Recently, 50 payments professionals gathered at the Marine’s Memorial Club in San Francisco for the first-ever Subscription Payments Exchange conference hosted by Insight Exchange Network. The event sought to look beyond general trends—with a focus on understanding and following your customers when they want to pay.

From a quick audience poll, about 75% of the attendees were merchants (e.g., Mailchimp, Zoosk, Playstation, Twitch, LifeLock), and 25% were payments services providers (e.g., WorldPay, Adyen, Recurly, GoCardless). You can find the full conference agenda here along with a list of panelists and speakers, or check out the Twitter hashtag #IENSubPay.

Three major themes stood out from the variety of sessions held throughout the conference:

  • Subscriptions are moving beyond the standard monthly or annual billing model. Companies should start measuring Lifetime Value (LTV) and understanding user behavior and use those insights to inform their subscription models. And sometimes churn can be a good thing.

  • The tried-and-true strategies for reducing churn are all still the right things to do, but companies should also examine their chargebacks and their communications strategies.

  • When choosing which payment methods to offer, in addition to looking at global trends, companies should understand where their customers are and how they like to pay. And what has the biggest impact on conversion may surprise you.

Moving beyond monthly and annual billing

Subscriptions are a driver of brand preference and customer stickiness. As such, companies should think of subscriptions as having a subscriber’s “card on file” rather than only as monthly or annual billing. Also, sometimes churn is not entirely negative. For example, Jeff Morris from Tinder spoke about how Tinder users churn out frequently (when they start dating someone seriously) but tend to come back eight or more times (when the relationships don’t work out). Suhil Srivivas from LinkedIn shared that LinkedIn users typically churn out after three months (when they find a job) but come back when they’re back in the job market.

These examples underscore the importance of understanding your subscribers’ Lifetime Value (LTV) (subscription rate multiplied by months as a customer) and user behavior, and letting that inform your subscription strategies. Tinder found that free trials were less attractive since their users churn and come back so often. Instead, they introduced introductory and tiered pricing to make it easy for users to come back but also to upsell on features. LinkedIn has done hundreds of A/B experiments on pricing and exit surveys to better tailor their subscription model to their subscribers’ churn behavior and willingness to pay.

Strategies to reduce churn

Several panelists and speakers, including Recurly’s own VP of Sales, Robert Oswald, echoed that the “tried and true” strategies to reduce churn were still the right things to do:

  • Retry your soft declines and declines for insufficient funds

  • Leverage account updater services to update your cards on file

In addition, tailoring your subscriber outreach before, during, and after a renewal period is critical to prevent churn and get (churned) subscribers to come back. For example, Olga Rembielinska and Kasia Sitkiewicz from Symantec shared that they saw a 2% lift from their retry experiments, 2% from Account Updater, and nearly a 6% lift from their combined subscriber outreach efforts across email, direct mail, phone, and SMS.

However, they and other panelists also spoke on the importance of keeping an eye on chargebacks to ensure that efforts to reduce churn aren’t leading to unintended consequences down the road when your chargebacks come in because sometimes, customers really do want to leave.

So many payment methods, so little time

The current trends in payments that the various speakers and panelists such as Sheela Ursal of Fintech Launch and Greg Bae and Steven Tang from Twitch shared were consistent with the global trends we’ve seen for the past few years:

  • The key markets around the world are US, Europe, Japan, Australia, Brazil, China, and India

  • Supporting the major card schemes (including Discover) + PayPal will give you 80% global payments coverage

  • Alternative payment methods (such as iDeal, Sofort, etc.) are the long-tail

Beyond the trends, the speakers shared that one of the most important factors in deciding which payment methods to offer is understanding where your users are based, how they like to pay, and how they’re segmented by demographics. For example, if your demographics skew younger and underbanked, then e-wallets and gift cards may be more popular among your subscribers.

Siamac Rezaiezadeh from GoCardless also recommends that you consider and weigh these seven factors when deciding on payment methods: coverage, user preference, conversion, risk, cash flow, churn, and cost. Some payment methods, such as credit cards, score high from a coverage and cash flow perspective, but others such as bank debit cards are better from a churn and cost perspective.

But sometimes, according to Greg Bae from Twitch, what has the most impact on conversion may not be the payment method—it could be as simple as presenting in local currencies.


These were just some highlights from the many valuable talks and panels held over the two days of the Subscription Payments Exchange conference. It reaffirms much of what we at Recurly are doing for our customers. Plus, it was great to network and knowledge share with so many other like-minded individuals in the subscription payments space. We look forward to the next one!