Merchant Risk Live Wrap-up: NAMA’s Carla Balakagie on Automatic Merchandising

LegitScript’s Merchant Risk Live featuring Carla Balakagie 2.

In this episode of Merchant Risk Live, we were joined by Carla Balakagie (FASAE, CAE) the president and CEO of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA). It is the association representing the $31 billion US convenient services industry with nearly a thousand member companies, including some the world's most recognized brands. Prior to NAMA, Carla also served as a CEO at ETA for nine years. She is the first woman to lead NAMA since its creation in 1936.

This conversation provides a greater insight into the overall core issues impacting the industry, and how NAMA is stepping in to innovate and continue to create an impact. Keep reading below for key takeaways from the episode.

The Ecosystem of NAMA

As a trade association with the goal of protecting and promoting the industry, NAMA is fueling its mission by creating opportunities for different businesses to grow and reduce friction from legislation. Because the client base of NAMA is so diverse, it is vital to understand each industry in detail. Carla said that how NAMA serves its members is fundamentally the same, but how they go about it and what’s important to particular members is based individually on the life cycle and risk involved in each channel.

The complex network at NAMA is defined by its diverse member base. Carla described service operators as the nucleus of the organization: “They are the companies that aggregate all the different services and sell them into their client sites which has historically been a workplace.” The rest of the supply chain comprises CPG companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors, brokers, and operators. The benefit of being a member is gaining a wealth of industry research and resources. As the CEO, Carla said she strives to examine the world of specialty automatic merchandising merchants and how best to serve member needs.

The Evolution and Future of Unattended Retail

Carla said NAMA seeks to dominate unattended retail with its strong tech fueling payment capabilities. “Unattended” means a rise in more electronic transitions. The acceptance for electronic payments has been growing and becoming more widespread globally. Predominantly debit cards have been behind in catching up.

One of the key challenges of brick and mortar is figuring how to have a 24/7 presence as consumer behavior evolves. Having an unattended presence poses a safety threat and can be an easy target. Though vandalism may be a concern in the future, Carla said she is optimistic that the technologies can mitigate these concerns.

An issue with vending machines is that the margin is low; however, as NAMA continues to invest in unattended retail, at the network association level there is a more widespread adoption. With a goal to dominate the market, NAMA is investing in technologies to fuel its vision.


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The Merchant Risk Live is a biweekly virtual event to discuss trends in merchant risk management with guest experts in payments risk and compliance. Some of the topics include creating effective risk rules, making transaction monitoring and content monitoring work together, getting federal regulation updates, and more! If you’re interested in joining the biweekly live event, sign up today.