SEAA is 'the bomb'
Professionals from across the payments industry gathered March 21 to 23, 2011, in Weston, Fla., to celebrate the Southeast Acquirers Association 10th annual conference.
For over 10 years, the SEAA has provided ISOs, merchant level salespeople (MLSs) and third-party vendors with educational and networking opportunities. Although the group has had obstacles, it always perseveres.
John McCormick, one of the founders of the SEAA, shared some history with The Green Sheet. He is quoted at length, as follows: "I looked through some old records and found some numbers to highlight the growth over 10 years. Our first show was in St. Pete Beach, Fla., in October 2001. (The SEAA used to be in the fall, but after four of our first five shows were impacted by hurricanes, we elected to move to the spring.) We were very nervous because not only was this our very first show, but the nation had just been traumatized by the events of 9/11. The ETA had canceled their mid-year conference (scheduled for that same week in September), and we were not sure if our show would be a success.
"We had 25 registered exhibitors, and we struggled to get that many to register. Our presentations consisted of giving every exhibitor 15 minutes to give a quick talk about their products and services. In 2011, there were 90 registered exhibitors (and many more that we had to turn away because our space was full); our presentations focused on regulatory changes and technological advances that will impact the acquiring business in the coming years.
"In 2001, 133 total participants attended the show. This year we hosted more than 600. I hope that the increase is a reflection on the quality of the show, but I also think it is a result of several factors that are impacting the industry and the economy in general.
"Several proposed legislative and regulatory changes will impact the industry in the near future, including new IRS reporting requirements and continued efforts to regulate interchange. There are also a number of technological advances that are very important for everyone to understand, from securing transaction data to alternative payment devices and payment options.
"I also think there is a real sense of optimism that we may have weathered the worst of the economic storm facing the country. I think this will lead to increased attendance at all of the remaining shows in 2011: the
"Everyone deserves a portion of the credit for the success of our show over the past decade, our volunteers, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees. The SEAA Board and Advisory Committee serve on a volunteer basis, and we also have a number of volunteers who will come to the show a day early just to help with the setup. The nuts-and-bolts of the show, from the agenda to registration, would not happen without the efforts of the many volunteers.
"The sponsors provide much of the financial support that allows us to make the event comfortable, with nice meals and refreshments throughout the event. Deserving of special recognition are American Express and General Credit Forms; they were our first sponsors in 2001 and have sponsored the SEAA every year since (our media sponsorships did not start until years three and four of the organization). Their dedication to and investment in the acquiring industry is second to none.
"Of course, the heart of the show is getting the exhibitors and attendees together. The main purpose of the SEAA is to provide a forum where the ISO/MLS can learn about the newest products and services directly from the vendors creating those products. Our exhibitors and attendees come to the show motivated to connect. The most rewarding part of every show is seeing a crowded exhibit hall, and this year was no exception."
At this year's show, gentle evening breezes cooled the air Monday evening for the opening reception held poolside. This event provided attendees with the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.
The opening reception was preceded by the very popular Field Guide Seminar. For the past seven years, Mark Dunn has been organizing and presenting these seminars at the regional acquirers' shows. Each seminar includes industry experts speaking on up-to-date topics of relevance to the industry. "I started the Field Guide Seminars to give a platform to speakers with good insight into the agent and ISO business," Dunn said. "I wanted them to share their experiences, tips and techniques of building a sales engine and a merchant portfolio. I thought the person who wanted to move up in the industry could benefit from hearing a dedicated professional talk about what has worked for them.
"Also, I wanted to talk about new products and services which could expand the revenue stream of the average agent or ISO.
"I've always built in time for Q&A so attendees could get further answers and interact with the speaker. As we start our eighth year of Field Guide Seminars, it seems we've done a pretty good job as more people keep coming to listen in and participate." This year the Field Guide included speakers on topics such as branding, connecting with international acquirers, training a sales force and social networking. Among the speakers were Josh Sheiner, Rod Hometh, Matt Clyne, Harold Montgomery and Mary Winningham.
Later in the evening, First Data Corp. hosted a late night party. Those who engaged in business dinners were able to stroll over to the party and continue networking late into the night.
On Tuesday morning, attendees could either learn more about the new IRS regulations or partake of a continental breakfast while mingling with the exhibitors. Exhibitors seemed pleased at the mix of attendees versus exhibitors this year. The hall buzzed with excitement as old deals were discussed and new deals made.
Later in the morning, John McCormick of General Credit Forms announced that five attendees were in attendance who had attended each of the 10 SEAA meetings. These loyal folks were rewarded with not only free registration to next year's meeting in Dallas, but also with paid hotel rooms.
He then introduced the keynote speaker, Brad Meltzer. Meltzer is an award-winning author and host of Brad Meltzer's Decoded on the History Channel. A consummate storyteller, he related some of his own experiences and delved into the subject of heroes. All audience members were challenged to not only examine the heroes in their own lives, but to explore ways they can be heroes to others. His message was that everyone has the power to change the world.
After lunch, more time was allotted to spend with the exhibitors and to attend four breakout sessions. The sessions included a discussion on the increase of smart phones and tablets in the payments area, a presentation of the ins and outs of high-risk payment processing, an explanation of the growing prepaid market and an update on the Durbin Amendment to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
The last session was originally scheduled to be a panel discussion, but due to unforeseen circumstances, only one presenter was available. Sarah Weston, an Associate with Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, updated interested participants on the Durbin Amendment.
Following was a lively discussion among audience members of the effects these new regulations may have on the industry. The consensus seems to be that it is the unforeseen consequences that will be problematic. Large issuing banks are already preparing for this law to be enacted.
The evening wrapped up with a cocktail reception with the exhibitors and a trip to the nearby Hard Rock Casino. For those who were still in town on Wednesday morning, an informal breakfast was offered, and the SEAA kicked off its first annual golf tournament.
If you have not been to one of the regional events, this may well be the year to try one out. As Dee Karawadra, Chief Executive Officer of Impact PaySystem, said, "SEAA is the bomb!" Indeed.
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