LA VISTA, Neb. — Row after row of industrial gray cubicles make the inside of PayPal’s two cavernous operations buildings in this Omaha suburb look a bit like any other office or call center.
But the balloon clusters floating above the desks of top performers, an outdoor basketball court and the conference rooms named after comic book heroes such as Green Lantern suggest there is more to the place, which houses the heart of eBay Inc.’s lucrative Internet payments division.
More than 2,000 of PayPal’s nearly 7,000 employees worldwide work at the company’s La Vista complex, providing customer support, fraud protection and resolving customer problems in more than a dozen languages. And PayPal plans to hire around 600 more this year. The La Vista center also oversees two smaller operations centers — in Dublin, Ireland, and Shanghai, China — that help handle payments worldwide.
PayPal generated $439 million of eBay’s $1.77 billion revenue in the last quarter by charging fees to deliver what amount to electronic money orders that complete online transactions for individuals and businesses.
PayPal makes its money by charging 30 cents for every transaction plus up to 4.9 percent of the payment amount.
PayPal had 143 million accounts in March and expects to keep growing. Glenda Miller, the vice president of operations, doesn’t expect that trend to change even if Google Inc.’s year-old Checkout payment service becomes a stronger competitor.
“We’re in the online payment business, so as e-commerce grows, we’re going to grow,” Miller said.
PayPal handled 177 million transactions worth $11.36 billion during the first quarter. That works out to about $64.18 per transaction.
Analysts who follow PayPal agree its prospects seem bright.
Rick Munarriz, senior analyst at The Motley Fool, said PayPal is a dynamic online service with a good product, and it has been able to vanquish competitors.
“Obviously, Google Checkout hasn’t been the PayPal killer everybody thought it would be,” Munarriz said.
Earlier this month a spat developed between eBay and Google after the Internet search leader planned a party promoting its Checkout online payment service in Boston at the same time as eBay’s event for 9,000 of its buyers and sellers.
The theme of Google’s event, “Let Freedom Ring,” referred to eBay’s refusal to allow Google Checkout as a payment method on its auction site.
Google canceled its event after eBay pulled all of its keyword ads from Google’s search site in what the auction company called a test of whether advertising elsewhere would be more effective.
Munarriz said PayPal is the payment service most likely to be used by most online buyers and sellers.
“PayPal has a platform that works, and there’s no reason to move on at this point,” Munarriz said.
Roger Kay, who watches PayPal as president of the market research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, said PayPal enjoys the advantage of developing a system for online payments before many people considered shopping online.
And PayPal plays an important role in e-commerce by guaranteeing transactions between strangers who aren’t necessarily likely to trust each other, Kay said.
“It’s very nice to have a trusted third party to take care of that,” Kay said.
Fate played a role in PayPal’s decision to establish a presence in Nebraska around 1999. Miller said one of PayPal’s early employees in San Jose, Calif., had a sister living in Ceresco, Neb., who offered to handle customer calls.
That allowed the engineers in California to focus on developing the Web site and payment system. Then PayPal opened an office in Omaha in 1999 to help support the growing business.
Miller said PayPal did consider moving its operations center to other cities, but it stuck with Omaha because it has financial businesses PayPal can hire from and because of the support from local officials.
“It was just a really great base to get the skill set we needed to be successful,” said Miller, who worked for First Data Corp.’s credit card processing division in Omaha before PayPal hired her.
PayPal already is filling up the second operations building it opened earlier this year in La Vista.
Risk management is the biggest division within the complex and accounts for more than half of the employees, partly because the risk management teams in Shanghai and Dublin aren’t as well established.
Jason Nielsen, who oversees PayPal’s risk management group, said the company has built multiple layers to its security system to make it hard for fraud to happen.
“We just want to make it as challenging as possible, and we think we do a great job of that,” Nielsen said.
Part of the risk group’s responsibility is preventing problems and trying to stay ahead of scammers, and part of its duties involves resolving disputes between users.
The security measures include checking out vendors before they’re allowed to sell products with PayPal and reviewing transactions as they happen to spot anything out of the ordinary.
Nielsen’s team tries to develop ways to spot and defeat scam artists’ attempts to create a fake copy of PayPal’s Web site or fake PayPal e-mails. Both those scams are designed to trick PayPal users into revealing account information.
With 133 million users worldwide, there will always be some problems to keep Nielsen’s group busy: “Our goal is to always stay ahead,” he said.
The other major division based in La Vista is PayPal’s customer and merchant support group. Those teams respond to calls and e-mails from PayPal users to help them reset passwords and resolve transaction problems.
The phone banks are staffed 18 hours a day, and e-mail support is available all day, said Brian Kielian, who oversees consumer support and the two international operations centers.
The workers in La Vista can handle some calls or e-mails from overseas, but the Irish center is the primary point of contact for European customers and the Chinese center handles most questions from Asian customers.
Kielian said his team of about 70 people has fluent speakers in more than 20 different languages to help the rest of the world.
PayPal tries to keep the working environment fun for employees, and last year the company was involved 38 different community events.
All of PayPal celebrates company accomplishments, Kielian said, and individual and team accomplishments are also recognized through events such as bowling parties and the balloons above certain desks.
The splatter-paint artwork that hangs on the walls was done by employees’ children instead of a Jackson Pollock imitator.
“We celebrate when we have successful quarters, which has been almost every quarter as far back as I can remember,” Kielian said.
On the Net:
eBay Inc.: http://www.ebay.com