Cornerstone Providing Merchant Services in Bloomington IL, from 2000 into the Future!

Cornerstone Business Solutions Ushers in New Payment SolutionsI began detailing my history in the evolution of merchant services in Bloomington Normal Illinois in a previous post.  Credit card processing was definitely a mature market in central Illinois when we opened our business, Cornerstone Card Processing, Inc. in March of 2000, on the corner of Empire and Towanda avenue in Bloomington, IL.  As the owner of the growing business, most of my time was spent in hiring, training, business management as well as networking events.  My role as a sales consultant had certainly changed, as I went from spending my days cold calling and doing presentations to interacting with merchants only on a referral basis.

At that time, one of the market trends having an impact was the growing popularity of debit cards.  Debit cards allowed access to customer funds only with the use of a Personal Identification Number (PIN).  Early versions were used primarily for ATMs, and had no Visa/MasterCard logos.  When a PIN key pad was added to a credit card terminal, merchants could accept these cards.  This enabled another payment option for the customer and had a side benefit of making less expensive transactions for the merchant.  Debit network fees were always less than Visa/MasterCard interchange fees until the Durbin Amendment.  When these check cards started working through the visa/mastercard network, the PIN and keypad was no longer required.  However, it was still functional and a savings to merchants when actually used, but most customers opted to ‘skip the pin’ out of convenience.  In just a few years we saw credit card usage soar in Bloomington IL.  Customers seldom carried checks anymore and the volume of offline (no PIN) credit card transactions grew until in 2008, check card transactions surpassed credit card transactions.

Prairie_Commercial_Park_BuildingThey say hindsight is 20/20 and I wish I’d foreseen the impact that the internet would have on the merchant services industry in central Illinois.  Our business continued to grow and in 2003, purchasing a building just east of Bloomington seemed like it would be great idea to house more staff and sales people to serve the local market.  What actually happened was my sales people had a more and more difficult time leasing terminals in the global market created by the internet.  Unfortunately, they usually didn’t have the relationships I had and couldn’t compete on price alone.  We found ourselves with huge overhead due to our commitment to local service and the leasing of terminals was an issue.  We hadn’t transitioned with the market and were less competitive.  The customer base no longer seemed to care that my cold calling representatives were local.  Furthermore, I missed the hands on relationships I had when I was a sales representative.

The solution was a complete overhaul of Cornerstone Card Processing, Inc., that allowed me the interaction I craved with my clients and a more competitive pricing model.  By eliminating Cornerstone’s local staff and moving out of the large building we drastically cut the expenses and were able to be competitive with any credit card processing company anywhere in the country.  Cornerstone was able to still maintain an incredible customer satisfaction level by outsourcing much of the administrative duties to our processing partners.  I also found that when I was personally responsible for the sales and the local customer service, there were far less issues.   I was also happy to get rid of leasing entirely and was able to deliver even more value to my payment card services clients by giving them terminals to use and waiving all start up costs. As for the sales staff, instead of spending endless hours recruiting, training and managing, I was able to jump back into that role I loved.  I found that I had much more time to know my customers and the referrals came pouring in.  Profits doubled within the first year under this new model.

As a result of the new nationally competitive rates, Cornerstone began getting more referrals for those wanting our merchant service from outside of Bloomington/Normal IL.  With new technology available, it was no longer imperative that business be done in person.  However, due to the relationships that I’ve built over the past 17 years in credit card processing, I still get many referrals from the local area and it’s still fun to get out and shake hands in person.

Cornerstone Business Solutions in NormalIn 2010, Cornerstone Card Processing, Inc. changed to it’s current location on Landmark Drive in Normal, IL.  At the same time, the dba Cornerstone Business Solution began being used to better reflect further changes in the industry.  Merchant payment processing is now more about overall solutions than just accepting credit cards.  We are now seeing more businesses looking at POS Solutions, Virtual Terminals, e-commerce solutions and mobile solutions.  We are also providers of gift card, loyalty card, check guarantee and even working capital with Merchant Cash Advance options.  The cross over into marketing has even graduated into the collection of customer data analytics that gives merchants more information than ever before on their customers.   And more than ever, a good payment professional is going to act as a consultant, especially with the impact that PCI Compliance and the Visa MasterCard Interchange Settlement have on merchants.

Moving into the future, we are seeing more changes than ever where mobile payments and Near Frequency Communication (NFC) are quickly changing the landscape of payments.  We’re also seeing more big players than ever breaking into this industry.  Some of the big names at a recent Money2020 show were Google, Amazon and Apple that are set on revolutionizing the next generation of payments.  It’s certain this evolution of payment solutions will be unlike any we’ve seen before.  Some of these changes will soon be seen in Bloomington, IL.  Next week, I’ll be upgrading a local long time client to a Euro MasterCard Visa (EMV) capable terminal for processing merchant services at J. Considine’s Hair Salon.  I’m looking forward to helping them and the rest of Bloomington usher in this new age of merchant payment processing, whatever it brings!

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