TSYS annual meeting: Looking back at past 30 years, preparing for future (video)

CEO Tomlinson says 1983 move to enter publicly traded realm has turned out ‘brilliant’

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comApril 30, 2013 

The major theme running through the TSYS annual shareholder meeting Tuesday centered on just how far the technology company has come since becoming publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The year was 1983 and the credit-card processor born out of Columbus Bank and Trust had a mere 128 employees, handling not even 2 million accounts, noted Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Phil Tomlinson.

“It’s pretty incredible that we were bold enough to even consider going public, much less actually did it, because it was a tiny company. But it turned out to be a brilliant move,” said the CEO, who now runs a global card and payment processing powerhouse with about 9,000 employees, processing nearly 500 million accounts in more than 80 countries.

Its total revenue last year was $1.87 billion, up 3.4 percent from 2011, while net income, or profit, came in at just over $244 million, nearly 11 percent higher.

But Tomlinson, addressing a packed audience inside the corporate auditorium, with a streaming webcast included, threw out more numbers to indicate the growth TSYS has experienced in three decades.

Last year, he said, the company processed 16 billion cardholder and merchant transactions, or an average of 40 million a day or 463 per second. That amounted to more than $2.5 trillion in transactions altogether, or $7 billion a day. And then there were roughly 180 million billing statements, letters and credit cards produced by the firm.

At the company’s core, Tomlinson said, was its reputation, integrity, innovation, customer service and a will to win.

“I think you have to have this will to win,” he said. “You’ve got to be competitive, and you’ve got to hate to lose.”

That was apparent, the CEO said, in one of its highlights of the year — regaining a long-term contract with Bank of America to process its U.S. consumer cards, business it lost in 2005 following a mega-merger between the bank and credit-card giant MBNA.

The Bank of America portfolio should be back with the TSYS TS2 system by the middle of 2014. Altogether, the company has about 100 million new accounts in the pipeline.

“I’m so proud of our team for having the tenacity and perseverance to win back the Bank of America consumer business. Our people never, never, never gave up,” Tomlinson said. “Once we convert Bank of America ... and we continue our global growth, we believe we’ll be by far the largest third-party provider of processing services for Visa and Mastercard in the world.”

About 51 percent of the company’s revenue in 2012 came in North America, with its International segment comprising 22 percent and its merchant processing arm contributing 27 percent.

The diversification came from a board of directors brainstorming retreat in 2009 at Callaway Gardens, the CEO said, with those present bringing up the fact that 98 percent of TSYS’s business was from card processing.

“We were purely in the Visa, Mastercard and private-label card processing business,” he said. “We decided that we just couldn’t continue to wait on the next big cardholder deal ... that we needed to diversify in different ways. We built a strategy around those thoughts, and I think it’s worked very well for us.”

Part of the firm’s continued diversification will be a highlight that is materializing this year — the $1.4 billion pending purchase of Austin, Texas-based NetSpend, a company that markets general purpose reloadable cards for “underbanked” consumers. The deal is expected to be completed this summer.

“We service over 100 million prepaid cards today. So in many respects the marriage shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. It’s really in a sweet spot for TSYS,” said Tomlinson, who welcomed NetSpend CEO Dan Henry in the audience and pointed out that he and 12 of the firm’s top executives will remain with TSYS after the acquisition.

“With NetSpend, we will immediately become a top provider of general purpose reloadable and payroll cards in the U.S.,” said Tomlinson, mentioning that if the tech-firm had been with TSYS in 2012, it would have represented 18 percent of total revenue.

Looking ahead, TSYS is taking major steps to research and develop technology, products and services for the emerging world of mobile payments. It also is working on a way to dramatically shorten the time it takes to convert customers’ card accounts to its system. The CEO said the multiyear project is the most significant data-systems initiative the company has undertaken since the creation of TS2 in the 1990s.

“One of the big things that we have to deal with when we sign a new customer is the fact that the conversion is long, detailed, arduous and tough,” the CEO said. “We get it done. We’ve got a great team that does that. But it takes time. We think we can speed that process up a lot.”

Attending Tuesday’s meeting were students from Shaw High School, the company’s Partner in Education for three decades. It also is a partner with Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy.

In a nod to the past and the future, a group of employees with TSYS at least 30 years were asked to stand, followed by a group of younger staffers recently hired and now undergoing intense training at the company.

Tomlinson noted that Rebecca Yarbrough is leaving the TSYS board of directors. The Columbus businesswoman, civic leader and private investor has been on the board since 1999.

Shares of TSYS rose 13 cents, or 0.5 percent, closing at $23.62 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock’s 52-week trading range is $21.10 to $25.06 per share.

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