"I saw how hard it was for international people to pay online," Kring said. "Unlike in America where everything is paid by credit card, very few people have credit cards in Europe. They pay either through their bank accounts or through debit cards. And if you have a German bank account, you can't pay for something from a company in the U.S. When I noticed this, I went around to payment processors. Nobody had a clue to what I was talking about."
So Kring did something about it. He founded 2000 Charge, an online billing company that specializes in transactions made by and for European customers. And what started as a tiny two-man operation has morphed into a thriving international firm that caters to Europe, Asia, Canada and the U.S., and employs 35 people. Soon to celebrate his company's first decade of operation, Kring has seen hundreds of billing companies come and go. Why has 2000 Charge withstood the storms? The firm's CEO thinks it's because 2000 Charge fills a lot of specific needs.
"First there's the language problem," Kring said. "A lot of people in Europe still don't speak English. There are Dutch or German customers who may live on a farm, but they still want to sign up on a website. They just can't read anything because it's in English. When a customer goes to a payment page, nothing is in his language. So we provide the tools to translate into the local language, and we offer the exchange rate for the local currency.
"People who live in Europe want to pay with the Euro. We also provide local phone numbers for customer support, so customers don't have to dial an 888 number and deal with an agent who only speaks English. In short, we make customers comfortable. Only comfortable people make purchases. Also, we provide much wider coverage than other payment processors, so we offer real alternatives. A lot of companies market themselves as alternatives, but they really just do credit card billing. They may provide some local join pages in local languages, but they are not full service alternatives. They don't deal in the local currency or the local payment preferences."
In this way, 2000 Charge is neither an Internet Payment Service Provider (IPSP) nor a merchant account system. The company is geared to work exclusively with local regulations and has networks set up in each individual country to process payments. Kring's firm deals with local banks, and takes pains to be compliant to the laws of each country.
"We are not overviewed by Visa or MasterCard," Kring said. "They tend to tell everyone what to do. If they say jump on the left foot, sometimes the whole industry has to jump on the left foot. We are exclusive of the big card companies. For security reasons, we are PCI compliant. I think that's important, because we want to keep the data safe. This allows us to have security for European debit cards, too."
As customers in overseas countries prefer payment by direct bank account or debit card transactions, 2000 Charge provides tools to streamline such purchases. It's as simple as providing a bank account number and 2000 Charge does the rest.
"It's very similar to ACH [Automated Clearing House] billing in the U.S.," Kring said. "First we pinpoint which country the customer is in, and then we provide payment options. When customers see our logo, they feel comfortable because they know they'll be able to understand the form they need to fill out. Then we run our fraud scrub on that information. After nearly 10 years in business, we have a huge fraud database. We verify their information and then we just debit their bank account."
In addition to doing its own fraud scrubbing, 2000 Charge also offers customer support in all local languages. That office, based in Germany, is on duty around the clock. This has not only resonated with European customers, but with merchants as well.
"They love our work because it increases their revenue," Kring said. "They see as much as a 30 to 40 percent increase in their conversion rates when they use our payment process. They realize that people who used to leave their sites as soon as they arrived at the join page are now able to fill out the form and join the website. And it's not like 2000 Charge takes away their ability to bill through credit cards. We are an add-on that only increases sales."
Kring says his company is constantly upgrading, adding new payment options after testing them to make sure they will work smoothly for webmasters.
"There are many alternatives out there," he said, "and we're always trying to find the best new ones and increase the value of our services to the webmasters."
Kring has enhanced his company with an impressive worldwide collection of banking partners. He claims that working with so many banks makes 2000 Charge a redundant system, and that his priority is to keep the bankers happy by complying with everything they want.
One of the chief perks for Kring, his bankers and his merchants, is the recent strength of the Euro against the U.S. dollar. This favorable exchange rate has been a huge boost to European companies.
"We usually charge in Euros when we sell something in Europe," Kring explains. "But $20 in Euros now is worth more than $30 U.S., so basically you have a much higher income if you bill internationally. It's better than a 50 percent boost financially for every membership you sell here in international currency, which is what we do. This is very beneficial for the webmaster that gets that extra money and pays us a small percentage. We have different rates in various countries, but we always charge by percentage."
Of course, Kring's firm has to deal with the inevitable charge-backs that arise in all online payment scenarios. But 2000 Charge has an advantage here, too.
"We are not as regulated concerning charge-backs as billing companies that are tied in with Visa and MasterCard," he says. "The card companies will cut you off if your charge-backs exceed one or two percent. Our banks are much more open about charge-backs, and we can work with them to gain at least some extra time to iron everything out. They aren't like the card companies, who simply cut you off. We do have to be compliant and work with the banks, but it's not as strict as it is with the card companies."
It is this factor that makes Kring believe that 2000 Charge is the perfect payment processor for the adult market. Kring founded the company specifically for the adult arena, where it has served for so many years. With that much experience, he is sure he knows the market and what its webmasters and customers require.
"The adult market is high-risk," Kring said, "so we have to work hard to make sure we keep our banks happy. It's obviously much easier to process for a lady who sells candles. The banks need to be aware of what we do, however, and sometimes it's not easy walking into a bank and telling them we deal in adult material. But we always show them that we have everything under control, that we check the sites constantly for legal aspects, like making sure no underage models are being used, or no illegal activities are taking place. We just make sure the banks are comfortable, and provide whatever security they need."
Obviously Kring's formula is working, as the former two-man operation continues to grow. The main reason why?
"Our product is laid out specifically for the adult market," Kring said, "and that's why I think we're doing so well."