Portland's Wex continues to recover from impact of pandemic

Edward D. Murphy, Portland Press Herald, Maine
·3 min read

Apr. 29—Portland-based payment technology provider Wex Inc. reported modest declines in revenue and net income for the first three months of the year, but its top executive said the company is poised to recover fully as the pandemic eases.

Wex said its total revenue for the first quarter was $410.8 million, a decrease of 5 percent from the $431.7 million in revenue it posted during the first three months of last year.

Excluding one-time gains and losses, the company's net income attributable to shareholders was $81.3 million, or $1.79 per share, a slight decline from the first quarter of 2020, when net income was $1.81 per share. Including one-time adjustments, Wex suffered a net loss of $2.6 million, or 6 cents per share, in the most recent quarter, compared with a net loss of 37 cents per share a year earlier.

Wex offers payment processing systems for the vehicle fleet, travel, health care and employee benefits sectors. The company said fuel transactions for vehicles in its customers' fleets and corporate travel purchases all declined during the first quarter compared with last year, but that the number of health and employee benefits accounts it services were up during the first quarter.

Melissa Smith, Wex's chair and chief executive, said the company has been able to narrow the gap in results compared with last year as the pandemic has lingered on, with travel expected to lag behind the other business segments. She said the travel business should be better in the second half of 2021, but that it may take a few years for it to fully recover.

Smith said the company has been focused on signing up new corporate customers and upgrading its technology since the pandemic took hold last year.

In Portland, most of the company's employees have been working from home, and Smith said use of the company's new headquarters building on the city's eastern waterfront, which opened about a year before the pandemic surged, is still largely restricted to essential personnel. Still, she said the company probably will begin welcoming back employees to the building in a few weeks, although workers have been told they can continue to work from home until at least July 1.

Smith also said Wex now has 5,200 employees worldwide and is adding more, either by hiring or through acquisitions. She said the company is primarily hiring people with technical skills as it develops new products.

Smith said she's proud of how Wex employees and workers at other companies in Portland have responded to the effort to team up with MaineHealth in staffing a mass vaccination center at the former Scarborough Downs racetrack in Scarborough. The volunteers help check in those arriving for vaccinations, lead them through the process and monitor the newly vaccinated after the shots are administered.

"It's a tremendous goodwill story for our volunteers," she said. "They feel like they're taking a piece of control back, and it's been really positive."

Smith headed up the effort to get volunteers to help at the vaccination site and recruited other major employers in the Portland region to help out as well. She said the company committed to working with MaineHealth for at least six months after the effort began in February, but will continue the partnership as long as it's needed.

She also said that some of the big investment firms have asked companies to report on their ESG (environmental, social and government) impact, and that Wex plans to issue its report in a few weeks. Smith said the goal is to make sure that a company's "footprint is more than profit."