Before founding National Transaction Corporation, Mark Fravel worked extensively in the data collection and financial technology fields under Harbridge Merchant Services and First Data, both serving as their Vice President. In 1999 Mark left to start his own merchant processing company, National Transaction Corporation, and has continued as its president for over 19 years. National Transaction has always exceeded excellence, often ranking in the top 10 for many prestigious data and technology awards.
Today Mark lives in South Florida where he dedicates his spare time away from NTC to volunteering and advocating for children, the environment, and better quality education. He has been a board member of the Prestige Club, an organization dedicated to helping children in need in the South Florida area, and The Florida Bar Unlicensed Practice of Law Committee for 8 years as a volunteer. Mark is also an avid boatsman, diver, and fisherman in the waters near his South Florida home.
Travel Research Online (TRO): In our last interview, you mentioned National Transaction Corporation (NTC) knows “transactions but we listen to people, and that helps us stay on top of the competition”. Can you expound on that?
MF: We try to focus on the human beings behind the transaction, not the transactions themselves. Ultimately, consumer satisfaction is key. When somebody is happy with the money they’ve spent, then they want to spend it again, and that will perk up my merchants’ ears. Because ultimately, I want to help my merchants’ “cash register” ring and create happy customers. If their customers are happy to spend the money, then they’ll keep spending the money. Let me give you an example:
Starbucks. They sell you a cup of coffee worth two cents and sell it to you for $8. What knucklehead spends $8 on a cup of coffee?! Well if you go in and you splash some cinnamon, you can tap your phone, or you can sit and use the Wi-Fi, then it becomes fun. So if we can make each consumer experience that we focus in on pleasurable, then the merchant is going to have pleasure receiving the money. That’s kind of where the bingo is.
TRO: How can that real one-on-one human interaction really make such a difference?
MF: The human component is why we work well. A lot of our competitors are totally automated with no human intervention whatsoever. The customer then has to figure everything out on their own, they can’t just call anyone and ask a simple, quick question. Our next group of competitors? It takes about 10 minutes to get a live person on the phone and then 10 more minutes to get someone who knows what they’re saying correctly. So in the end you’re spending 20-30 minutes just sifting for the right person to talk to. When a client calls us, however, they probably experienced something like 3-4 rings before they reached a live human being, and only a few minutes to find the right person for the job. So that old-fashioned, human intervention is priceless. We can almost anticipate the problems we’re going to have, especially with travel merchants, because we’ve helped so many travel merchants through the good times, the bad times, the lean times, the flush times, the times when money’s coming in faster than they can count it, and the times when there are hardly any transactions coming in.
If you don’t have trust from your client, then you’re not going to get the client. Some of the things we do that separates us from our competition is accessibility: being on the phone in just a matter of seconds, being a debt-free company with the fifth largest bank in the country, US Bank, which is also the largest provider for credit card processing. We work with the same bank that major airlines such as Delta Airlines, Air Canada, Air France, etc., use for their own payment processing.
I was President of a division of First Data that dominated Florida at the time. I knew a lot of people and made a lot of contacts there in the Florida small business community. Basically, the goal always was to do the right thing and help merchants grow. During my career I’ve helped over 1 million merchants so far, just to give you an idea. So I understand what they go through and my team understands as well, with some of my key players in the business for 10+ years.
TRO: Tell us about the merchant accounts and how they function.
MF: Everyone thinks, when you look at the merchant account all by itself, that a merchant account is a fixed thing, but it’s not. It’s a line of credit. So if we advance a merchant the amount of a transaction and the consumer doesn’t like it, it comes back as a charge-back.
For example, if I’m selling apples, and I tell everyone I’m selling apples but I deliver oranges, they’re all going to get charged back. So when merchants look at it like a line of credit and not as something they’re going to get away from or run from, then they live up to their end of the deal and we live up to ours without any of the smoke-and-mirrors between us. That’s why the people we do sign aren’t pressured into signing up; we slowly and methodically introduced ourselves as a good, solid provider, and that’s all we wanted to do.
At the end of the day, we just like to help merchants win and steer them away from potentially bad situations in their business if possible. That’s also why there are no penalties to close an account with us ever because there’s no commitments. If someone isn’t happy with us, we say, “We’re sorry we didn’t live up to your expectations, I wish we would have. Have a nice day.”
A lot of our competitors charge fees for closing accounts, like a “don’t let it hit you on the way out” fee. That kind of scenario seems to be saying, “Well, since we’ve made you mad anyways, let’s just grab another $1,000 out of the bank.” We’ll get in touch with the client months after they’ve left and invite them back to try us again.
TRO: How does NTC use the transaction data to help merchants grow their businesses?
MF: Since we’ve had experience with tens of thousands of travel merchants, we’re very keen on what makes them successful. When we see the ones that fail, we take note of, “Why did they fail?”. When they don’t take our advice and we see them failing, it’s frustrating. We know we can help them, but sometimes they don’t listen. You can actually tell a lot by the transactions, the who, what, when, and where. Jumping back to Starbucks, we know who bought the coffee, which Starbucks, which coffee and if cinnamon was added, and what time of day. Because we know so much, merchants listen to us. We drill down and look at the data and look at the intelligent data.
For example, if you’re a clothing store and you’ve never made a sale before 10 AM, but you open at 9, then you can see by the data that you don’t need to open until 10. If one of your employees, Sally Sue, never sells your most profitable item, then you know there’s a problem with that employee. There’s so much critical information behind that data, and we try to get merchants to open their eyes and see what we’re tapped into and what they can utilize to grow their business. Because ultimately, that’s what we want to do. We can get a merchant started and start processing their transactions, but the real home run for us is when we see that merchant grow.
Even large merchants ask me, “What’s my rate?”, and it’s such a frustrating question to answer. If I try to answer that question, then I’ll have to give you about 350 different numbers to look at for the big picture. The big brands are Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, and a dozen other different card brands and networks. On top of that, there are 40,000 different issuing banks. So a statement we receive can have literally thousands of different numbers that we have to line up in order to show the merchant what he’s actually paying because he has no idea. He thinks he knows, but he’s never done a true analysis and looked at the actual data. So in the end they may think they’re paying 2%, but in reality they’re paying 4% and have no idea how that happened.
TRO: NTC has been the preferred processor for organizations such as ASTA, CLIA, Vacation.com, and VIE for almost ten years. When you started the company, was travel an intentionally focus or did the chips simply fall that way?
MF: We did purposefully look at the travel merchants as ideal clients when I started the company. In 1997 there was a mass exodus of management from First Data to Elavon Merchant Services, because I knew I could get started over there. A lot of merchant providers will say they’ll get into travel and approve a merchant that doesn’t have enough volume to really stay in business. Then the processor will hold the funds, and the merchant has to reach in their own pocket to keep their business running instead of getting paid like they should. So one reason we’ve been in business specifically within the travel space for 10 years with no registered complaints is because we tell them, right up front, what to expect.
So absolutely, there was some definite purpose to going after travel. In order to really get to the heart of the industry, you need to have a couple of things: first, a financial institution big enough that they’re not going to have to triple check before they advance merchants money; second, a stellar underwriting institution like we have; and third, the ability to communicate efficiently with that underwriting institution.
TRO: At what point do your customers usually come knocking at your door? When they’re ready to start a business, or when they’re already established in their industry?
Mark Fravel (MF): Many of our customers come to us when it’s a crisis, when it’s life or death, such as when they’ve made a huge expenditure. Then their merchant account is frozen, they have multiple millions of dollars flying all around the universe, and they can’t get paid? It doesn’t sound right, but it happens!
TRO: What kind of customer would you say utilizes your services the best?
MF: After almost 20 years in the business, I’ve found that my best client is an entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter what kind of business he owns because he’s going to own about 10 or 12 businesses in the course of his life. Because each business has different needs, they come to us to get their processing needs customized and tailored to the needs of each business. We can handle the tap-n-go technology found at Starbucks and more sophisticated shopping cart technology.
TRO: You’re a member of the Broward County Prestige Club, which raises money for children and families in need. Can you tell us more about this organization and how you got involved?
MF: I got involved with the club about 10 years ago when I was invited to go on a picnic by this woman named Polly Wilkie and kind of fell in love with her, in a sense. She had not only lost a son but a grandson as well, and her grandson’s wish was to have a picnic just for the poor people. So every year around Thanksgiving we feed anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 hungry, needy, homeless families and children in a public park. We also bring Mickey and Minnie Mouse to the event, set up a stage with live events, face painting for the kids, toys that the kids can paint, clowns, and basically a whole day of fun. It was just so moving.
To be able to see the goodwill that you do and getting down to the kids’ level, versus just tearing off a check and sending it out is awesome. We also work with the kids from the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital who will most likely not make it to see this Christmas because of a terminal illness. We’ll take them on a bowling adventure, or a comedy club, and this way we’re able to reach out and touch those that larger organizations would just miss.
Within the Prestige Club we have dozens of business owners that contribute donations freely, and in order to help the club further, a lot of those merchants that are signed up with us, we’ll give our sales commission to the Club as a donation. This way they can continue to do what they do and we can make sure they have the means to do it.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
MF: Peru, specifically the Machu Picchu area. We recently went on a FAM Trip with 20 travel agents specifically to experience the trip from the point of view of the travel agent. I wanted to pick their brains and understand their challenges, because once again the more we understand their needs and frustrations, the better we can service them. We went to Machu Picchu with Gary Fee and made some great friends on that trip, and I’m excited to be invited to go on the next one because it’s great.
TRO: What exciting news is happening at National Transaction?
MF: The most exciting thing we have going on this year is our e-Pay. For a lot of merchants facilitating a transaction is cumbersome, so we’ve built software to make the process easier. This is exciting from two perspectives: first, from the merchant side, all you need to facilitate a transaction is the amount of the purchase and the customer’s email. Second, from the customer’s side, they just click on the incoming email which will take them to the merchant’s “shopping cart” where they enter their credit card information into the system.
What’s exciting about this is that this is a direct bank-to-bank transaction; there is no middle man software, just the two banks, our bank and the customer’s bank, talking to each other. From the merchant’s perspective, the process of getting paid can’t get any easier; from the consumer’s perspective, the process can’t be any more secure. From a security perspective there’s no one in the middle, not me, not National Transaction, nobody. Some software actually holds or stores the data, which is incredibly problematic and could lead to them getting shut down in the future.
We’re not officially out of beta test yet but the software has been released, and merchants are using the software right now. It’s also open source code, so anyone can customize however they like for their needs. The software is designed to point the two parties together and stay out of it, so it’s not really a shopping cart software in that sense.
For more information on Mark and National Transaction, visit them online at www.nationaltransaction.com or call 888-996-2273.
Be sure to check out their new promotional video here!