By Dustin Magaziner
Time and again, I'm asked, Is the ETA CPP designation worth it? ETA CPP stands for ETA Certified Payments Professional, and it's a certification administered and issued by the Electronic Transactions Association, the trade association for the payments industry. It is virtually the only certification for merchant services and historically has had very low adoption.
While not required of individuals to sell merchant services, the ETA CPP certification, founded in 2012, "sets the standard for professional performance in the payments industry and is a symbol of excellence," according to the ETA.
When I started out in merchant services while in college, I didn't have my ETA CPP designation. I got it after nearly seven years in the business, and I certainly understand where the value is and how to market it. In truth, I'm happy I have it. I can't tell you if it provides attributable ROI—there's no way to determine whether a sale was solely dependent on my having the ETA CPP—but for sure, there is value.
Unlike the insurance and real estate industries—in which professionals must pass an exam to be authorized to sell—an individual selling merchant services doesn't need a license (or even any level of basic training, which is mind-boggling but also a topic for a future article).
The ETA CPP is the closest thing to professional certification the payments industry has, elevating the industry overall and helping legitimize designated individuals.
Thus, if a merchant services professional devotes time and effort to pass the ETA CPP exam, small business owners might (and likely should) feel they're working with a more knowledgeable, accomplished and, most importantly, reputable professional—even if the ETA CPP designation isn't widely recognized.
This isn't to say those without an ETA CPP aren't reputable. But in an industry where it's challenging to separate good from bad agents, one may be forced to look at something like an ETA CPP to make the differentiation.
The ETA CPP is valid for three years, and 36 continuing education (CE) credits are required to remain certified (see https://bit.ly/36qyFTC). As such, it's not a one-and-done deal—continuing effort is required.
In truth, the industry needs the ETA CPP. Small businesses have been moving away from cash for decades—90 to 100 percent of some businesses' income is generated via credit or debit cards. Therefore, merchant services—and the professionals selling them—control the way businesses collect money from customers. This is significant.
Sadly, merchants widely view the merchant services industry as a dirty business. Some of this is attributable to poor hiring choices—unfortunately, as a result, terrible ethics abound. This isn't solely due to lack of education or licensing requirements, but the ETA CPP is a step in the direction toward standardizing and improving education and behaviors in an industry that sorely needs them. The ETA CPP can help boost the industry's image among small business owners wary of buying from salespeople they typically do not trust.
While the ETA CPP is the only professional designation available in the industry, it doesn't mean a whole lot in today's current ecosystem. First off, it's not difficult to pass the test. Many experienced merchant services reps find it easy to pass; many view it as nothing more than a money grab by the ETA. Hopefully, as more individuals become certified, the ETA CPP designation's image will improve.
Next, the ETA CPP is not a magic wand. Some merchant services salespeople might think that once they gain certification, business owners will suddenly flock to them. If only… However, the ETA CPP can be leveraged in a multitude of ways. For example, it can be used:
The ETA maintains a searchable database of ETA CPP holders on its website (https://bit.ly/3I2PeTD ) so merchants who are curious enough, can check your name on the internet, adding even more credibility to the vetting process. The ETA CPP designation provides a tangible differentiator that with the right marketing can be fruitful.
As such, selling merchant services to a larger, more sophisticated business may require buy-in from several individuals—a CEO, CFO, controller, accountant and others—who want to be convinced that they are choosing the right merchant services provider. The ETA CPP will add this layer of credibility when working with these teams, setting you apart from others vying for the same business. When going after larger deals, hopefully you give yourself the best tools possible to land the deal—and the ETA CPP is just one more tool to help you accomplish this.
The merchant services industry needs more accountability. While the ETA CPP designation alone will not usher in rapid, dramatic changes, over time, the more people that get it, the more valuable it will become and the more trust there will be between business owners and merchant services providers.
The tipping point will come when it becomes much more in demand, such as needing it to even work with certain merchant services companies or to sell to business owners who have been informed to only buy from CPP holders. The ETA CPP is unlikely to become an industry requirement, but for those looking to level up their sales and marketing efforts, it is certainly worth the time and investment.
Dustin Magaziner is CEO of PayBright, founded in 2012 with the motto "Merchant Services, Done Right." Top to bottom, PayBright is focused on providing agents and ISOs, and in turn their merchants, with the absolute best experience in the industry. By offering the absolute best rates, no contracts, free terminals and POS for each merchant and true transparency, PayBright has found a way to set itself apart in an industry of little differentiation. Feel free to reach out to Dustin with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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