Put the customer first. I know this sounds cliché, but it’s amazing to me how many businesses are focused only on the bottom line and put customer service second. Make the right investments in keeping your clients happy, and they will keep coming back for years.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Kaufman, Founder & CEO at ConnexPay.
Prior to founding ConnexPay in 2017, Bob spent 18 years at U.S. Bank, where his tenure included serving as CFO of the Payments Services division as well as Senior Vice President, leading innovation projects that across the bank’s Payments division. In addition, Bob served as the General Manager of U.S. Bank’s Virtual Pay division, where he led product, marketing, and supplier enablement for all virtual payment solutions, as well as a sales team focused on virtual payments.
Bob earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Minnesota, and he holds a master’s degree in finance and strategic management from the University of Chicago GSB. Bob is a CPA and a CMA.
In his free time, Bob’s favorite activities include watching sunsets on the beach in Florida, playing ice hockey, and driving fast cars. He and his wife are the parents of four children — two who are grown and a set of twins who are in college.
ConnexPay is the first and only company to bring together the two sides of the payment process — payments acceptance and virtual payments issuing — into a single platform with one contract and one reconciliation. The flexibility of this technology allows clients to adopt the full end-to-end acquiring and issuing solution or leverage ConnexPay’s innovative intelligent routing issuing-only platform.
The company’s technology simplifies an antiquated workflow, eliminates the need for pre-funded accounts, reduces supplier risk and the cost of accepting card payments while safeguarding consumer spend. Founded in 2017, ConnexPay is an industry leader in payments for industries historically viewed as high risk to payment providers. Learn more at www.connexpay.com and follow us on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Prior to founding ConnexPay in 2017, I worked at a large US bank for nearly 20 years. My time there included serving as CFO of the payments division and general manager of the bank’s Virtual Pay division where I led product, marketing and supplier enablement for all virtual payment solutions, as well as a sales team focussed on virtual payments.
While working in these roles, I saw first-hand the pain that travel companies go through to accept payments from their customers and make payments to their suppliers. Banks and payment processors literally put travel companies in the same risk category as online gambling and online pornography. This risk categorization makes it very difficult for travel companies to obtain accounts with reasonable terms. Further, the disconnected process between accepting and issuing payments results in significant cash flow challenges. It was hard to watch these struggles, and I knew that things could be done so much better. Unfortunately, legacy systems were rigid and inflexible. ConnexPay was formed to alleviate these challenges travel companies face with an all-in-one payments solution to both accept and make payments inside a single platform. Our solution removes risk, which results in lower costs and higher profits for the travel company and entirely solves their cash flow problems.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I would say the process of starting ConnexPay. After a long career at a company I respected and enjoyed working for, it was not easy to give up that steady paycheck to start a company from scratch. However, I was so passionate about helping travel companies be treated better and help them grow their businesses. Like any new business, we had our ups and downs the first couple of years — and then the pandemic hit. However, although it hurt revenue for a while, the pandemic and its effects on the travel industry highlighted the need for ConnexPay, so timing was actually good. I enjoy waking up every day and helping businesses become more successful with a better payments process.
What is the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Gosh, I don’t know that I can say any of them are funny. Like any company, we have made plenty of mistakes, especially in our early days. However, the good news is that I can’t think of any that were “big” mistakes. I am a firm believer in failing fast. We try lots of new things, and certainly not all of them work and could be called “mistakes.” I think of them more as the means to successfully grow the business. Be creative, nimble, and willing to make mistakes — that is what drives success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share some of that story?
That’s very true; it really does take a village. There are many who have played an important role in my career, but there’s one person in particular who gave me the figurative push that I needed to start my own company. I’d been at my previous role for a while but had long been harbouring the ConnexPay idea. A dear colleague gave me the reality check I needed. She told me that if I wanted to make it work, I’d have to leave and pursue it on my own. I trusted her, handed in my notice, and never looked back.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
One of the key benefits we offer our clients, not just those in the travel industry, is providing real-time access to incoming customer funds. What does this mean? Well, whenever a customer pays a business with a debit or credit card, there is always a delay between when the payment is authorized and when the payment is actually deposited into the company’s checking account. That delay can be a major problem for businesses, and for travel companies in particular. When you have to wait for your funds (even a couple days), it creates cashflow problems as you often need to pay for what the customer purchased immediately (or at a minimum, doing so results in better pricing).
ConnexPay’s technology connects incoming customer payments to outgoing supplier payments in a single solution, all in real time. By linking these two transactions, we have visibility into the entire end-to-end payment process because ConnexPay facilitates both transactions. This allows us the ability to give our clients access to the money from their customers literally in real time at the point of the authorization/booking.
With our technology, travel companies no longer have to rely on lines of credit, large cash reserves, or “passing through” the customer’s credit card information to suppliers (which comes with a completely separate set of risks and issues).
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation, and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
It really goes back to the reason why we created ConnexPay in the first place — it pained me to see the way travel companies were treated. I am a huge travel advocate myself. Many of my best and most memorable experiences in life have been on vacation. It’s the travel companies that I work with every day that give me those great memories and experiences, and I am forever grateful. However, those same people are treated horribly by banks and payment processors when it comes to trusting them from a payments perspective. The innovation ConnexPay brought to the industry has disrupted this status quo, and clients doing business with ConnexPay are experiencing first-hand the way they should be treated. With ConnexPay, they are not viewed as high risk, they pay lower fees to accept payments, and they receive higher revenue from the payments they make to their suppliers.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
Travel and hospitality companies are going to need to refocus on customer experience. Earning the trust from a customer is not easy, and once someone agrees to buy from you, it’s key to keep that customer for many years to come. Unfortunately, the pandemic proved the weaknesses of our poor legacy payment processes. Roughly half of travel intermediaries don’t even take ownership for the payment process. They go through all the work to obtain a client, and then turn over maybe the most important part of the relationship, the payment, to the end supplier (i.e., hotel or airline). During COVID, all travellers needed help with rebooking, cancellations, and refunds. However, for travel intermediaries that chose not to be involved in the payment process, they lost the ability to help their clients and ultimately keep them as customers for years to come. It was painful to watch the mess that a broken payment process created. My hope is that travel intermediaries learn from that experience and leverage ConnexPay to solve what otherwise would be a painful payment process by owning that customer experience and managing the payments process themselves. It ultimately results in an improved bottom line.
You are a “travel insider.” How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
I have four children, and from when we had our first child, we have always taken two family vacations each year. Simply being with my family with uninterrupted time together is what makes vacation “perfect” for me. It gives me a break from the 24/7 job of running a business, and it’s the #1 thing I look forward to each and every year.
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness-driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
Because of my family’s interests in travel, connecting happens naturally for us. For instance, some of our favorite things to do are hiking, skiing, and sightseeing. As such, our family vacations are not just sitting on the beach. We also used to take RV vacations. Six of us being cooped up in a vehicle for multiple days created great opportunities to connect with each other. When out hiking or skiing, we regularly connect with other families and travelers. I am blessed that wellness-driven experiences happen naturally for me.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
I’m going to approach this one head-on because I am passionate about this. If a travel intermediary is going to succeed in the economy ahead, I am a firm believer they need to do the following things.
- Offer choice. Consumers don’t want to go to multiple websites to find their options for travel. The businesses that have the most options will succeed.
- Own the customer experience and the payments process. As already mentioned, the concept of turning over the payments part to someone else is unthinkable. The customer came to purchase from you — own that. ConnexPay gives you the ability to do this in a low-cost, high-revenue way.
- Bundle services and payments. Consumers want to know an all-in cost. They don’t want to pay for their flight on one charge, hotel on another, car on a third, excursion on a fourth, etc. Worse yet, another fee for a bag, another charge for a seat, etc — travelers may not come back to you if they feel they’re being nickel and dimed. Again, ConnexPay gives you the ability to bundle all of your offerings together.
- Control fraud and chargebacks. Unfortunately, there are bad people that take advantage of payment systems, and it can drain your bottom line. ConnexPay provides fraud prevention tools free of charge and a best-in-class chargeback management system that allows you to control fraud and fight chargebacks.
- Put the customer first. I know this sounds cliché, but it’s amazing to me how many businesses are focused only on the bottom line and put customer service second. Make the right investments in keeping your clients happy, and they will keep coming back for years.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m going to answer this question by first telling you a story about my family. When my kids were growing up, going out to eat was reserved for special occasions because there were six of us and we didn’t have a ton of extra money. One time when I took my family to a restaurant about 15 years ago, a waiter pointed out another customer who thought he knew me. It turns out he knew my father, who had passed away a long time ago, so while I didn’t know this man personally, it was really nice to talk about my Dad. After talking with him for a bit, I went back to my family and we had our meal. The bill didn’t come, so I asked the waiter for it, but he said that the guy I’d been talking to paid for my entire family’s dinner — and he’d already left the restaurant before I could even thank him.
This gesture of kindness and generosity from a complete stranger moved me so much and made a lasting impression on me. Now I’m in a place in life where I can afford to do this as well, and it’s something that I love doing regularly. I’m not looking for recognition or thanks from anyone; I just genuinely enjoy giving back to others, even complete strangers, by paying for their meal.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe in wanting to do good without telling people about it or looking for praise for it. It’s how I was raised; we should help others each and every day of our lives. We should think about others more than ourselves. It should be the norm. Strangely, I think that is how most people are. There are millions of great things that happen every day by a lot of great people. The “movement” for me would be to turn off the news and don’t worry about what recognition you might get for today’s good deed. Life rewards those who truly care about others more than themselves.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-kaufman-38b91a35/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!