MaxPayments: Maximum Service and Innovation

Tom Hymes
MaxPayments has been providing domestic and offshore merchant accounts to adult merchants since 2005, but it still may be the best-kept secret in high-risk merchant billing. A boutique agency run by a likeable staff of proven professionals, it offers a range of merchant services tailored to the individual needs of its clients, and employs a work ethic that puts high value on flexibility, innovation and customer service.

Co-founders Avi Chesed and Jonathan Avganim say the relative anonymity of their early years was by design and worked splendidly for a while. "It was something we thought a lot about before we started the marketing and publicity," Avganim said. "It was one of those things where, a couple of years into the business, we suddenly noticed how many merchants we had, and we hadn't even spent a penny on publicity or advertising."

"But we liked it that way," Chesed added. "We liked being the well-kept secret of the industry, but then we realized that our name is going to get out there one way or another, so we might as well have a hand in it."

Avganim and Chesed partnered in 2002. Chesed had been in international finance and merchant processing, providing financial services to a number of high-risk businesses such as restaurants, gyms, bars and online travel agencies. Avganim had built several successful international corporations. Together, they honed their expertise in high-risk processing, and as a result were approached by their first adult merchant in 2005.

Avganim says MaxPayments has seen 10 percent monthly growth, and that most of its clients fall into the mid- to large-sized range. He attributes much of the company's success and growth to the diversity of his and Chesed's previous experience. "It's not just that we have a different perspective on the industry, being a few years new to it," he said. "It's that we have the perspective of so many other industries to work from. As far as we're concerned, there is a lot of comparison between mainstream and adult because there is a lot of content sold online now that is not physical product, that falls into the same category as adult."

"Plus, we're not here just to do processing," Chesed said, referring to the company's full-service approach and almost obsessive attention to detail. "We do a lot of consulting with our clients; we advice them on their business models, we improve their business models and sometimes we decline business models."

"In the high-risk field," Avganim said, "you need to be well-versed in the psychology of the consumer, in the merchant business model and in the whole process. You also need to understand what is being sold, how it's being sold and for how much it's being sold. We have had many conversations with our merchants about how much they should charge for a particular product. The price point can make or break you."

Avganim says another reason education is such an essential part of the successful client relationship is because of the imprecise nature of card-association regulations. "The regulations that Visa and MasterCard put forth are not always as clear-cut as people think," he said. "It's not like we have a book that says this is how many pre-checked cross-sales you're allowed to do, this is where they need to be above the submit button, this is what color and size they have to be. At the end of the day, it's what works for the merchant, how you keep them out of trouble, how you deal with the banks and how the card holder and customer experience takes effect."

The MaxPayments view of pre-checked cross sales ties into a larger philosophy that centers on maximizing the life span and bottom line of each merchant. "We have a long-term mentality," Chesed said. "We adhere to all card-association rules and regulations and have developed cross-sell guidelines that are within those regulations. Our philosophy is that any business model can be adopted as long as it doesn't negatively affect the customer experience and falls within the guidelines."

Excellent communication also is a key factor in making sure merchants are aware of and stay on the right side of those guidelines. "Communication with our merchants is one of the most important aspects of our business model," Avganim said. "We take pride in the fact that our account managers speak with their clients every single day. From 5 a.m. pacific time, when we open the office, until 5 p.m., we're constantly on the phone and never hiding away from our merchants. We realize that accessibility is what they came to us for and what we need to provide them with."

But MaxPayments is convinced that it is far more than just superior communication that sets them apart. "You asked why people who are already working with legacy systems would consider taking their business to MaxPayments," said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Leslie Sharp, "and I think the answer is flexibility. A lot of the limitations with business models are because the back-ends and gateways of the affiliate programs can't support them. Our gateway was built for this company with flexibly in mind and the understanding that in three months this will be outdated and we'll have to be working on the next thing and the next thing after that. Without reinventing the wheel, our gateway is completely modular and built for flexibility. Frankly, I was blown away when I saw it for the first time."

"We do offer some features that a lot of other people don't have," Avganim said. "We give people more tools, more flexibility and more capabilities. If you have a business model that you have been thinking about and want to try out, we can put it together. We can systematically do anything for you."

"Also, our account managers are separate from our sales staff," Chesed said. "Their only job is to service accounts. They don't make sales or commissions. I'm not sure anyone else does that."

The MaxPayments team also believes that the offshore banks they work with are superior to their domestic counterparts. "The offshore banks we deal with are more highly rated than any domestic bank that does high risk," Avganim said. "If you look at the size of the banks there and the amount of power they have compared with the high risk banks here, they are very substantial and prevalent in their countries. Compare that with here, where the banks that do high risk are behind the scenes.

"Working with MaxPayments, you actually get all the benefits of working with a third-party aggregator, but you get your own merchant account and you get to own your data, so you're getting all the benefits without the high fees."

New features to the Maxpayments product line include ACH, Check 21 and the company's newest pride and joy, the new Euro Debit system, which may already have been unveiled by this time this is being read.

"Check 21 is a digital impression of a check that is actually more binding on a member, so when it gets to a bank it's more difficult to refute it," Avganim. "Euro-debit Systems is something we've been working on for the last six months, and is something of which we are very proud. It is an additional product to our line that will compliment the rest of our processing, most of which is in Europe, where 60 percent of the population still does not have credit cards. This product is the next logical extension, since we do so much business in Europe and so many of our sites transact in Euros and British Pounds. It's just silly not to have this option."

"At the end of the day," Avganim said, buttoning the expectations Maxpayments places on itself, "we believe that if we are innovative enough and the merchant is happy with our products, and that, with the help of our account managers and our sales team, we can prove to them how important they are to us, so that they feel special, then, I think we have perfected our business."