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Greg Cohen is a recognized financial technology industry leader who has built national and global organizations with high level exits. Cohen is the Chief Executive Officer of Fortis, a leader in embedded payments for software providers, past president of the Electronic Transactions Association and former member of MasterCard, Discover and NACHA advisory boards. He has a passion for the evolution of commerce and was an early pioneer in the integrated payments and software platform arena. As such, he is an advisor to some of the fastest growing technology companies and investment firms.
Greg, can you tell us about your background and how it led you to become the CEO of Fortis?
I’ve been working in the payments industry for over 25 years. After business school, I founded a small payments startup with a friend of mine. Although it didn’t have an amazing outcome – and we eventually divested the company – it taught me about running and scaling a business. I took what I learned and provided those insights to my corporate career, still being entrepreneurial but adding scale processes and capabilities during my time at Global Payments and Moneris. From there, I was recruited into the Private Equity world and had great experiences at Cayan, iPayment and Paya helping to streamline operations and expand their businesses – all of which had exits to bigger organizations. As it relates to Fortis, I got involved with the team early on when they took an equity investment from private equity firm, Lovell Minick Partners. I joined Fortis at that time as executive chairman in 2019 and in 2021 took on the chief executive officer role.
How does Fortis differentiate itself from other fintech companies in the market?
Fortis focuses almost exclusively on delivering payment solutions and commerce enablement to software and platform businesses. Our commerce platform has the ability to support numerous segments, but we create incremental value and experiences in a few targeted markets – B2B, healthcare, specialty commerce and hospitality, driving value through embedded commerce. We realize the developers and businesses in each of these segments have different needs, so our specialization allows us to tailor payments and commerce solutions and experiences to meet those unique needs. Some of the larger payments players lose their flexibility as they scale and our guided journey fits perfectly. Companies often need little tweaks here and there that larger monoline players can’t offer.
What are some of the biggest challenges that Fortis has faced in recent years, and how have you addressed them?
One of the biggest challenges is just managing the growth we’ve seen. Our business is seven times larger than it was just three and a half years ago. The team has been stretched but has delivered amazing results. We have brought in new technology, processes and people to help us scale but that type of growth comes with its own set of growing pains and opportunities.
The other biggest challenge has been resource allocation. We have been very disciplined in our growth profile and unlike others have not taken a “growth at all costs” approach to managing our organization. Channels and business leaders at Fortis debate on where we should invest and at times the conversation gets difficult. We have been forced to make calculated bets and they, for the most part, have paid off. In addition, as the macro-environment has changed, our strategy has positioned us well. We haven’t had to do any mass-layoffs that other tech companies have, but we do continue to battle internally over resource allocation regularly.
How does Fortis approach innovation and technology in the financial services industry?
The technology and financial services industries are always changing. We recognize that and ensure we’re staying ahead of the trends and offering the newest technology and services, while also continuing to invest in compliance and our core infrastructure. It’s great when these objectives align, and we can provide a positive customer experience and ensure our customers have what they need to grow.
Our talent is key to our evolution. We look to hire the best of the best. Experienced professionals who are up to date with the latest technology and payments trends that can help scale our business to meet those trends. When it comes to innovation, it’s not only important to be where the innovation exists, but also to invest in your existing infrastructure. At Fortis, we do both.
Can you discuss a specific project or initiative that Fortis has undertaken that you are particularly proud of?
The development of our original platform stands out as one of our crowning achievements. We brought three companies together, layering scalable systems and processes to drive growth. It wasn’t easy and the whole team played a critical part, but it has been key to our success.
How does Fortis ensure that it provides excellent customer service to its clients?
Customer service is a top priority for Fortis, as it should be for all companies. We make sure each software partner has an experienced professional with industry expertise that guides them through not only the integration but the full solution. We develop a roadmap to help create a tailored experience, ensure full support and a smooth integration. Our main priorities are for the customer to feel supported and for the process to be easy and efficient while also flexible enough to evolve with the needs of the client – we make sure both of those are provided at every touchpoint throughout the partnership.
How do you balance the need for profitability with providing affordable financial services to customers?
Fortis has always taken a very deliberate “managed growth” philosophy so that we’re able to manage new business while continuing to support our clients. We have also worked to maximize operational efficiency and show good solid top and bottom-line growth. This puts us in a winning position, especially as many of our competitors are doing layoffs, downsizing and reorganizing.
How does Fortis ensure that it maintains high ethical standards?
This is actually more straightforward than one would think – we hire and reward around our core values. Our true north is our guide and teammates know that every day.
Can you discuss Fortis’s future plans or initiatives in the pipeline?
We’re continuing to prioritize growth, especially at a time when other companies may be looking to cut expenses or slow-down. We are investing heavily in our growth segments, and we have a few acquisition targets at various levels in the pipeline. Our goal with acquisitions is always to expand our platform and embedded distribution. We are aiming to continue adding capabilities to our platform whether that’s payments capabilities or commerce enablement solutions.
How do you build and maintain strong relationships with Fortis’s stakeholders, including investors, employees, and customers?
It all comes back to providing a positive experience and over communicating. This is not only true for customers, but also employees and investors. We hold state of the company events and provide all investors detailed quarterly updates. As for clients, we have dedicated partner strategy teams always getting feedback and providing visibility into Fortis and the “art of the possible.” Our goal is to have a 360-degree feedback loop for all stakeholders.
How has Fortis adapted to changes in financial regulations and policies?
The regulatory environment has evolved greatly over the past years and staying on top of those changes is critical. We have increased our focus on compliance and security, adding expertise and technology to help us navigate new regulations and policies. We have also prioritized staying close to industry trade associations that help provide guidance and a voice at the regulatory level.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become a leader in the fintech industry?
While it seems simple, my best advice is to be patient. In my experience, when I have acted impatiently it has not been beneficial. In many cases, it has been a detriment and counteracts the desired outcome. So, I always tell aspiring leaders to simply have patience. New initiatives and changes take time – let them run their course and make small adjustments along the way.
From a more tactical standpoint, I’d say it’s important to not only set goals but also track progress to those goals. Start doing annual planning and quarterly check-ins. If anything’s not working, adjust on regular cadence. But also, make sure to celebrate the wins and stop to appreciate the team, after all, they are the ones that make it all work.