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Heather Petersen, CEO of National Merchants Association: “Subscription is the future”

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Meet Heather Petersen, the founder and CEO of National Merchants Association, a country-wide organization that provides merchant advocacy, payment processing and a lot more. The NMA have helped thousands of merchants globally get fair processing rates and adopt new technology through the last 10+ years. Read on and learn how Heather Petersen has become one of the biggest names in the male-dominated payment processing industry.


Operation Alaska


You’d think that one of the largest companies in the payment processing industry must have started in one of the financial centers of the world, like New York.


And you’d be wrong – one of the first offices NMA has ever opened was in Anchorage, Alaska.


Apparently, besides picturesque mountain sights and thrilling ski slopes, Anchorage was the perfect place for a merchant advocacy firm to settle in. Back in ‘06-07, the city was going through a stage of rapid economic growth, and a lot of merchants were being taken advantage of by the payment processors.


“Maybe not out of malice, but because there was no competition up there”, Heather clarifies. Remember, those were the times when phone lines were quite a challenge to find and the internet was basically non-existent in Alaska. Those factors contributed to merchants not being able to choose among different payment processors, and eventually being ripped off by the ones that were operating in the market.


Subscription based payments are the future


One of the strongest tendencies is the e-commerce and retail world is the growing popularity of subscription-based payment options, offered by some of the most established players in the game.


The NMA is a huge advocate for the subscription model in the e-commerce and retail spaces, but many of other payment processors aren’t – they seem subscription based business model as high-risk. The NMA is trying to change the way the finance industry sees subscription based businesses: “You’d be surprised that subscription based modeling is considered high-risk by some of our competitors. But [it is] the way of the future.”


Heather laughingly says that she expects a book to be written soon on how far NMA got in convincing the industry and the regulatory parties that subscription is a valid, prospective model: “The work that we did on Capitol Hill and the work that we did with regulators, […] we consulted the entire industry through ‘no, no, no, guys – this is really a viable business model, we just have to come up with a way to appropriately process for it.’”


“We are whatever our merchants need us to be”


When asked whether Heather sees the NMA as a software company or as a payment processor, she said that the NMA’s number one priority is to be advocates for merchants of all sizes and types, and that payment processing came out as an idea purely out of their customers’ needs.


Today, the NMA have quite a lot of software to help merchants cut costs, including a wildly effective chargeback control platform that helped reduce chargebacks by a critical 65%.


While the payment industry never ceases to surprise with new ideas, Heather doesn’t approve chasing every innovative idea that’s out there and puts emphasis focusing on the customer: “You put the merchant first. As merchant advocates, we want to figure out exactly what they need.”


The head of NMA also emphasizes the importance of always keeping a finger on the industry’s pulse: traveling, meeting with industry leaders, legislators – just to make sure they’re giving the best possible product that solves the most pressing problems.


NMA marketing – if it works, it ain’t stupid


It’s easy to assume that in 2017, everybody uses Internet on a daily basis and do most of their daily work online. However, certain markets are still years behind the digital trend, and if you want to reach them, you’re going to have to get creative.


So, how does the NMA get their phones ringing? For the smaller, low-risk merchants, “a lot of it is grassroots marketing”, says Petersen. One of their local marketing efforts is called Tap – a program that lets the company send out postcards and emails to local businesses. A big part of NMA’s low-risk marketing still includes the good ol’ door-to-door marketing and talking to the merchants. Heather Petersen’s association is also active in sponsoring community events and sports teams for local awareness.


For bigger, more high-risk merchants, NMA have a dedicated Business Development division that handle the biggest of organizations, including MLB and NFL.


Then there is a section responsible for keeping track of new exciting e-commerce merchant opportunities, and the merchant advocacy wing that assists all of the merchants who ask for help.


Want to hear the full interview with Heather Petersen? Click on the play button at the top of the page!


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