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Executive Interview Series: Jason Mills, Head of Merchant Services at First Citizens Bank

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The Executive Interview Series provides readers exclusive insights from movers and shakers in the payments industry. The payments industry is under continuous transformation. This series offers diverse perspectives on everything from strategy to payments technology and the industry’s future.

In this interview, TSG marketing team member Rachel Hartley spoke with Jason Mills, Head of Merchant Services for First Citizens Bank, to discuss the client-centric approach of First Citizens’ merchant services, the bank’s dedication to internal growth, and its commitment to staying ahead of evolving trends within the banking industry.

Jason has more than 20 years’ expertise in merchant acquiring at financial institutions.  Jason joined First Citizens Bank in December 2021 as Head of Merchant Services. In this role, he is responsible for all aspects of the acquiring business including financial performance, sales and marketing, operations, client experience, and risk management for a bank-owned portfolio of 18,000 clients processing $7 billion annually. Jason earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Outside the office, Jason enjoys woodworking, following the Tar Heels football and basketball teams, and spending as much time as possible at the N.C. coast. Jason resides in Raleigh, N.C., with his wife and son. 

Q: Rachel H.

Tell me about your role at First Citizens and how your past experiences have helped shape how you approach this role.

A: Jason M.

As the Head of Merchant Services for First Citizens Bank, I am grateful to work alongside talented, diligent Merchant Services associates and bank partners as we focus on our clients’ needs and their financial success.

I am fortunate to work for a strong, stable, top-20 U.S. financial institution that shares my passion for both payments and doing the right thing for our clients. The client-first focus and the positive culture are just a couple of the reasons I am proud to work here.  

I bring a unique perspective to my role at First Citizens. I’ve been in payments for over 20 years, and my wife is a small business owner accepting payments online and at her retail storefront. I understand first-hand how important it is for our clients to have robust payments acceptance options that enhance business processes and speed up deposit funding. I also began my career as a teller and lender and recognize how important the banker’s relationship with the client is. Previous work experience in product development, sales, technical support, and relationship management has given me a holistic payment processing perspective.

I have been fortunate to have had excellent mentors throughout my career who shared their experiences with me and challenged me to take on new opportunities and projects that propelled my growth. Now I share the experience I received and enjoy mentoring up-and-coming payments professionals. I always gain as much, or more, knowledge as I share. 

Q: Rachel H.

What is the mission of First Citizens? Tell me about the merchant services that First Citizens offers.

A: Jason M.

First Citizens Bank helps personal, business, commercial, and wealth clients build lasting financial strength. Founded in 1898 and headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., we provide a unique legacy of strength, stability, and long-term thinking that has spanned generations.

Our Merchant Services team provides payment acceptance solutions to small business, commercial, and middle market clients at First Citizens. Giving them the opportunity to work with one bank they can trust with all their business. 

We’re one of the few banks in the top 20 nationally that, in fact, own our merchant services portfolio. Where most banks refer merchant opportunities to a third-party vendor, First Citizens retains ownership of sales, onboarding, risk management, and support models. This model allows the merchant team to partner directly with bankers to provide an excellent client experience.

We’ve seen significant growth over the past couple of years. We’ve designed our platform to support businesses across all verticals.

Q: Rachel H.

How does First Citizens set themselves apart from competing banks?

A: Jason M.

As we discussed, one of the key differentiators is that by owning our own portfolio and the relationship with our clients. We can ensure their experience meets the standards of First Citizens. At First Citizens, we invest in a long-term relationship with our clients, which is one of the reasons we’re celebrating our 125th year in business. We always strive to do the right thing for our clients, which is why we have an extremely loyal client base and experienced, tenured employees. This client-focused approach is one of the many reasons I am honored to work for First Citizens Bank.

Q: Rachel H.

What growth initiatives are First Citizens working towards in the next year?

A: Jason M.

Our strategies are always focused on long-term growth. We’ll continue to grow Merchant Services through diversified sales channels, focusing on key strategic verticals and enhancing our relationships with technology and Fintech companies. It is also key to our continued success to strengthen our teams by continuously developing our experienced and dedicated associates.

We’ve developed strategies for acquisition and relationship management focusing on our clients and partners in Middle Market Banking following our merger with CIT in 2022. We’re constantly evaluating how we can best serve our clients and help them grow and expand their business.

Q: Rachel H.

As a financial institution that serves many different types of businesses, how do you see the importance of embedded banking in the needs of your customers?

A: Jason M.

Banks are at the core of financial systems. Our business and commercial clients depend on us to move their money and payments quickly and securely. It’s also important to provide banking and payment solutions that create efficiencies for their business. 

Embedded payments and payment facilitation is a fast-growing segment of the payments network. The platforms and ecosystems that enable frictionless payments are critically important to creating a better payment experience. At First Citizens, we offer embedded payments, Payfac platforms, and technology solutions. I expect embedded payments to be the majority of total acquired transactions in the next five years.  

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Q: Rachel H.

What trends in banking are you most excited to see evolve? Where do you feel the industry is heading in the next five years?

A: Jason M.

The payments industry is constantly evolving, and it is always exciting to see what is next. The speed at which technology is advancing creates multiple opportunities for the industry.

Payfac will be a part of the evolution of payments. We’ll also see major innovations in platforms for embedded payments, alternative payment options, and acceptance. First Citizens launched Zelle® for Small Business to our small business clients in the past month. This solution allows First Citizens’ clients to send and receive Zelle® payments within the First Citizens Digital Banking experience. B2B payments will continue to expand and grow. I also think you’ll see additional focus on the credit risk with the buy-now, pay-later option.  

Providing a consultative, client-focused approach will be critical to businesses. As small business and commercial clients update and integrate new payment acceptance models and platforms into business operations. Helping clients create efficiencies, bundling services around the transaction, and enhancing transaction details to provide value to the business will be central to First Citizens Bank’s success, or any acquirers. Product and technology solutions will come-and-go, but the personal connection to clients is the one constant that will determine success.

Payment transactions will continue to be commoditized, and to be successful. We’ll need to have expertise in technology, risk management, digital automation, payment optimization, and funding. 

I’m excited about our options to support payment and technology innovation. I look forward to seeing how the relationships with banks and fintech evolve over the next five years and the continued integration of payments and banking.

About First Citizens Bank

First Citizens Bank helps personal, business, commercial and wealth clients build financial strength that lasts. Headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., and now celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding, First Citizens has built a unique legacy of strength, stability and long-term thinking that has spanned generations. First Citizens offers an array of general banking services including a network of more than 550 branches in 23 states and commercial banking expertise delivering best-in-class lending, leasing and other financial services coast to coast. Parent company First Citizens BancShares, Inc. (NASDAQ: FCNCA) is a top 20 U.S. financial institution with more than $200 billion in assets. First Citizens Bank, Member FDIC. Discover more at