By Maria Bruno-Britz
Pamela Joseph, vice chairman at U.S. Bancorp and chairman & CEO of the bank's payments subsidiary NOVA Information Systems, was a featured speaker at this year's TowerGroup Financial Services Business & Technology Conference. Joseph's presentation covered NOVA's strategy for going international and at the same time provided attendees with some good advice for doing so.According to Joseph, NOVA is the only part of U.S. Bancorp that has an international presence. Before being acquired by the bank in 2001, NOVA began to realize just how much smaller the world was becoming. "We had clients with orders coming in from around the world," she said. "That's when we realized we had to change. Based on our customers' international reach, we had to push out globally."
NOVA's business model involves creating partnerships with banks in other countries in order to gain a foothold there. It provides about 4,000 banks with its payments services using proprietary software. Everything NOVA does is electronic, Joseph noted. She says this is especially important in the rapidly changing European payments market with the advent of the single euro payments area (SEPA).
It's first venture into the international space was with Bank of Ireland. The deal allowed NOVA to help the bank expand its presence beyond the Emerald Isle. Through a joint venture with BofI, euroConex, a top five European payment processor and processor of dynamic currency conversion, was founded.
It's never easy to become a global organization, but there are a few things to keep in mind as a company develops a strategy for doing so, Joseph reminded attendees. Among her suggestion for a financial services firm that wishes to go international:
• Don't be afraid to ask for outside help. • Look for countries with currency stability and a stable political environment. • It helps if an American company enters another English-speaking country. • Start where the infrastructure exists. • Start with a low-risk business. • Seek out strategic partners who are local. • Always have a local tax accountant on hand. • Understand the legal challenges of the other country. • Understand worker dynamics: language, culture, and work ethic. Joseph noted, for example, that NOVA's European operations will never be quite as productive as they are in the U.S. due to different work schedules in European countries. • The way you do things in the U.S. may not work elsewhere.