MOUNT SNOW, VT.–An upbeat crowd filled the conference room and jammed the exhibit hall last week here at the Northeast Acquirers Association 2012 Winter Seminar and Outing, despite a relatively weak national economy, a decidedly bad local economy and weather a little too warm for skiing.

“Attendance was up, the mood was optimistic and people are looking forward to opportunities in 2012,” said Alan Forgione, association president and principal account executive at ACI Worldwide Inc., a Windham, N.H.-based provider of payment systems.

The head count of 480 represented a 20% increase from last year, noted Jacques Breton, association treasurer and vice president of MJM Associates Inc., a Somersworth, N.H.-based electronic payment provider and consulting firm.

Some 60% of those attending were visiting the association’s winter conference for the first time, Breton said, noting they came “from all over the country.”

“There were a lot of new people,” Forgione said, adding it was the most he has seen in his 12 years as association president and in 27 years at the show.

Attendance rose this year because of optimism about the nation’s economic recovery and the association’s decision to admit attendees for free, Forgione said. ISOs and agents attended for free for the third consecutive year, and word is spreading, he noted.

The improving economy boosted attendance, and the weather did not prevent local attendees from reaching the conference this year as it did the past couple of years, Breton says.

Both officers said attendees responded well to the subjects covered in the day of conferences and to the speakers chosen to give the presentations and participate on panels.

Issues uppermost in the minds of the attendees included the so-called Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank law, mobile payments, and lingering questions about the Payment Card Industry data security standards and IRS Form 1099-K merchant transactions reporting requirements.

Attendees were split on Durbin, with some passing the benefits of lower exchange rates on to their merchants and others preferring to keep the difference, Forgione said. Those in the second camp justify their decision because the industry’s margins on card transactions have been squeezed by competition in recent years, he said.

A similar parting of the ways is occurring with mobile payments. Some ISOs and agents are not embracing mobile because many of the products offered so far rely on old infrastructure. Others have gone so far as to offer nothing but wireless payment, Forgione said.

Whatever their positions, ISOs and agents found the show’s speakers compelling enough to keep the 220-seat conference room at near-capacity throughout the day of presentations.

Most speakers provided their listeners with at least some bright spots.

In one example, Tony Abruzzio, who works in sales and account management for Isis, told attendees his consortium is considering using ISOs to promote its electronic wallet to small merchants.

That had to seem reassuring to acquirers who have expressed concern about competition from the industry’s giant newcomers, Isis, Google Inc. and PayPal Inc. Isis is a consortium of AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless.

When attendees were not hearing presentations, many visited vendors on the show’s exhibit floor.

The association limited the number of exhibit booths to 78 but may return to the 72 spots allowed in previous years because this year’s extra vendors were relegated to the perimeter and did not have enough space, Breton said.

Of the 480 participants attending the conference, some 285 were attendees and 195 were associated with vendors, Breton said.

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