Snowflakes fell profusely at the beginning of last year's Northeast Acquirers Association conference at Mount Snow, Vt. By the second day, everybody was snowed in. "It's a destination resort, and there's no other place to go," said Jacques Breton, Corporate Recruiter for merchant processor CoCard Marketing Group LLC and Treasurer of the NEAA.
"It started snowing Tuesday afternoon or evening, and by Wednesday morning there was a foot of snow on the ground," he added. "Some people couldn't make it up who wanted to go, and other people couldn't leave."
So it goes at the payments industry's first event of each calendar year. The NEAA has all the trappings of wintry fun.
This year's conference, being held Jan. 26 to 28, 2010, at Mount Snow, Vt., will kick off with a cocktail reception followed by a charity poker party. The second day will be more business-oriented. Seminars will be held throughout the day in tandem with an exhibit hall of about 90 table vendors.
"We've had some vendors who have been with us for 20 years," Breton said.
Breton noted that seminar topics will include selling techniques, pursuing the unbanked, merchant retention and attrition, optimizing product performance - "not just value-add, but where you go with it" - and Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) compliance.
"What is the real cost of PCI? Who knows?" Breton said. "Are we talking about paying for the breaches or talking about securing? ... We're going to bring attendees up to date on PCI and why it's critical for Level 4 merchants."
Breton stressed that no single topic would dominate the conference's seminars. "We want to be as informative and educational as possible," he said. "Somebody asked me last week, 'What's the theme of the event?' Well, the theme is to educate, and here are some of the hot subjects, but is there any one subject that's hotter than the others? That's not our goal."
The second day will also include a catered lunch, a raffle and a vendor fair with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Breton said the evening's activity will be the "infamous night at the Snowbarn," a local sports bar. The night will include food and drinks, pool playing, a disc jockey, and something Breton called "trying to swing the circle on the pin."
On the conference's last day, attendees can opt for skiing, snowmobiling, tubing or, for the snow-averse, spa treatments. Breton said a few of the attendees snowboard as well. "Henry Helgeson is a pretty good snowboarder," he said. (Helgeson is President and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Merchant Warehouse.)
Breton belonged to a group of merchant acquirers who founded the Northeast Bankcard Association in 1985, making it the first regional acquirers organization in the United States. The group, which later became the NEAA, has spawned several other regional organizations around the country, all of which hold annual conferences.
"When we founded it, we wanted to provide a medium for middle management," Breton said. "We knew senior management always got to go to the good shows, and middle management got left behind, and the idea was to build something that they could come to."
The annual event started as a one-day summer conference divided into a half day of meetings and an afternoon of golf. Breton said that was the format until the late 1990s, when ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) gained prominence in the acquiring business. Such sales organizations accompanied, and eventually supplanted, acquiring banks at the NEAA's annual conference.
In 1997, the NEAA added its winter event to the calendar, and in 2006 the organization dropped the summer event, keeping only the winter one.
"We're not into a lot of glitz and glitter," Breton said. "We try to keep the show at a low profile and have dispensed with attendees having to pay a registration fee. We want to make this event as economical as possible for MLSs, which, if it's an independent sales guy, he doesn't have an expense account. All he pays for is his gas and his room, and everything else is paid for two-and-a-half days. He can ski a whole day; he can eat and be merry without taking a penny out of his pocket."
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