'Merchants are referring to the current paradigm as a new peak, focusing on what they need to do to "Keep the Peak"' – Exclusive interview with Julie Fergerson, CEO of MRC

Wednesday 17 June 2020 15:30 CET | Editor: Andra Constantinovici | Interview

Julie Fergerson, CEO of MRC, discusses the current payments state of play, its challenges and future prospects, along with an exclusive insight into the Merchant Risk Council’s growth strategies

As you recently took up the role of CEO at MRC, tell us a little bit about your background and what role did MRC play in your story.

Back in the late 90’s when ecommerce started to grow, it was clear the fraudsters were organized, but many of my ecommerce customers were not, so we began to hold conference calls and set up a mailing list so that merchants could start to share best practices around fraud trends and solutions against fraud attacks. 

I wanted to give back to the community as the ecommerce company I helped found was successful, so I played a very active role in helping the industry work together for the common good of all. We formalised the organisation and it has grown into what it is today. I wore many hats in the early days of the MRC, as Co-Chair of the Board, running the day to day operations, stuffing bags, planning content, hosting panels, presenting, you name it, we all pitched in and did it. 

Considering the impact that the pandemic had on digital ecommerce (some segments experiencing staggering losses, while others doubled or tripled in volume) what has been the impact on payments and fraud teams? (e.g. managing an increase in transactions while keeping fraud rates low, expanding teams, layoffs, dealing with increased volume without the option to scale teams?)

First, I will answer this question from a strategic point of view. The volumes are similar to those of peak season and many merchants in the industry are referring to what has happened as a new peak, focusing on what they need to do to “Keep the Peak”. The good news is merchants experience these peak volumes several times a year and they are prepared to handle these volumes. Christmas is the most well know, but every industry has their own set of peak seasons, for example, Mother’s Day is very busy for the jewellery industry. 

The pandemic caused a very massive shift in consumer behaviour, it is incredibly difficult to change consumer behaviours, they usually do so gradually over years if not decades. The industry experienced, almost overnight, card present shrink and those buyers shift to the card not present world. So now the question for many merchants is, after the pandemic is over, how do they keep those new found consumers shopping in a card not present channel. That is the big area of focus for merchants.

From a more tactical perspective, all the traditional challenges merchants face during peak seasons are happening now, the main difference is the volumes are not shrinking like they normally do after a peak season. Screening fraud orders and identifying fraud has become more challenging with the sustained volumes of orders. Additionally, in any economic downturn we always see an increase in fraud activity, as people become more desperate for money, ethics and morals deteriorate and we start to see more crime from those who traditionally would not commit crimes.  

There are some segments, especially T&E that have been hit very hard by the pandemic. We have taken this opportunity to work within the industry to advocate of behalf of our merchants. We have worked specifically with Mastercard to discuss the proposed changes to ECP and advocate for a delay related to the rollout of EFM (the new chargeback monitoring program) and recently hosted a webinar on the topic. Additionally, we have sent letters to the European Commission, the European Banking Authority and added our support to the EPIF to advocate for a delay in the deadline of SCA, as merchants and issuers simply will not be ready by December. 

Many of our MRC members have published materials on the MRC Resource Center around the impact the pandemic has had on fraud and payments, I encourage everyone to check them out.

What would you name as some best practices coming from solution providers supporting your members during this crisis?

Solution providers are providing updates and guidance around tuning their tools during the pandemic, merchants need to make those investments and stay vigilant and continually tune fraud rules and models, changes in volumes and consumer buying patterns create holes for fraudsters to sneak in.
Additionally, our community conference calls and message boards with merchants and solution providers have been increasingly active since the start of the pandemic. These groups are sharing everything they are seeing including things like payment and fraud trends, the pandemic, the economic downturn, best practices for working at home, the increased payment volumes, changing regulations and especially specific COVID19 scams. The MRC has several communities combined with our message boards. The three main communities are Fraud, Payments and Law Enforcement and host conference calls every six weeks, the message boards are active 24x7.  

While the COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on the event industry worldwide, how do you engage with the community in this period of travel restrictions and what alternatives do you think will remain as running options for networking after the restrictions will have been lifted globally?

Currently industry happy hours, webinars, message boards and online virtual events are the best ways to engage with peers and stay connected. I believe that the webinars will continue and that the technology that virtually interact is greatly improving which makes the virtual experience more enjoyable, I suspect the webinars will remain popular post the pandemic, they have always been popular. 

That said, I know people are anxious to get back together face to face and that we need to navigate this new normal. Even post pandemic, I think there will be a new normal, as many experts have pointed out the virus can mutate and come back without notice. At the MRC we are planning for an in person Vegas 2021 and are keeping a close eye on what other industry in person events are doing so we can take those lessons learned and host a safe and successful in person conference in the spring of 2021, people are anxious to get together and nothing beats face to face communication

As the CEO of MRC today, what are the most relevant points on your agenda in terms of key growth strategies, future plans? What about possible expansions to other regions?

For the rest of this year we are focusing on engaging our membership and ensuring that all are members are aware of the numerous resources we offer from engaging content such as Webinar Wednesday, content published by our solution providers on our resource center, our blog, and career tools, such as our online training program: RapidEDU, our mentor program and our industry job board. We are also working on planning and announcing our plan for a fall event soon.

We also have a strategic initiative with our merchant issuer executive committee, this group has identified three areas of focus for the MRC:

  1. How to increase acceptance and reduce fraud. Right now we are working on 3D Secure and have taken a position on the SCA deadline as mentioned above. 

  2. Strengthening our relationship with the card brands to allow merchants to provide input into upcoming mandates.

  3. Finally, working to tackle friendly fraud, we have published an industry definition and are now working to get some metrics around it and investigate the tools such as Visa MPI and Mastercard’s Ethoca Eliminator and we are actively working with issuers to help redefine how to handle friendly fraud.

Additionally, many of our members have asked us to expand into APAC and Brazil, we even hosted our first event in APAC last year – but with the impact of the pandemic, it remains on our radar, but for the rest of this year, we will be focused on including those regions in our virtual events with the hope of doing something in those regions at the end of 2021.

Despite the pandemic and economic downturn, the majority of our members are busier than ever, the crazy growth and challenge of “keeping the peak” for our industry is exciting and I am so incredibly excited about all the resources the MRC has to offer our members to assist in their success and as always, I am genuinely excited our ability and new initiatives that are underway to engage and connect our members, as we always have. 

About Julie Fergerson

Julie Fergerson, newly appointed CEO, has over 25+ years of experience developing, delivering and promoting Internet-based technologies. Generates collaboration around industry problems and enthusiasm about new technologies. Proven track  record of bringing key stakeholders together to solve hard problems and positioning existing technology to meet needs of audience without changing fundamental value. Resourceful problem solver and motivating leader. Intelligent, articulate and passionate.

About Merchant Risk Council

The MRC is a global membership organization connecting eCommerce fraud and payments professionals through educational programs, online forums, career development, conferences, and networking events. The MRC encompasses a membership network of over 500 companies all focused on fraud prevention, payments optimization, and risk management. Hear our members share the value of MRC collaboration.  

Free Headlines in your E-mail

Every day we send out a free e-mail with the most important headlines of the last 24 hours.

Subscribe now

Keywords: Julie Fergerson, MRC, Merchants Risk Council, ecommerce, merchants, fraud prevention, retail, payments , payments processing, Europe, PSP, US, RapidEDU, SCA, COVID-19
Categories: Payments & Commerce
Countries: Europe, World
This article is part of category

Payments & Commerce