Change might as well be Bipin Shah's middle name.
Since the ex-banker and automated teller machine visionary founded Transaction Processing Inc. - now known as Gensar Holdings Inc. - in the summer of 1992, he has transformed the company many times over.
Critics say he lacks a consistency of purpose; Mr. Shah says he is simply responding to changing market demands.
The charismatic Philadelphian says he has witnessed a major shift in world payment systems in his 27 years of experience.
He characterizes the protracted conversion from paper to electronic payment methods as a simple updating of technology. But the true transformation - which will be propelled by consumer demands, he says - is yet to come.
On this point Mr. Shah sounds much like other industry experts who predict that consumers' growing insistence on convenience will have a dynamic impact on payment systems - in the United States and worldwide.
Here is just one example of the quirky brilliance of Mr. Shah: He envisions a future in which the gas tank of a car would contain a built-in card and the gas pump's nozzle would act as a reader. The dashboard would bear a push-button pad, letting the driver select a credit, debit, or other payment method without leaving his seat or even rolling down his window.
Question Mr. Shah about the probability of such a vision's being realized, considering it would require the cooperation and consent of auto manufacturers, banks, credit card associations, and perhaps even governments, and Mr. Shah simply shrugs.
"The world is about to change," he says, "and it's the outsider who will drive the change. It's always the outsider. I'm a big believer in outsiders."
He cites Federal Express as a onetime outsider that revolutionized the shipping business. Microsoft Corp. did the same in software, and he believes Gensar will be the revolutionary force in payment systems.
Such boldness invites derision from many industry watchers. Speaking strictly off the record - a sign of both respect and fear - these critics allow Mr. Shah his keen intellect and larger-than-life personality but say much more will be needed to accomplish the revolution he champions.
"I'll give him credit that as a smaller processor he can be more responsive to the marketplace," said an executive at one of the major electronic banking networks.
"But changes in the payment system infrastructure will probably require much deeper pockets than anything Gensar has," this source added. "A larger company with more working capital is more likely to have the ability to effect a change."
Others criticize Mr. Shah for lacking a long-term strategy; they say he simply goes where the wind blows. They point out that he hasn't delivered on what he promised when he formed his company with backing from venture capitalists.
Mr. Shah had said then that he planned to acquire and consolidate networks of ATMs and point of sale terminals, process credit card transactions, and provide other types of data processing support to financial institutions.
These aspirations grew out of his experience in electronic banking. At CoreStates Financial Corp.'s Philadelphia National Bank, he had been a driving force behind the MAC network, by some measures the biggest of its kind, and he later ran Mellon Bank's transaction processing businesses.
But Gensar thus far has made major inroads only in credit card transaction processing. It has also carved out a niche for itself in the growing debit card merchant processing business.
Mr. Shah remains unabashed as Gensar's leader - and cheerleader. He disparages his critics, saying they are out of touch. Big companies are too entrenched in old ways of doing things, he says, and have too much money invested to want to make any significant change.
What's more, he has customers who agree with him.
"That they are a little smaller than the bigger players gives them the capability to change with the times," said Larry Savino, vice president in charge of the merchant-acquiring business for Mid-State Bank, Altoona, Pa.
Mid-State Bank serves 2,400 merchants with total sales volume in eight digits. "Although we are probably one of their smaller customers, we believe they really look after us," said Mr. Savino. "It is relationship service at its best."
He described Gensar as "very future-looking."
To prepare for the future as he sees it, Mr. Shah recently changed the name of his holding company in Philadelphia from Transaction Processing Inc. to Gensar.
The Tampa-based processing subsidiary once known as TransNet is now Gensar Technologies.
Gensar, explains Mr. Shah, stands for "generating solutions for America's retailers," a mission he feels his company addresses more completely than other transaction processors.
"The TPI name didn't do what we're doing," says Mr. Shah. "What we are really doing is providing service where the customer goes."
He says Gensar set its sights on a well-defined portion of the transaction market. While it processes point of sale payments for just about every category of merchant that accepts plastic, Gensar has a particular interest in retailers that may be new to card-based payment options or who have special requests and need a tailored service.
"Gensar is very solution-oriented," said Jeffrey C. Connelly, executive vice president of marketing and sales. "We like to go into a customer and solve the problem in the way the customer wants it solved.
"We do an awful lot of consultative selling - much more than our competitors, and we're very strong at customizing our products to any particular merchant's culture."
This strategy is helping Gensar win business away from other transaction processing companies, added Mr. Connelly, though he would not cite any specific contract.
Nonetheless, merchant-acquiring banks that work with Gensar wax enthusiastic about the company, its mission, and its staff.
"Gensar won our business on their ability to provide the products and services we need or, should I say, that our customers need," said Fred Horn, a senior vice president at United Jersey Banks, Princeton, N.J. "Also, the staff really makes us feel like they want our business. I didn't feel that way about any other processor."
Despite what some people view as Mr. Shah's contentious nature, he has attracted top-tier talent to his burgeoning business. Many of the officers reporting to him have worked with him in the past, a testament to personal and professional loyalty.
Mr. Connelly, who worked 22 years at CoreStates, rejoined Mr. Shah last summer after five years with Visa U.S.A. Mr. Connelly had managed the VisaNet POS business while it was growing to more than one billion transactions per year.
Other CoreStates alumni at Gensar include A. Donald Maurer, director of sales and marketing; Thomas J. McHugh, chief operating officer; Michael B. Pilong, chief technology officer; and Gregory C. Dillett, chief financial officer.
"The management team shares my vision, my philosophy that the consumer should have access to the payments system any place and any time they want it," says Mr. Shah. "I've known most of the people who work here for a long, long time."
"Our staff - we've got about 100 now - has a depth of experience I don't think our competitors can touch," boasts Mr. Connelly. "We've got a lot of skill, a lot of talent. We are probably the most flexible processor, and the culture here is very entrepreneurial."
Countering the latter point, a competing network executive said, "Sure, Bipin is entrepreneurial, but so are a lot of other people in this business.
"When I hear the word 'entrepreneurial,' I think 'inventive' and 'creative.' I think any of the processors in this business today could be described that way."
Still, Gensar is convincing growing numbers of banks to rely on it for merchant processing.
According to Carmody & Bloom Inc., electronic payment consultants in Ridgewood, N.J., the electronic card transaction market grew 17.3% from 1993 to 1994.
Gensar Technologies outpaced that norm, increasing its volume nearly 21%. The company processed 249 million transactions in 1994, for a 3.7% market share.
First Data Resources, by comparison, processed nearly 1.1 billion transactions last year, almost 17% of the market.
Mr. Shah, while insisting his company is profitable, declines to disclose revenues or profits.
He did, however, assert that growth in debit card transactions, combined with Gensar's renewed focus on the point of sale arena, should bode well for the company.
"Going after the POS merchant business is certainly better than going after ATM terminal-driving or gateway processing," said a network executive, who pointed out that some aggressive companies - Electronic Data Systems Corp. among them - have driven down prices for such services.
"On-line POS is exploding, and Gensar is well-positioned to take advantage," the executive added. "Other processors have been dragging their feet on debit, and Bipin has not. He has a good chance of success."
The industry will be hearing more from Gensar, vow Mr. Shah and Mr. Connelly. They acknowledge they have been uncharacteristically quiet in recent months as they executed their business plan.
But they're planning to make more of a splash in months to come. They've started advertising and will make their presence felt at industry shows and conferences.
"We're going to change the ground rules, tip over the leader," says Mr. Shah, suggesting that change would come quietly, almost sneakily - much as Microsoft and Federal Express burst on the scene.
"I'm not worried as to who will be the leader in 10 years," he says. "The leader will be the one that changes the industry to give consumers what they want."