IBill Thinks Globally: Processing Pioneer Takes On the World

"IBill's been around since 1996," vice president of marketing Cathy Beardsley says. "Actually, it started before the Internet. Bulletin boards [saw] the first stage; we were doing Web-900 or 900 billing for people to get access. In the beginning, [these areas] were membership oriented. We've always worked in cyberspace."

Though the World Wide Web has changed dramatically, the demand for IBill's services has only increased. "We were one of the first to then migrate into the Internet," Beardsley says, "and then also to implement credit card processing. The core of what we do is very similar to what we offered back three, four, five years ago. We enable credit card or tech or telephone billing-type transactions on the Internet," the whole point of which is security.

"We've grown to about 200 employees," Beardsley explains. "We just opened a satellite office in Woodland Hills." The majority of IBill employees work at the Ft. Lauderdale offices. Clients hail from around the world: "In fact, over a third of our revenue comes from the biggest international sites and international consumers."

To give an idea of the size of the operation, Beardsley calculates, "We've registered - every client has a master account - over the years we've blown through over 80,000 master accounts. I'd bet at any one time we're processing 20,000 clients."

Now changes are in the works at the industry mainstay. Beardsley notes that the core system is already (necessarily) different from the one IBill operated on even four years ago; still, "we're going to be [introducing] a new software application, and rolling out a whole new architecture over six months. It's a redesign of the whole application, how we take transactions, how people query our database. It's going to be much more efficient... much faster, so our pay pages pop that much quicker."

The redesign has all been developed in house, tailor-made to fit IBill concerns. "The site itself won't necessarily be different. We're kind of behind the scenes - for instance, you go to a Website and you make a purchase. Outside of seeing our pay page, everything else is pretty transparent."

The motivating force behind the changes is speed. "The only thing people really care about is time, you know; 'How quickly do I get my approval back,' how quickly does a page load. For the end user it's going to seem like we have a much quicker system.

"Our Web merchants should be a lot happier with us," Beadsley adds, "because we should be able to capture more transactions, put them through quicker, and hopefully keep more consumers out there purchasing.

"The other big benefit of the system is that it will be much more efficient as we add new features. We'll be quicker to market with them. It's a much more flexible system, so as we add new features - at times development cycles can be six months to a year - now it should only be three-month period to get that next new feature out."

Beardsley reveals that the impetus for change was generated from within IBill. "A lot of it was [IBill] people sitting around saying, 'There's a much better way that we could be doing this.' We watched our volume grow, so we knew we needed a system that would scale and keep growing as our business grew. We had capacity issues as well."

Beardsley estimates that the adult industry accounts for about 60 percent of the IBill client list. "That was really the first market IBill entered. It's probably only been within the last couple of years that we've expanded out into the mainstream. We've slowly been targeting, trying to reach different markets, round out our base, make it not such a particular market.

"We've also watched a lot of the guys playing strictly in the mainstream go out of business," she notes. "That's created a door for us to go after those accounts.

"What's unique to our model is, as an outsource solution, mainstream folks try to do it on their own. And it's complicated, and they hate it, and they actually prefer using the model that all the adult players have used, and learning from it: 'Okay, how have these guys been successful?'"

How does IBill interest new clients? "We do a lot of online advertising," Beardsley says. "Banner ads; we also take advantage of ad server technology, that's all over the place, and we optimize it. We do print advertising. From an adult standpoint, we take advantage of a number of the portals that adult Webmasters go to. We've also gone after the new-economy publications for the mainstream side.

But what makes the company stand out from other processors? "Experience," Beardlsey says. "I think we have a reputation for being consistent with our payouts. That's the bread and butter for the Web merchants, and it's one thing that we've never missed. You'll hear that over and over again. People feel confident when they're coming to us, they know that they're going to get their money.

"We have a whole online reporting and account administrative tool that sets us apart from our competitors. We show all information, which allows [the client] to set up an account, add new accounts, and be very self-sufficient. Our affiliate management program, Revshare, has also set us apart.

"Revshare allows Webmasters to get partners and place banners, and we're behind the scenes, doing all the tracking on all of the payouts for them. It's a better way for them to market their sites. The goal is, are the services easy enough to be implemented by a novice Webmaster? Can they make it through the whole set-up process without having to talk to us? Everybody has a long way to go, but that's one of the areas we've tried to focus on: How do you make this as self-sufficient as possible."

The horizon spans 360 degrees, says Beardsley. "Our significant push for next year is going international. We're implementing debit and dialer solutions, which are the main form of payment outside of the U.S.

"'Debit' is like ATM; 'dialer' means being able to charge access to a Website or a purchase from a Website on a telephone bill. With server revenues coming today from international clients, and [right now] we're using their least-favored method of payment, this should have a significant impact.

"The final component will be having currency conversion. You would be able to use these payment methods and [IBill] will be able to handle payout so that when [customers] are paying in [German] marks, [IBill] will give a German Webmaster a payout in marks."

Going worldwide is going to mean physical expansion, IBill knows. "As it takes off we know we'll have to have some kind of local presence overseas," Beardsley says. There are already plans for an international calling center. "We're going to make sure we're ready for world-wide service."