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Board Member Corner: Okay, Houston, We’ve Had a Problem Here (MAG Quarterly- Volume Seven, Issue Three)

Dean Sheaffer
By Dean Sheaffer, SVP Financial Services/Chief Compliance Officer, Boscov’s 

Septmeber 5, 2019

Merchant payment professionals, especially those of us in small- to mid-sized organizations, have real difficulty in expressing to our Boards, CEOs, CFOs and others in the “C-suite” the importance and nuances of the U.S. payment system.  

In some ways, this is perfectly understandable.  Our organizations are, at the end of the day, merchants.  At our core, we buy stuff, advertise stuff and sell stuff.  There are literally thousands of tasks involved in this process.  Everything from sourcing goods, to maintaining facilities, staffing, compliance, accounting, tax matters and a gazillion other day-to-day matters that demand our executives’ attention and time. 

And…let’s admit it, the U.S payment system (as much as we love and hate it) is esoteric for merchants.  Despite being one of our organizations’ largest expenses, payments are generally not well understood by our leadership teams.  Despite the egregious unfairness of the payment system to merchants, clear anti-trust violations (as are being litigated in the MDL case) and unfair and disjointed rule making and policy decisions by the card brands and issuers, many merchants view payments as a “commodity” and as an immutable “cost of doing business”.  

Merchant payment professionals have argued, advocated, influenced, litigated and legislated on payment system matters for decades.  We have made some progress and have had notable wins.  However, the payments playing field is still vastly tilted in favor of the big banks and card brands. 

In order to continue to make progress, we need to develop a more complete understanding of payments issues and opportunities at all levels of our organizations – particularly in the “C-Suite”.  The MAG has taken on this challenge and has produced an Executive Education Video Series with the C-Suite as the intended audience.  

The video series is comprised of several short videos that explain the costs, risks and realities of today’s U.S. payment system and what the future may hold.  I encourage each and every MAG member to view the video series, to share it with your organization’s leadership and to share it with your colleagues.

Until Merchants have a payment system we can call our own, it is incumbent on us to help educate and marshal our organizations’ leadership in support of MAG’s mission.  Talking points to share with your leadership team are available on the MAG website.  If you have questions about the video series or have suggestions as to how MAG can “spread the word” please contact Beth Provenzano.

Perhaps, if we all do our part and educate ourselves and others, then one day we will emerge from the “Dark side of the [payments] moon” to see a bright, new day where merchants gain control of the payments system.  Until then, remember that when good people recognize unfairness, it is incumbent on them to facilitate change – no matter how difficult and demanding that change may be.   “In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere...It is up to us” – Carl Sagan