I had the pleasure of interviewing Libby James, co-founder of Merchant Advice Service based in the UK. Libby is an inspiring entrepreneur with the aim to bring much needed transparency and informative advice to the payment industry. Working alongside payment processing experts, Merchant Advice Service specialise in high risk card transactions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? How did you first get into this business or get interested in the business?
I spent over a decade working in estate agency and then mortgage advice, in a highly regulated environment. Speaking with business owners on a daily basis I noticed a trend in how confusing the costs surrounding accepting card payments were. This prompted the start of Merchant Advice Service. We focus on customers needing specific expertise, just as I did when I was a mortgage broker, and successfully place business owners who feel that they are unable to find card processing elsewhere on a regular basis.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
We work with all sorts of companies, from small start-ups to larger more complex businesses. Although I have no funny stories, some websites might make you blush!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Few companies within the UK offer card processing to CBD oil and hemp companies. With our partners we have successfully placed CBD clients, particularly start-up firms with no transaction history. I believe that the more mainstream this industry gets, the better and safer it will be for those who use the products. Shunning or creating a taboo out of these products is not good for the consumer or society as a whole and I would welcome better, more open and more sensible regulation of the industry. By helping business owners make the act of taking payments become more mainstream we’re helping the industry itself become more mainstream.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My business partner David, we work so well together and he always thinks outside the box. He loves to help other business owners and inspires me daily.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
We are constantly building new relationships with providers worldwide, this enables us to offer more businesses payment solutions.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?
The industry is a growing one, we get enquiries daily from new businesses looking to start selling CBD oil and cannabis seeds. Who knows where this will take us in years to come. An example of this more recently, a UK high street brand, Holland and Barratt, boldly stocking CBD oil. You can’t help but notice the media coverage surrounding the possible health benefits. Hundreds of businesses intend to trade cannabis in a controlled and responsible environment, how this is governed long term is a concern of ours and something we will keep a very close eye on.
Can you share your top “5 things you need to know in order to succeed in the Cannabis industry”? Please share a story or example for each.
Firstly, and most importantly, is sourcing a supplier legally. When applying for card processing account providers will do their checks so ensure you do yours too. Examples of this include territories where it is illegal to grow cannabis, products with high levels of THC and transportation of goods.
Although widely reported, be careful and take an honest and ethical approach to how you market ‘health benefits’. Ensure you have terms and conditions that reflect this. Some providers will charge lowers transaction fees if health benefits are not advertised on your website to reflect this.
Work with industry experts, this increases the likelihood of your card processing and payment gateway application being accepted the first time around.
When your business reaches a high turnover consider having more than one merchant account, this way if you are served notice by one provider your business can run as normal with the other account working in the background.
Laws and regulation are constantly changing, therefore providers that wouldn’t accept CBD businesses today, may well tomorrow. Shopping around regularly will ensure you do not pay over the odds when accepting card payments.
In our experience when people are passionate about what they do they are more successful. Where does your cannabis passion come from?
At Merchant Advice Service we are passionate about helping businesses in high risk industries successfully apply for card processing, not everything is straight forward and our specialists understand that.
Where do you see your business going in the next 5 years? Where do you see the cannabis industry going in the next 5 years?
The great news is as the cannabis industry grows so will we. We plan on supporting clients considered higher risk to the providers for the lifetime of their business and ours. We constantly adapt to changes in the payment processing sector, with the aim to be the ‘go to’ for businesses in specific sectors. We hope to extend this to Europe and USA in future years. When it comes to the future of the cannabis industry, we believe it’s still early days, however there is clearly a huge demand which can only be a good thing for our merchants.
Are you able to identify any rising stars at your company or in your industry that people need to keep an eye on?
It wouldn’t feel right to name just one company. The payment processing industry is very innovative at the moment. So many companies are at the cutting edge of technology and things are changing all of the time. Having said that, certain aspects of the industry and the way it behaves with customers can be quite old school and can lack transparency. We hope we can help change that!
What growth sectors should most people be paying attention to that they might not be currently?
I can’t comment authoritatively on all markets as a whole as I’m not an expert.
Cannabis is definitely one to look at though! Especially in the USA and Canada as awareness increases and legalisation takes place. Industries related to battery production I also see exploding.
A very interesting industry to look at in the UK right now is fintech — lots of innovation taking place and, with The Open Banking Initiative set to come into force soon, financial services are set to start looking very different.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Tim Ferris, without a doubt!