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First Data — Making a Statement

April 2007 By George Linkletter
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AT FIRST DATA, there is no question the future of customer messaging is viable and vibrant. The giant firm ($6.5 billion in sales in 2005) recently completed the spin-off of its profitable, but non-core, money transfer unit, which is enabling the Omaha-based company to focus more attention and resources on its fundamental credit card processing and customer messaging capabilities.

Those activities are substantial. The firm sits atop the pinnacle of the steadily growing credit card processing world, handling the transactions of more than 415 million card accounts on behalf of 1,500 institutions and retailers.

Its presence in the customer messaging industry is equally impressive. First Data prints and mails more than 1.7 billion account statements and customer letters a year. Its annual postage bill of more than $500 million makes it one of the largest customers of the U.S. Postal Service.

“In this increasingly fast-paced and fragmented world, the monthly account statement is a reliable and effective customer relationship tool that delivers real and sustained value for customers and businesses alike,” says Dan Oswald, senior vice president of market strategy.

Oswald is one of the key managers responsible for selecting the technologies needed to support the company’s renewed focus on customer messaging.

“Customers like hard-copy account statements because they are regular and relevant,” he continues. “They come at predictable intervals, are fully confidential, can be opened immediately or conveniently saved for a later time and, most of all, contain detailed transaction data and promotional materials pertinent to the customer and the relationship.”

Value-Added Statements

“Businesses also value the account statement channel,” Oswald says, “because it creates a strong linkage with consumers who are increasingly elusive due to a new and mobile lifestyle and advances in technologies—such as TiVo—that hinder the delivery of traditional marketing messages.”

Virtually all consumers open and read account statements, and studies show that the average consumer spends more time reading an account statement than other forms of traditional advertising, including TV, direct mail, direct e-mail and text messaging or SMS.

To capitalize on these trends and opportunities, First Data is increasing its investment in new hardware and software to create a one-stop shopping form of customer messaging solutions for its banking and other clients.

On the print side, the company is acquiring a second high-speed Kodak Versamark digital color printer. While others in the industry still debate the relative merits of digital color for transaction-based mail, First Data has been prototyping dozens of possible uses of the promising new technology.

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