Saturday , June 23, 2018

The MAG’s Horwedel Prepares To Step Down as CEO

Mark Horwedel, chief executive of the Merchant Advisory Group, an association of more than 100 of the nation’s biggest merchants that concerns itself with payment issues, plans to step down at year’s end. Replacing him will be John Drechny, chairperson of the group’s board of directors and currently senior director of payment services at Walmart Inc.

Horwedel himself was director of payments at the No. 1 retailer from 2006 to 2011, when he assumed his post at the Minneapolis-based MAG. Previously he worked as a consultant and as chief network officer of Magic Line, an electronic funds transfer network based in Rockford, Ill.

Horwedel: “I really do think that the merchant perspective means something today.”

Horwedel, 67, quips that “I’m getting old” when asked why he’s stepping down. But he quickly adds that he won’t be departing the MAG; he’ll continue as a consultant for the organization.

“I don’t have any interest in leaving the business,” Horwedel tells Digital Transactions News. “I enjoy it too much, and I’m afraid of inactivity.”

Among the things he plans to focus on are cryptocurrency and automated clearing house payments. The ACH, he says, “has always been an underutilized option for merchants.”

Under Horwedel, the MAG strongly promoted merchants’ debit card transaction routing rights under the Dodd-Frank Act’s Durbin Amendment, which took effect in 2011. The group also tussled frequently with the general-purpose card networks over payment card acceptance costs and rules.

“I really do think that the merchant perspective means something today, which I don’t think it did back then,” Horwedel says.

Horwedel praised Mallory Duncan, the former general counsel of the National Retail Federation who retired last August, for being one of the first to effectively state the merchants’ case in Washington, D.C., regarding payment issues. Duncan “was a great voice on the Hill; he did a wonderful job advocating for the industry,” says Horwedel. Before Duncan came on the scene, “there wasn’t much noise out of the merchants, by and large.”

Besides high-profile advocacy, Horwedel says a recent MAG accomplishment was working with Mastercard Inc. to promote the removal of signature requirements for transactions made with U.S. credit and debit cards. In recent years a growing number of merchants have complained that signatures are a relic of bygone days and contribute little to fraud control. Mastercard announced last October that signatures would become optional for merchants in April 2018. Within three months, Discover Financial Services, American Express Co. and finally Visa Inc. announced similar policy changes.

Horwedel says he also will keep a close eye on the transaction-routing rights issue to assure that PIN-debit networks remain easily accessible to merchants. “There’s still a lot of problems out there in the environment,” he says. “From my perspective there’s still a lot of ignoring of what the [Dodd-Frank] law requires.”

The MAG’s membership grew four-fold under Horwedel’s leadership and now stands at 140, including 19 of the top 20 card-accepting retailers, restaurant chains, and some airlines.

“Mark has been a great leader and has been instrumental in the MAG’s success,” Kathy Hanna, the group’s vice chairperson and senior director of enterprise payments and store support at supermarket chain The Kroger Co., said in a statement. “He has built a talented team and fostered a culture of growth and inclusiveness within the MAG that allows merchants of all sizes to talk about pain points and best practices. He draws on his industry experience to be the voice of the merchants and help educate the public.”

Drechny, who has worked for nearly 20 years in payment-related positions at Walmart, will join the MAG July 30 as president, working on strategic planning and preparing to take over as CEO next Jan. 1. Troy Carrothers, a senior vice president at department-store firm Kohl’s Corp., will replace Drechny as chairperson of the MAG’s board.

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