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Executive Interview Series: Ben Weiner, EVP, Head of B2B and Government at Paya, a Nuvei Company

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The Executive Interview Series provides readers with exclusive insights from movers and shakers in the payments industry. The Payments Industry is under continuous transformation, as such this series provides diverse perspectives on everything from strategy to payments technology and to the future of the industry.

In this interview, TSG’s Market Intelligence team member Alex Ferguson sat down with Ben Weiner, EVP, Head of B2B and Government at Paya, a Nuvei Company, to discuss their focus on the B2B and Government verticals, what makes an attractive vertical market to begin with, and where he sees the industry heading in the foreseeable future. Paya’s B2B business focuses on transactions where a business is paying another business. These transactions tend to skew more toward supply chain industries like manufacturing, wholesale/distribution, durable goods, etc.

Background: Ben Weiner leads Paya’s Business to Business and Government Payment franchises; responsible for sales & customer success, marketing, product, and overall business strategy & execution. Prior to this role, Ben was Paya’s Chief Strategy Officer, focused on the company’s expansion in new and existing vertical markets. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

Q: Alex F.

Tell me about yourself. How did you find yourself entering the payments industry?

A: Ben W.

Yeah, it’s kind of an interesting start. My background is actually in investing from the private equity side, not on the operational side. I worked at a private equity firm called GTCR, where I invested in fintech for a handful of years. Working closely with our portfolio companies on strategy, it became pretty clear to me that I wanted to be an operator and spend some time on that side of things. Through my work at GTCR, the opportunity with Paya came up and it was perfect. Paya was a great platform, tied to a lot of key themes in the industry that I had observed from the investing side.

I entered the payment space in 2017, which was a dynamic time in the industry, particularly with the shift toward integrated payments as a key growth engine. Then connecting those trends to Paya, it was a business that served a lot of markets with tremendous whitespace for future growth of electronic payments. Another huge positive was that Paya catered to mid-market businesses, which were ripe for a lot of transformation in the next decade or so in terms of how they approached commerce itself. This was a platform of great opportunity, and I dove in headfirst.

Q: Alex F.

You’ve worn a few different hats during your tenure at Paya, from Head of Corporate Development & Strategic Initiatives, to Chief Strategy Officer and now to EVP and Head of B2B and Government. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your roles throughout your career that you’ve applied to your role today?

A: Ben W.

In particular, I’m really thankful for Paya as an organization for always giving me more rope as new roles emerge, and new challenges presented themselves. Both the amazing colleagues and teams that I was able to work with to transform this business over the last five and a half years. Through that experience, really two main lessons that I would call out. First, partner and customer orientation were really a guiding principle for everything we did and everything that I was involved in across multiple roles. In corporate development, you quickly figured out that it was the businesses who had the most satisfied customers or channel partners that tended to be the premium acquisition targets.

Pivoting over to being Chief Strategy Officer and running product for Paya, we really listened to our customers in terms of roadmap. This is most evident in terms of our recent launch of ‘Paya Payables’ being a perfect example there. Tons of customers we served on the AR side of things coming to us looking for vendor consolidation, automated payables, and wanting to work with us to give them more product. The end result was ‘Paya Payables,’ which launched last January, bringing Paya for the first time into the AP side of things and building on our strength in AR. The same principle continues to inform the roadmap and priorities for both our B2B and government businesses today, accelerated by Nuvei’s acquisition of Paya.

Our new citizen engagement products in Government are really driving mobile experiences and listening to what our municipalities want. We also have advanced reconciliation and data products on the B2B and AR side of things, and we’re always bringing in new integrations when the customers or partners are asking for it.

Second, build on your strengths. That’s been a real key to our success as well. We recently reinvested high ROI dollars into our great markets like B2B and Government. These markets, we find attractive from an investment standpoint due to the low penetration of electronic payments, a clear roadmap for future adoption fueled by product innovation, delivering simplicity to the payer, and need for quality integrations. When you look at both B2B and Government, these are markets growing in excess of GDP, which we really like of course.

Paya had incredibly strong franchises to begin with here, large existing customer bases for cross-sell/upsell, great libraries and integrations, great existing network for distribution, and we continue to invest in innovation on top of all the great products and existing integrations we have. You’re starting to see a lot of this in the market now, particularly with our new ‘UtilityConnect’ software in Government, which launched in the fourth quarter of last year.

Q: Alex F.

What personal contribution has been the most impactful towards Paya’s mission throughout your time at Paya?

A: Ben W.

To me, it would be the overhaul of our broader strategy to move further and further into software from integrated payments. You see this both in our B2B and government franchises. It’s a combination of organic roadmap build and execution, like that next-generation ‘UtilityConnect’ software I just mentioned, but also acquisition. In our B2B business, we acquired a company called VelocIT last January, which had a best-in-class AR billing software. We’ve invested behind that product, put it out into the market as the cornerstone of our B2B franchise, and have approached it from a software perspective ever since then.

I think what we realized, and what we’ve seen is that selling the software differentiates Paya greatly from our competitors. It solves so many more pain points for customers than a traditional payments gateway. Our integration partners really appreciate the functionality that works with their ERP software to help provide a holistic, customer-friendly solution. It allows Paya to extract fair economics when we bring the software solution to the table. It’s, of course, incredibly sticky as it’s embedded in the core workflow of accounting departments, and the work that they do every day. It also allows us to be in a position of strength and deliver new features and products and solutions for customers.

Q: Alex F.

With your current focus on B2B and Government payments, how do these verticals differ from other emerging high-growth verticals, and what makes Paya uniquely qualified to serve it?

A: Ben W.

Well, these are areas that are still dominated by paper: paper checks, paper bills, and paper invoices. Consumers and businesses are eager to go paperless, they just need robust and integrated tools. I’ll break this into two but go a little deeper in B2B, just given all the excitement you’re probably hearing about that space in the market today. B2B is one of-if not the best market in payments from my perspective. It has true whitespace, both in the forms of unintegrated payments or merchants that literally don’t accept electronic payments at all today. It’s got competitive fragmentation and you have a real step function and secular growth well in excess of GDP.

You ask why that is and you break it down further. The B2B space today is still dominated by paper check, we estimate about 70% of total payments here are paid by paper check. When you’re dealing with paper invoices and paper checks, there’s a lot of manual processes, and it becomes really difficult to streamline and modernize the environment when all that paper is involved. On top of that, you have to remember these are complex businesses with needs that straddle multiple vendors and ecosystems.

You think inventory management, tax compliance, accounting, all the different card present/card not present payment types – it all has to be integrated and working together. That to me, has served as the true barrier for electronic adoption for all this time. Then you take a step back, and this complexity really creates opportunities for businesses who differentiate themselves. The winners are those that can solve these use cases for customers, work with the back-end ERP software, and really understand the space.

So, what does Paya do really well in B2B? It all starts with breadth and quality of integrations. It’s what data you get, it’s when you get it, and it serves as the basis for how you deliver your products. We have a very large library of quality, native integrations that power their franchise here. Secondly, we are selling billing AR software versus just a payments pipe, and really deep AR functionality in that software helps us win in the space. Lastly, it’s our implementation and product expertise to me. We take a real subject matter expert-based approach here, where we have over 150 years of ERP-meets-payment experience across our product development teams and that really helps our message with customers and partners.

Then you switch over into Government. Again, another high-growth, real-quality market that lags behind other more mature spaces in payments as far as the ability for consumers to pay electronically, and in a user-friendly manner. We’re still seeing here the majority of customers pay by paper means, and even within that electronic minority, the experiences aren’t what they should be.

One that resonates, I think, for everyone is the experience of paying your water bill. You start with paper snail mail, you type in a URL that has an old UI from a website, you manually enter the amount you owe and hopefully don’t add an extra digit to your water bill for the month, and then you make a payment and you hope it was received with no confirmation electronically. That’s just a simple use case with no partial payment, late payment, multiple properties, anything like that. What I’m real proud of at Paya is we make these user experiences really simple for the payer and the municipality. We have a brand-new portal with a great UI. We have great systems in place for recurring payments, auto payments, and text-to-pay.

Our portals are multilingual in both English and Spanish and we allow people to pay with multiple properties all inside their account. That’s all on the payer or the citizen side. It’s all integrated in Postback into the accounting system of the municipality, and we offer a separate agent-facing portal to facilitate customer service and simplify life for the municipal workers. We think that’s the way business and commerce should be done in that space and that helps us differentiate.

Q: Alex F.

There’s been an increasingly large focus across the payments industry, specifically on B2B payments. What’s changed in the last decade to warrant this shift in interest? Or has it always been there in your opinion?

A: Ben W.

To me, it’s always been there. We’ve been at this for a while. We’re masters at working with ERPs to give them great payments offerings inside their software suite. We work for years and going on decades with the value-added resellers, the system integrators, the CPA firms who are really the lifeblood of the space. We continue to innovate and serve our customers and partners and continue to benefit from the market tailwinds that we talked about earlier. What I will say is that COVID represented essentially a step function accelerant here, forcing businesses to think about process automation and electronification that would have played out over a longer, more protracted period of time had the pandemic not occurred.

Now, all that said, we’re still in the early innings of the B2B market and expect competitors to show up and take a shot at this space. This market is so high-quality, and it deserves a lot of the buzz you’ve seen recently in the market and competitive spotlight that has come up over the last several quarters. You have folks entering the space now, just from the fact that they see how much sheer unintegrated volume there is, how much paper-based payments there is, and there’s unique business problems to solve. It’s very logical for these companies to devote resources here versus some of the more saturated markets that are used to playing in where it’s all essentially price competitive today.

At Paya and B2B, being at this for so many years, we feel really good about our hand and the barriers to entry that exist in the space, whether it’s the complexity of integrations or payment use cases needed to serve these customers. We like our head start, we like the hundreds of distribution partners we have, we love the 20,000+ customers that we work with in the space already today, helping grow their businesses and mature their businesses and the opportunity to cross-sell to them as appropriate. I think this has always been a great market and folks are starting to wake up to it slowly. Nuvei’s acquisition of Paya helps us build on that head start and continue to innovate in the space.

Q: Alex F.

When evaluating emerging vertical markets to penetrate, what characteristics do you feel are most important with the current economic climate in mind?

A: Ben W.

So first, it’s macro conditions, right? There’s a couple of themes you look at. The need for shortening AR cycles, eliminating paper-based processes, improving reconciliation, and managing cost of acceptance (and when I say managing cost of acceptance, it’s how much to accept electronic payments for the payer or the merchant). Then when you relate that to the current economic climate, it becomes even more relevant, particularly for mid-market businesses like we talked about at the beginning, improving their working capital positions, collecting cash faster, reducing inefficiencies, and optimizing OPS and finance departments, etc.

Also, you can’t ignore the cost of acceptance point when you’re talking about these businesses. Very relevant for people in the B2B space who often face large average tickets – think four or five figures for what they’re selling. This is where it becomes relevant, like for Paya, where we offer level two and level three programs for qualifying transactions to lower the cost of interchange, we have integrated ACH products which can cost a fraction of what card acceptance cost of the largest tickets, and then help serving those customers through that.

Second, it’s seen as an opportunity to provide an easier path to electronic payments for the customers of our customers (the payer) than what exists in the market today. I can give you a real-world example of that. The property tax market is a space where Paya has seen momentum within our government business closely related to our strength in utility payments. The county wants to collect their money on time without reconciliation nightmares that exist today. They want to get rid of the paper, and they want to avoid charging unnecessary delinquent fees to property owners who have the best intention of paying on time. Citizens want to pay their taxes easily – think electronic, mobile, and recurring.

Then how have you solved that problem? It’s a very familiar story, right? Modern portals and invoicing tools that integrate to the appropriate back-end systems that supply the data, a combo of card and ACH offerings to make payment affordable and easy to the citizen, and a real shift towards mobile-based experiences (payments, notifications, and the actual application or rendering of the portal itself). We’re trying to bring that all from your mailbox to your computer screen or your tablet and we’re seeing that play out with Paya winning in the market today.

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Q: Alex F.

In your eyes, what has been Paya’s most significant contribution to the payments industry?

A: Ben W.

So, two themes Paya was very early in and set a real tone for the rest of the industry that I can observe. The first being the early adoption of early integrated payment providers: software meets payments. This goes all the way back to the days when Paya, formerly Sage Payment Solutions, was a captive offering inside of Sage software. But what most people don’t know is in addition to that business, Paya also had a great ISV partner program in nonprofit, in healthcare, and a handful of other markets way before the recent trend and capitalized on that experience.

Second, combination of card and ACH together for a unified experience that we’ve hit on a little bit. Paya has always owned and still owns a proprietary ACH acquiring and processing arm. Having that in-house gives us much more control of the overall experience offered between card and ACH, and most of the industry is just catching up on this as ACH continues to grow rapidly as a payment method and pivot towards themes like same-day ACH, real-time ACH, etc.

Q: Alex F.

What emerging payment topic are you most excited about in the next five years? Where do you feel the industry is heading?

A: Ben W.

This one probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should, but I’m super excited to focus on what the future of the CFOs office and organization looks like as it modernizes for the 21st century and beyond. What do I see here? A single commerce vendor and integration for the CFO’s office working with the ERP and finance system directly, automating and digitizing essentially all finance processes (think data on sales, receivables, payables, cash, and inventory in real-time).

Then you play that out across broader themes like BI or data analytics, the ability to provide insight into future problems and solutions on a daily, weekly, quarterly, or even multiyear basis. Then on top of all that, having your commerce software give you the tools to improve and act on your current situation and achieve better outcomes based on the data that’s coming in. These are trends that we’re investing beyond currently at Paya and really well positioned to capitalize on and see this play out over the next several years and decade.

Related: Transforming Payments in B2B Transactions