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What’s Up in Washington: Reflection on the MAG’s Advocacy Role (MAG Quarterly- Volume Five, Issue Two)


By Liz Garner, (past) SVP Policy & Public Affairs, Merchant Advisory Group

June 1, 2017

When people think about the terms “Advocacy” and “Lobbying” too often they associate them with the backrooms and dealings of Washington, D.C. That, however, is a far cry from reality. What advocates and lobbyists really do is raise public awareness and educate lawmakers, regulators, and the public on how laws and regulations will impact an industry, its employees, and its customers. Furthermore, advocating is something we do every day in our business-to-business relationships for exactly the same reason – to ensure we have the best, most efficient, and most flexible solutions to help our businesses grow and meet customer needs and demands. 

Advocating is about harnessing one’s voice and putting it to use. Over the past several years, MAG has done exactly that. MAG is widely-known and respected throughout the merchant community as a leading education and networking resource on payments. Additionally, the MAG conferences have become must-attend events for merchant payments professionals, several business partners, technology stakeholders, and thought leaders in the payments space. But, positive reputation means little unless an organization can harness that reputation to ensure their voice is heard by many. That is why ensuring the MAG is a go-to source on existing and emerging payment issues has been a key goal of the MAG staff and Board for the last several years, and it is my view that we are succeeding by growing the platforms under which we communicate, continuing to monitor and highlight emerging issues in payments, and educating lawmakers and regulators on the benefits of existing payment reforms.

First, the MAG has grown its voice significantly. MAG staff and member companies are being quoted and referenced more and more often in mainstream media, as well as trade press. The launch of KnowYourPayments.com has garnered tremendous interest from stakeholders in the industry, and the accompanying social media channels of Facebook and Twitter have helped the MAG connect our message with a broader audience of end-users. Meanwhile, those social channels have provided us with new means to engage and communicate with media, thought leaders, and public officials in Washington, D.C.

Second, the MAG has leveraged our payments expertise to be at the forefront of emerging payments issues, such as tokenization where we rallied several merchant trade organizations to adopt the stance that open and competitive standards are necessary to provide the best security solutions in this space going forward. Several of our partner financial organizations have rallied around this belief, as well. The MAG also led the charge for faster payments and refunds and reversals, which are critical to ensuring customer satisfaction. We have aligned closely with consumer organizations on this, filed comments with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and spoken on the record on the timely need for change in the system. We also led the charge in educating the merchant community and other parties about our multitude of concerns with the Honor All Cards network rules being applied to mobile and contactless transactions. An amazing personal moment for me came at Money 2020 last year when it was clear during one of our retail panels that the term “Honor All Wallets” had become commonplace. I consider it a huge achievement that we were able to raise such a high level of awareness around the issue that the broader payments community knew what the issue was and was following developments around it closely. Lastly, there has been a tremendous amount of education, and often times necessary rebuttal of misinformation, associated with U.S. transition to chip cards. MAG has been intimately engaged in these discussions, has served as a major public resource on items related to EMV, and we continue to work directly with the global card brands to resolve ongoing shortcomings with the technology. 

Lastly, the MAG has fought hard to retain payment system reforms that provide value to the merchant community, several of our business partners, and our customers. Over the past few years, we have had multiple conversations with regulatory agencies alongside our trade association and company partners to make certain those agencies are educated on how the payments system is working, as well as to make them aware of any business rules, operations or technologies that raise barriers to merchants being able to exercise their rights under the the law. Most recently, the MAG has been a huge advocate for ensuring merchants are able to route debit transactions the way they choose as required under Regulation II, which resulted from the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection law. Furthermore, MAG had advocated for ensuring all our business partners have equal access to provide services in this marketplace. The success of these efforts are predicated on the Durbin amendment debit reforms remaining fully intact. As such, the MAG has taken an even bigger leap in its advocacy efforts recently and has been extremely active in educating lawmakers on the benefits of retaining debit reforms. With imminent action in the House of Representatives on a Dodd-Frank replacement package, having the MAG as a newer voice involved in the debit reform debate has provided tremendous benefit to constituencies who would like to see the debit reforms remain intact.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege serving with the MAG over the past few years. It is amazing how synergies continue to grow between different payment stakeholders, and I remain excited about what this will mean for the future of payments and the ability of all stakeholders to meet customer needs and demands in digital and interconnected payments. In the meantime, I have no doubt that the MAG will continue to be a strong advocate, and will truly drive positive change in payments through multi-stakeholder collaboration.