In July 2009, The Electronic Transactions Association committed significant funding to begin developing a certification program for payments industry professionals. The ETA's board of directors determined that certification would be the most effective means of measuring individual professional competence and promoting ethical business practices industrywide.
The ETA believes this is a critical milestone and is something that many payment professionals have sought for years. "There has been absolutely phenomenal response from sizable ISOs wanting to be a part of this program," said David McMackin, President and Chief Executive Officer for International Payments Corp. and former two-term member of the ETA's board of directors.
According to Carla Balakgie, the ETA's CEO, the Certified Payment Professional (CPP) program being developed will consist of a comprehensive examination based on a defined body of knowledge created by subject-matter experts from throughout the industry.
"We're now in the first phase of program development called the Job Analysis, which is the process of determining what that body of knowledge will include," Balakgie said. "That process could take six to nine months to complete. We still have a great deal of work to do before we unveil the examination, but we are confident that the standards we set will offer a fair and comprehensive measure of a payment professional's industry knowledge."
Anna Solomon, co-founder and Vice President of payment solutions provider Fast Transact Inc., feels that a certification program would bring uniformity and standardize basic knowledge for everyone in the industry. She also believes that for the program to fully succeed, it has to be universal - and required. "There is, in my opinion, too much inconsistency in the training of MLSs by all of the ISOs currently," Solomon said. "There are many great training programs available, and they should be considered; however, what is lacking is foundational training. For instance, terminology, rules and regulations, interchange, basic risk and underwriting: These are not usually included in the sales training program.
"With the proper program, ISOs then would only have to train the agent on their particular specialties. It would sure go a long way toward removing the magnitude of false information being told to the merchants. But unless the entire industry embraces this program, it will remain just a good idea."
Holli Targan, Partner at Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss P.C. and President of the ETA, said that over the past two years, the ETA has done extensive study of the issues involved and the potential for success in designing such a program. The Job Analysis Task Force, which met for the first time at the ETA's Strategic Leadership Forum in October 2009, includes ISO executives involved in sales, risk analysis, operations and management who have participated heavily in discussions to help the ETA with the CPP's development.
"We wanted all these various groups to have input in creating the program," Targan said. "We're talking to payment professionals from all disciplines and at different levels. We need everyone's perspective. The certification examination will be designed simply to measure the ability of a candidate to apply knowledge and skills in the role of a professional."
Targan noted that developing the program will take time. "There are many steps you have to go through to make certification legally defensible," she said. "Among other benefits, we believe that a certified agent will enable merchants to have some confidence that their payment systems representative is knowledgeable."
She added that a separate standards board was formed that must approve the test's content as well as approve how it will be given and scored. Once all the analysis, input and evaluations are complete, the ETA can then deploy the test in a pilot program and roll it out following the pilot.
"The Job Analysis group is tasked to drill down to determine the exact skill sets that are necessary in order to perform the job of the payment professional," Targan said. "Certainly this is not meant to be a burden on industry participants. The people taking the test will need to educate themselves enough, through any instructional channel, to pass it. It's also possible that industry veterans won't need any additional education to pass the test."
Balakgie believes that while certification isn't absolutely necessary for an industry to grow and prosper, it will benefit both merchants and the industry professionals who support them. "Certification sets a baseline standard for the expected knowledge and ability of industry professionals and should give them a competitive advantage," Balakgie said. "There are other benefits as well. Demonstrating a recognized level of knowledge and professionalism should be attractive to customers as well as prospective employers. And a well-informed workforce is also a productive and value-added asset because both go directly to the bottom line." Balakgie added that certification is just one of many tools needed to ensure the health of the payments industry.
"Industries such as ours also must have robust advocacy initiatives at federal and state levels; education directed to its constituents and at those who want to regulate it; and strong, frequent communication about the issues, concerns, strengths and competencies of the industry," she said.
"All of these activities can help stave off unwanted legislation and regulation - and our mission and ongoing work is to do just that."
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