First Data Corp. has become a do-it-yourself company in the past year, shedding an acquisitive culture while expanding into new markets.
The Atlanta unit of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. said that its earlier strategy, which stressed buying over building, hamstrung its efforts to expand quickly.
Developing its own products makes "time to revenue ... much faster because the product is naturally integrated, as opposed to trying [to] integrate it after the fact," Michael Capellas, First Data's chairman and chief executive, said in an interview. "You're not sitting there with an acquired product that you have to integrate later."
In part, the Atlanta processor's commitment to this shift in strategy is a response to the economy, Capellas said. As the recession began to affect his company, "our strategy through it was to continue to invest in new products" and transform "from a company that traditionally acquired technology to a company that built it," he said.
First Data embraced this hands-on approach to expand into mobile payments with the August 2008 introduction of GoTag, its contactless payment sticker aimed at mobile phones.
"We certainly would have generally acquired into" the mobile business had this project begun in preceding years, he said. "That had been our tendency all along."
This philosophy also guided First Data's international growth.
"We had been in lots of acquisitions, a lot of dispersed platforms and things, and in 2008 with our FirstVision platform, we went with the strategy of build once, deploy often ... to expand into different geographies," Capellas said.
It also took a similar approach with Banc of America Merchant Services LLC, its joint venture with Bank of America Corp. that took on the clients First Data kept after it dissolved Chase Paymentech Solutions LLC, an earlier joint venture with JPMorgan Chase & Co.
In the Chase Paymentech arrangement, "the venture itself owned the platform," Capellas said. The new Banc of America Merchant Services venture uses First Data's own platform, he said.
First Data is also nearing the end of a "massive data center consolidation" project that has lasted nearly two years and counting. By yearend, it will have just two data centers in the United States, in Omaha and Phoenix, compared to 13 at the start of the project. It has completed a similar project in Europe, consolidating seven data centers into one, in Munich.
Of course, there was also the expected "belt tightening," as he put it, for a company operating in the financial services business during the recession.
"Sometimes you go: 'I have no idea where the economy is going,' and you have to sort of manage your way through that," he said.