, he led the formation of the Bank of America Merchant Services joint venture with Bank of America.
Prior to joining Merchant e-Solutions, he was a managing partner at Capellas Partners, a strategic advisory firm working with technology-driven companies.
Previously, Bell spent 25 years at Accenture, as a managing partner in the communications and high tech practice
Tom is a board member at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. He received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Auburn University. He is married with five children and resides in Brookhaven.
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