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December 9, 2020Executive Interview Series

Executive Interview Series: Celero Commerce CEO, Kevin Jones

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 Celero Commerce CEO Kevin Jones to learn more about his journey as a payments industry veteran and how Celero Commerce is approaching the industry differently.


Background: During more than 20 years as a fintech executive, Kevin Jones has created customer-centered cultures, driving diverse teams to consistent year-over-year revenue increases, operational fitness, strong profitability, and shareholder return. As founder and CEO of Celero Commerce, Kevin is building an organization that blends payments and software technologies into an easy-to-consume bundle of products and services aimed at helping small and mid-sized businesses compete and win in a complex marketplace. Celero, currently a top 10 non-bank payments processor in the country, serves more than 43,000 American businesses through strategic partnerships, direct-to-merchant strategies, integrated distribution channels, and software-as-a-service solutions for over 60 verticals.

TSG’s Alex Ferguson:
How did you get into the payments industry?

A: Kevin Jones
I started my career in retail banking with a regional financial institution in North Carolina. I quickly gained a reputation for successful turnarounds within the bank and drifted toward the non-interest income products. In late 1999, Paymentech reached out with an opportunity to help build a channel specifically focused on building solutions for community banks. In early 2000, I moved to Dallas with my wife and this turned out to be the best career decision of my life because I ended up with a great company and a group of phenomenal mentors such as Eddie Myers, Dan Charron, and Mike Duffy.

Q: Alex Ferguson
Looking into your background, you have held executive positions early in your career at high volume acquirers such as Chase Paymentech and First American Payment Systems before transitioning to smaller acquirers such as SignaPay and Anovia Payments. How were those experiences in your career helpful when launching Celero Commerce?

A: Kevin Jones
Chase Paymentech was a particularly meaningful experience in that there was a high expectation of discipline around projects, processes, and decision making. This approach to development prioritization, structure, product, finance, and decision making has been a key component of scaling the businesses I have been involved with since. The executive leadership team provided a great model for responsible growth disciplines.

Q: Alex Ferguson
Tell us about your experience working as the President and Chairman of ETA. Did you find the transition from merchant acquirer to trade association to be difficult?

A: Kevin Jones
I didn’t find the transition to be difficult because of the conviction I have in the positive impact ETA can have on our members. I took service to our members seriously and it was an honor to serve them.

My time on the board started by serving Eddie Myers as an advisor. He was truly instrumental in expanding the tent and including a broader representation of our ever-changing ecosystem. My core passion has been to expand our government relations voice. Over 90% of our member companies rely wholly on ETA to be their voice in Washington DC, as well as the states to ensure we are well represented as new regulations, taxes, laws, and other impactful actions are considered. Scott Talbott and the team have performed extremely well in driving and maintaining an innovative and healthy environment for our members to deliver our solutions. We made meaningful progress in expanding our reach and representation, yet we must remain diligent and continue empowering government relations as we move forward.

Lastly, I never planned to preside over a period in which we were searching for a new CEO. However, it provided a unique opportunity for the board and executive committee to consider ways to reinvent our ability to add value to our members. We went through a thorough strategy discussion and search that ended with a sound path forward and a fantastic leader in Jodie Kelley to guide us.

Q: Alex Ferguson
Of all these experiences we have talked about in your past, which has been the most memorable?

A: Kevin Jones
The first thing that pops into my mind is the people. I believe that when my career is behind me, I will be most excited about the positive impact these journeys have had on the individuals who are committed to success. Teams must overcome a lot to find success. Trust, aptitude, respect, humility, and grit are key characteristics I admire in teams, and they are core components to success, especially in challenging times like we are in now. Another thing I really value is that seven of the leaders at Celero and I have been together at one, two, or three companies prior, with three dating all the way back to Paymentech. Those opportunities to grow together in ability, experience, trust, and confidence are cherished. 

Q: Alex Ferguson
Tell me more about Celero Commerce. What makes it different from other merchant acquirers?

A: Kevin Jones
We are a true FinTech company in that while we are primarily a payments company, we also have material technology differentiators. Making a complex environment as simple as possible for our customers is a key focus. Our Compass middleware tool makes it easy to become a customer and to remain aware of key performance indicators for both merchants and partners. We also own SaaS solutions that enable payments + SaaS bundle in over 65 verticals, from HVAC to pharmacy. Our mission is to help small to mid-sized businesses compete and win. Technology, data, and white-glove service are key to fulfilling this. High-tech, high-touch.

Q: Alex Ferguson
Looking into Celero Commerce’s history, the company made several investments and acquisitions shortly after inception. One of these acquisitions, RazorSync, is an ISV that focuses on providing vertical specific management software to field service merchants. With your interest in RazorSync in mind, how do you see the U.S. integrated market growing in the coming years?

A: Kevin Jones
We certainly believe we are still on the front edge of that trend. It isn’t anything new, but it is certainly becoming much more common amongst the SMB merchant segment. Simplicity is a major driver of buying decisions so it is logical that merchants will adapt to solutions that include both payments and business management solutions and are easy to consume. I believe this will fundamentally change our approach to distribution in the payments industry.

Q: Alex Ferguson
In addition to providing merchant solutions, Celero Commerce also appears to have an arm dedicated to partnerships with Financial Institutions. Tell us about this line of business and how Celero Commerce is able to offer a service that many acquirers cannot.

A: Kevin Jones
Financial Institutions are a cornerstone of Celero Commerce. We have so much respect for the impact that both community and regional banks have in the US. The pandemic provided yet another example of how valuable a strong relationship with a community/regional bank is to an SMB. We had partners that worked late for months to try to help their customers survive and thrive the pandemic. As such, we want to empower these banks to have products and technology that put them in the lead, instead of just trying to keep up. We have developed a middleware partner management platform, created access to nearly 5,000 VAR’s, proprietary vertical technology in over 60 verticals, and a process to provide payment consulting to these banks to achieve growth so that we can enable their mission. Our high-tech, high-touch philosophy starts with our FI partners because we understand that a few basis points used to drive decisions while now the biggest value is being able to say ‘yes’ a much higher percentage of the time because of our ability to enable that yes with products and technology.

Q: Alex Ferguson
How has Celero Commerce been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? What trends have you been noticing as the pandemic has developed since March?

A: Kevin Jones
Like most payments organizations that focus on small to mid-sized businesses, we saw a meaningful negative volume impact quickly as the shutdowns occurred. Luckily, we are a strong business and were able to focus our efforts on our core mission which has always been to help small to mid-sized businesses thrive. We created an offense and a defense within the organization. Our defense met daily to discuss trends, impacts, and measures to ensure continued strength while our offense focused wholly on our SMB merchants and FI partners offering appropriate product pivots, best-practices, advice, data, and support. We delivered these through thousands of calls, over 50 webinars, weekly CEO messages, and even created a COVID-19 website to make these tools available 24/7. We are grateful to have seen our volume trend back above pre-COVID-19 levels. Big-box has flourished while many of the local coffee shops, restaurants, dry-cleaners, breweries, bed and breakfasts, and more have seen their businesses fail. Given the dramatic variance in how a dollar performs after being used at an SMB vs. a big-box (a dollar spent locally circulates the local economy an average of more than 4 times vs 1 at a big-box), the impact goes much deeper than just missing the local flare and personal unique experiences of a local business. It drastically damages local economies.

Q: Alex Ferguson
Do you feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has created or will create any long-lasting changes to the payments industry?

A: Kevin Jones
Some changes will occur, but as of now, I don’t think they will be material. If government mandates continue to restrict small businesses from operating, that could change. The change could be that shutdowns damage the SMB community and they don’t recover, shifting much more consumer spending to big-box.

The small changes are that we are seeing a more rapid adoption of some technology. I feel like these were consumer behavior changes that were inevitable but more quickly adapted because of the pandemic. Examples are pay-by-touch, mobile wallets, contactless payments (1/3 of consumers have tried it during COVID-19, and one of four say they will continue to use it after), virtual payments, curbside pick-up/online ordering, and e-commerce.

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