From Student to Teacher in Payments

From Student to Teacher in Payments
Heather L. Sargeant AVP, Banking, Cash Management, and Accounts Payable Bath & Body Works, Inc.
Dec 8, 2022

This September marked my 11th MAG conference. After attending every MAG conference since I moved into payments in 2017, this conference was different. I co-led the Mass Merchant SIG and represented the Mass Merchant group on stage. I arrived full of nerves, self-doubt, and still feeling that I had much to learn. The smart and talented professionals that share their knowledge and expertise each year always leave me in awe. How can I meet those expectations? What do I have to offer?

My journey into payments came later in my career. When I am asked what I do, I tend to oversimplify by stating an accountant. While people understand the field, they tend to think we only prepare taxes. I spent many years in public accounting before making the transition to internal audit. I later moved to the international team where I focused on supporting franchise partner relationships and related receivables. I loved the relationships I built both internally and externally while solving problems as we entered new countries with different regulatory requirements. Eventually, I began looking for a change. My leader suggested that I would be perfect for the Banking & Cash Management role. I looked at him and said, “I have no idea what that means.”  I learned that this team used to be called “Sales Audit” and was responsible for ensuring all the funding was received for all the sales. Sounded simple enough – boy was I wrong!

As I began to learn my new role in March 2017, I worried that I was in over my head. I did not know much about payments and was surprised to see the complexity behind it. The number of partners, the technology, the fact that merchants paid such inflated costs – all of this was new. I looked to my leader, Harriette Hansell, who had been in payments for some time. She told me I would catch on and that going to MAG conferences would help me get there.

In September 2017, I attended my first MAG conference with Harriette. The first session was Merchant Payments 101. At the time, MAG did not offer an online course to take but rather a couple of hour-long sessions, sharing the history and basics. I furiously took notes and began to connect the dots. Each session built on the next; and I asked question after question, primarily to Harriette, reciting things back to make sure I understood. I felt like a sponge soaking up all the information. Harriette introduced me to so many people who were there to share their knowledge and collaborate to ensure their companies were in the best position when it came to payment processing. I found the SIG conversation fascinating. Being new, I was hesitant to raise my hand and ask questions. Instead, I would text Harriette and she would either answer with a quick reply or tell me to ask. Being in the room with individuals from companies who are leaders in their industry was intimidating, but I realized they all wanted to learn and help everyone be successful. It was eye-opening.

It was at MAG conferences that I realized my relationship-building skills were going to be one of the most important keys to success. Building a network of others who understand the complexities allowed me to find answers and guidance when needed. When Harriette or I would send an email asking one of our connections from MAG for advice, we always received a helpful answer or an offering to schedule a call to discuss.

In September 2021, I brought two co-workers with me for their first MAG conference. It was also the first time I attended a MAG conference without Harriette as she had recently retired. Each year as I attended the Mid-Year and Annual Conferences, I built my network. As I looked around that fall, I realized others were looking to me and asking my thoughts and advice. At some point, I had crossed the threshold from student to teacher.

The change came full circle this fall when I was humbled to sit beside my co-facilitators of the Mass Merchants, Ken Grogan and Callum Godwin. After years of listening to them share their knowledge, I was thrilled to realize I had plenty to add to the discussion. I scanned the room and saw many friendly and supportive faces, along with some new ones as well, who actively engaged in the conversations with different perspectives and ideas that I would take back to my company. At the end of the conference, as I nervously walked on the stage to share the highlights of our conversation, I paused and gave thanks for all those conversations and friendships made along the way that brought me to this point.

I still struggle to say I am an expert or authority when it comes to payments, but I can hold my own and debate new payments offerings. I do not always speak all the technical language, but I understand most of it. I continue to immerse myself in the dialogue and not shy away from asking questions. I ask until I understand and am known for the colorful analogies I use to help remember how things work. I realize now that we all are continuing to learn at the MAG conferences. No one there has all the answers, but we know if we all continue to ask questions and come together openly to discuss important topics, together we will find the answers and shape the payments landscape for the better.
The Merchant Advisory Group

Driving positive change and innovation in the payments industry that serves the merchants interest through collaboration, education, and advocacy.