Spun off from Synovus Financial Corp. on the last day of 2007, Total System Services Inc. entered 2008 with much more control over its costs and a newfound ability to make its own decisions about acquisitions.
"Little did we know we were spun into the worst economic environment since the Great Depression and virtually every bank in the world was headed into hard times," Philip W. Tomlinson, the Columbus, Ga., processor's chairman and chief executive, said in an interview.
The recession has cost TSYS some prominent clients, such as Washington Mutual Inc., which sold its banking operations to JPMorgan Chase & Co. last year. (JPMorgan processes in-house using TSYS software, so there is still some licensing revenue coming in, but the processor speaks of Wamu as a client loss.)
And after Wells Fargo & Co., a client of the rival processor First Data Corp., bought Wachovia Corp. in December, TSYS lost the Wachovia portfolio as well. Despite the loss of these big-name clients, TSYS has said that its wins have already begun to outpace the losses. "It could always be better, I'll say that, but we're making progress," Tomlinson said.
Though the United States remains troubled, TSYS has had significant success in other nations. TSYS handles at least 25% of Visa and MasterCard transactions in the United Kingdom, at least 40% of those in Canada and at least 90% in Ireland, according to Tomlinson.
In Brazil, TSYS created a hybrid card for the retail giant Banco Carrefour SA - it functions as a store card attached to the retailer's loyalty program when used at Carrefour and is a regular MasterCard when used anywhere else. Though Carrefour is the only client so far, "we think there's a lot of audience for that, particularly on the international side," he said.
More recently, TSYS has been adding accounts through strategic partnerships in other regions. Notably, its 44.5% stake in payment network China UnionPay Data Services, led to many deals in China. "We've probably announced in the last year and a half eight or nine different banks there," some small banks and some "very, very large banks," Tomlinson said.
Admittedly, it is a challenge to attract business in a new country, but "once we get there, we do well," he said.