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Education: What’s so special about these Special Interest Groups (SIGS)? (MAG Quarterly- Volume Eight, Issue Two)

Eric OBrien Headshot_website
By Eric O’Brien, Director of Education, Merchant Advisory Group

July 1, 2020


Merchant Advisory Group (MAG) members often tell us (and by often, I mean... in every single survey we send out, at every conference, and in most sidebar conversations) that collaboration and networking are the headlining values of the organization and that the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) epitomize what the MAG is all about. We frequently hear “we want more SIG time” and “we want to be able to go to ALL of the SIG meetings.” New members who haven’t had the amazing opportunity to attend one of these meetings may be asking themselves…

What exactly makes these “SIG” things so special? I’m so glad you asked.

  • Here’s what’s bothering ME!... the Ultimate Networking Session
    My favorite thing about sitting in a SIG session is watching people who seem otherwise reserved suddenly light up when they are given the chance to talk about their business and the challenges they are facing with X, Y or Z. The SIGs offer a real-time opportunity to collaborate with peers in your industry regarding business challenges. You will receive live feedback from those who may be going through something similar…or have already gone through it and have suggested solutions! While we all work in payments, every business is different. Even merchants who share what appears to be the exact same business model may operate completely differently or have unique challenges specific to them. Sitting in a SIG session listening to other merchants’ stories is like being an armchair detective and helping find creative solutions.
  • A smaller, more intimate setting
    How many of you have attended a conference with thousands of people and, during a Q&A, you would have loved to be able to ask a question or share a frustration on something the presenter mentioned? Maybe you’re an introvert (like me) and the thought of getting up to a microphone in a grand ballroom where everyone is staring at you isn’t even worth the anxiety… not to mention what if you do and you say something inaccurate?! The SIGs take place in small group settings that provide a low-pressure environment encouraging all participants to build a network with peers while sharing their personal experiences.
  • “It’s not just me?!”
    There are so many “ah ha!” moments in our SIG sessions where merchants find others that are in the same boat as them. Whether it’s a specific fraudster that targets QSRs – and you just found out how another QSR handles it; or you hear that another merchant is being assessed the same downgrade fees you are, and you’ve been ripping your hair out trying to figure out how to avoid the, the SIG sessions provide peers an opportunity to connect on “this is happening to you too!?!” topics and begin collaborating and brainstorming on issues and potential solutions.
  • “What does that even mean?”… where Education starts 
    Someone learns something brand new in these sessions 99.99% of the time. Secure Remote Commerce (SRC), now commonly referred to as Click-to-Pay, is a great example of how conversations in the SIGs brought awareness into the merchant community. SRC was a hot acronym thrown around last year… and we realized not everyone knew what it meant. Someone in our SIG meeting mentioned SRC numerous times, and another merchant was brave enough to raise their hand and say, “What is SRC?” It sparked 15 other people to jump in and say “I’m so glad you asked that question!” We spent the next 20 minutes talking about Secure Remote Commerce, and the MAG continued the conversation by hosting a webinar on the topic. Education is a cornerstone for the MAG, and many of the topics for our Education program (including webinars, whitepapers, conference sessions, and newsletter articles) come from conversations during SIG sessions where attendees ask for deeper understanding of topics.
  • Consider them your professional therapy sessions
    Who else feels better once you’ve had a chance to VENT? Even if the issue isn’t solved – talking out loud allows you to organize your thoughts in a different way and provides others with an opportunity to weigh in. SIGs are your business-focused, professional therapy sessions to get things off your chest… like why a particular issuer rejects your chargeback responses 100% of the time… or how your internal proposals to implement a new fraud strategy keeps getting rejected (side note… check out John Drechny’s article here about navigating projects in your organization). The people in these sessions have BEEN THERE and are ready to offer an ear to just listen and potentially offer a new lens to look at the problem. They may even offer a suggested path forward that worked for them.


The SIGs have a bright future, and there is a continued opportunity to improve them to meet ever changing participant needs. We are excited to share an addition to the SIG program this year.

  • Introducing the Summer SIG’s
    We know that during this challenging time, you are likely missing collaboration opportunities with your fellow merchants. The MAG has been listening intently, and between June 2 – June 11, we held the first ever Summer SIG series. We hope to continue hosting these valuable virtual discussions, and notes from these sessions will be posted on the MAG website shortly.  

Finally, thank you to our amazing SIG leadership team, without whom these sessions would absolutely not be possible (and definitely not as special). All of the leaders have day jobs; yet in their spare time they commit to improving the payments industry and giving merchants a voice by listening to you and leading these sessions. If you have a chance, please thank them for their service, and if you have any questions about a particular SIG, reach out to any of the leaders you see below. 

SIG Image

If you’ve been to a SIG meeting, I’d love to hear what you liked about it and what you didn’t. These will continue to evolve and we always appreciate member feedback. Please drop me a note anytime.

Whether you are new to the MAG community or are a seasoned veteran, the Special Interest Groups are the ultimate chance to collaborate and network with your peers.

Stay special.
-Eric