Some executives talk about building a business that straddles borders. Angela Brown has built a life that does.
As chief executive officer of Moneris Solutions Corp., Canada's largest processor of credit- and debit-card purchases, Ms. Brown spends her days focused on finding ways to improve the payment process from the company's headquarters in Toronto. On weekends, she often flies back to her home in Lake Mary, Fla., which she describes as a bedroom community north of Orlando where you have to watch out for black bears.
The commute may sound harrowing, but Ms. Brown says technologies such as Skype and iMessage have made it easier to check in with her family over the years. That is a theme that carries into her work life too, since Moneris's customers – both online and brick-and-mortar businesses – are constantly looking for new technologies that boost security, make taking payments easier and help reach customers on their phones. In the two years since Ms. Brown took the helm, she has been busy launching services and bolstering her team. Now, she is readying Moneris for a challenge she knows well: building up a stronger base in the competitive U.S. market.
If you want to find Ms. Brown, heading toward the airport is a safe bet. The Moneris head office is just 20 minutes away from Toronto's major flight hub in the city's west end. But on a hot day in late July, she takes the subway one stop for lunch at a familial Italian restaurant – just far enough from the office that bumping into employees is improbable. A cape of flowers covers the bustling patio of La Veranda Osteria. But a hostess seats us inside at table in the back, with the assurance that it will be quiet and private. Ms. Brown brings the garden in anyway, wearing a bright blue-green floral dress.
Green and a sort of purpley-blue are also the Moneris colours, even if the brand is largely invisible to the average consumer. While customers know if they have a MasterCard or Visa in their wallet, they might not think twice about the machine that reads their chip card when they pay for takeout, or the device they tap their card against at the drugstore.
But nearly four in every 10 times a credit card is used to make a purchase in Canada, Moneris moved money behind the scenes, earning fees paid by merchants on each transaction. Formed in late 2000 through a joint investment by Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal, Moneris now has a presence in about 350,000 merchant locations in North America and processes more than three billion credit- and debit-card transactions a year.
Most of those transactions are happening in Canada, but that could change as the U.S. business grows. "I think Moneris can be a great Canadian success story, in my mind because we have the technology – it's a cliché thing to say, but we really do," Ms. Brown says.
Mississauga-born Ms. Brown is proud of her west-end roots, but she jokes that the harsh Canadian winters played a role in persuading her to move south 15 years ago. "CIBC, my employer, asked me in February if I would like to move to Florida. It was good timing," she says with a laugh, tucking into an appetizer of butternut squash soup with fresh ground pepper.
But more important than warm weather, Ms. Brown wanted to be part of developing what was then a technology in its infancy – person-to-person payments (P2P). This is the system that allows individuals to transfer funds to each other, moving money from a bank account or credit card to pay for an item without the use of a cheque or money order. It was at the height of the dot-com boom, Paypal was growing as a part of eBay, and Yahoo wanted to launch its own digital answer to moving money online. Thanks to the smooth networking of another executive, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's U.S. arm won a deal to be PayDirect's financial partner in Maitland, Fla.
Ms. Brown moved with the project, but it didn't last. In 2001, Yahoo began working with HSBC on its money-transfer service and three years later the business was wound up entirely. Ms. Brown, in turn, left CIBC for a series of other jobs in the payments industry.
The long-haul commuting from Florida didn't start until 2010, with an offer to work for MasterCard Worldwide in Purchase, N.Y. Before taking the job, Ms. Brown and her husband called a family meeting with her son and daughter, then 16 and 13. "We talked about it as a family. We said, either mum can pass up a job opportunity, we can all move again, or we can try this commuting thing and see if we like it," she says. "We had moved a fair bit and we decided for high school we would not move the kids. It worked out really well."
In 2013, she came back to Canada as head of Moneris, at a time when the business was facing challenges and opportunities from a wave of new technologies, the biggest of which is mobile. While Moneris competes for merchants' business with small independent processors as well as other big fish such as Chase Paymentech and TD Merchant Services, it also has to keep up with how consumers want to pay. Now, services like Google Wallet, Apple Pay and dozens of other emerging apps and platforms are shaking up the landscape by introducing many more ways to buy things. It's not yet clear which ones will become most popular in the years to come, so Moneris has to watch them all.
Ms. Brown says her children are a good reminder of where the industry is headed. "I don't consider getting my card out of my wallet that much of an imposition. But I can tell you – I have a 21-year-old and an 18-year-old and they often aren't sure where their wallet is, but they're always sure where their phone is," she says.
Mobile is becoming the bridge between the two worlds of e-commerce and physical stores, Ms. Brown says. By 2019, more than 45 per cent of all retailers' points of sale will be on mobile devices such as phones or tablets, according to technology analysis firm ABI Research.
As customers mix their online and in-store shopping experiences, many retailers are trying to integrate their shops and websites, which were built and developed separately.
In the past three years, Ms. Brown has seen more demand for integrated systems. Retailers need to know "how many of their physical-store shoppers also buy online. How many order online and pick up the item in store?" Ms. Brown says. "The view they want to see is something our payment system can support."
Moneris has launched many services to help retailers be more efficient as the landscape changes. One tracks items that are returned across the business, while other uses mobile devices to help large stores break up long lines, cutting customers' wait times. And the company has also aligned itself with Apple Inc. as a Canadian mobility partner. This role includes talking to merchants about mobile point-of-sale options such as using iPads in restaurants, and how they make customers happier and reduce costs.
One concern nearly all Moneris's customers share is cybersecurity and the threat of hackers. Ms. Brown puts down her spoon to take on this topic. "We feel fortunate that we have not been one of those early players that had to deal with a breach … but they say it's not if, it's when. And our job is to say the 'when' is a long ways away. So we will constantly invest in our security," she says, adding that criminal activity is getting more sophisticated.
With these new products in place, Ms. Brown wants Moneris to double in size in the next five years. And the U.S. market will be the key to that growth, she says. "We're a lot smaller there than we are here in Canada, but my intention has been to rebalance that out," she says.
It's an incredibly competitive marketplace, but Ms. Brown says Moneris should get a leg up in the United States because of its familiarity with the chip-and-pin-card technology, which is set to become the official standard south of the border in October. For Canadians, and many Western European consumers, the chip card is already established. "Because that is the technology we deploy here, and we have a deep expertise in it, our strengths start to really shine in the U.S.," she says.
It's not only technology Ms. Brown is counting on, but also the big-bank backers that have already given Moneris the freedom and flexibility to invest without the pressure of quarterly results.
Both BMO and RBC are trying to boost their businesses in the United States and Ms. Brown is counting on more business coming her way. "You need someone to be referring to you business customers who need these kinds of solutions," she says. "I mean, you have your own salespeople, but today you have to have more than one way to go to market."
Last year, Moneris added to its team in Chicago and the company now has about 1,800 employees overall.
With that, it's time to settle the bill for lunch, which comes to the table with a short-range wireless payment terminal. A few buttons and beeps later, Moneris is moving the money, and Ms. Brown is off to keep Moneris moving.
Angela Brown, CEO, Moneris Solutions
Place of birth: Toronto, but she grew up in Mississauga.
Education: BA in economics from the University of Toronto, MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University.
Family: Married to high-school sweetheart David for 35 years. He was a stay-at-home dad to their two children. Steven, 21, is now studying economics at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Anna, 18, is starting her first year at Alabama State University in a general program, with the thought of being an engineer.
Favourite getaway: The 900-square-foot Pan Abode cottage the family bought near Gravenhurst, Ont., last year. It was built in the late 1960s and came as a fixer-upper, but the smell of western red cedar made the work worth it. "This summer, it's been very nice to have the family come my direction," she says. There are no TV screens, but they do have the Internet. "With young adults – kids – you definitely need your WiFi."
Brush with the wild: "We know we have bears in Ontario, and you've got to be careful in cottage country, but Florida has bears. There's this Ocala National Forest where there's a bear population, and they come into your backyard. I've had them in my driveway. In Florida! Isn't that something?"