By Patti Murphy
The Takoma Group
For those who braved the trip to the Northeast Acquirers Association Winter Seminar & Outing held at Mt. Snow, Vt., from Jan. 27 to 29, 2009, it was a real blizzard. It was cold and very snowy; snowy enough to keep about 40 registrants from attending, according to Jacques Breton, Corporate Recruiter at CoCard Corp., and NEAA Treasurer.
But the event was a blast anyway. It offered educational sessions and plenty of networking opportunities, as well as loads of fun. Capping off day two of the event was a raucous evening of games, karaoke, dancing and more, sponsored by Electronic Merchant Services. Then, the next morning it was off to the slopes (some chose snowmobiles) to romp in about a foot of fresh powder.
"We are hearing from a number of folks that this was one of the best if not the best event" produced by NEAA," Breton said. Plans are already in the works for the 2010 winter event, to be held again at the Grand Summit Resort in Mt. Snow, Jan. 26 to 28.
NEAA was the first-ever regional acquirers association and was founded about 10 years ago as an educational forum for ISOs, merchant level salespeople and financial institutions. Today, there are three other such associations: the Southeast Acquirers Association, Midwest Acquirers Association and Western States Acquirers Association.
The groups are known for providing quality programs at little or no cost to attendees. (Vendor sponsors pick up the tab for just about everything except hotel rooms.) WSAA was created in 2004, primarily in response to feeback the NEAA was getting from its seminars and outings, the founders said. Like the NEAA, WSAA is a nonmembership organization focused on educating and informing payment professionals.
The group held its fifth annual event in September 2008 in Scottsdale, Ariz. This year's event will be held at the Sheraton Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., "right next door to Disneyland," said Ken Elderts, WSAA President.
The MWAA came into being in 2003 in an effort to carry on the regional approach to training, education and networking. Today its event attracts nearly 500 professionals from the field. This year, MWAA's seventh annual conference will be held in Lombard, Ill., just outside of Chicago, and will feature new strategies and opportunities for growing merchant portfolios, the organizers said. And for the seventh year, MWAA will present a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Founded in 2000, the SEAA is the second-oldest regional acquirers group. Its aim: to provide an opportunity for ISOs and MLSs in the region to network and learn more about acquiring industry trends and opportunities. SEAA's 2009 annual conference began Feb. 23 in sunny Orlando. It features educational sessions on interchange, legislation and the economy.
In a new twist, this year's SEAA event kicks off with a job fair. Job seekers can attend the fair and the rest of the conference that day for free. All vendors participating in the show have committed to meet with job seekers about prospective opportunities at their organizations.
As part of the fair, Mark Dunn, President of Field Guide Enterprises LLC, will offer his Field Guide for ISOs presentation - always a popular show.
All regional events offer opportunities for companies to showcase their offerings. Merchant Warehouse was one of dozens of companies that soldiered up to Mt. Snow to exhibit at NEAA. The Boston-based firm is touting a "first of its kind" interchange management tool for the POS.
For as long as I've been involved in the card acquiring space, interchange has been a point of contention between merchants and their payment services providers. While many merchants have responded with litigation, others have sought ways to contain interchange costs. That, in turn, has spurred some processors and acquirers to come up with client-focused interchange management programs that can help their agents grow sales.
But Merchant Warehouse's BIN$mart Cost Manager is being offered as a custom application for Hypercom T4220 terminals. A spokeswoman for Merchant Warehouse said the company also plans to make the application available to POS developers wishing to integrate it with their terminals.
"This new product is the first of its kind," said Henry Helgeson, President and co-Chief Executive Officer of Merchant Warehouse. Depending on a number of factors, including the merchant's actual fees and business type, BIN$mart automatically prompts the customer with the lowest cost-clearing option.
In the case of debit cards, that would be PIN or signature authorization. With debit cards accounting for nearly half of all POS card payments, individual merchant savings can be significant, according to Helgeson. "BIN$mart Cost Manager actually turns the playing field in favor of the small merchant, providing savings opportunities most big stores don't even have," he said.
Finding out about new technologies and services such as BIN$mart is one of the beauties of events such as the NEAA. Breton said he hopes to encourage other vendors to follow Merchant Warehouse's lead and use the event as a launch pad for new products and services.
But the NEAA show was also an excellent opportunity to network one-on-one with industry leaders. Although the SEAA was the first to launch a job fair in conjunction with its annual conference, plenty of jobs networking occurs at each of these events. At the NEAA event in January, I shared lunch with a woman (a 16-year veteran of the industry) who had just been laid off.
Since she had already paid for her hotel, she figured she'd come to the show and see if she could find some job leads. There were about five other folks at the table with us, and by the time she finished eating, she had two good leads. "I feel good about being able to find something," she said before we parted ways.
This is a business that rewards ambition; that's why it attracts so many entrepreneurial spirits. Remaining profitable, or even employed, in the acquiring sector going forward, I believe, requires patience and diligence.
And don't forget: The regional associations offer inexpensive, effective ways to help you become better merchant services providers and better business people.
Patti Murphy is Senior Editor of The Green Sheet and President of The Takoma Group. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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