The payments industry has a way of attracting entrepreneurial men and women who consistently forge ahead to find new and better ways of doing things. And while no accredited college courses, degrees or vocational schools exist for neophyte ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs), tremendous opportunities exist in this industry for professionals to network and share their experiences, knowledge and wisdom.
How does this happen? Through trade associations. Year after year, they deliver resources, education, guidance and venues for connecting payment professionals to help them grow their businesses and realize their goals.
Trade associations come and go; they come in many flavors - general and specific, large and small. But what makes them succeed? A look at two elders in the association crowd, the Electronic Transactions Association and the Northeast Acquirers Association, may provide some insight.
After two years of planning, the ETA launched in 1990 as the Bankcard Services Association and is now celebrating 20 years of service to the industry. It adopted its new moniker in 1996 to reflect a broader focus.
"Our aspiration is just to keep the tent as diverse and as broad and as open as possible," said Carla Balakgie, a Certified Association Executive and the ETA's Chief Executive Officer. "Every time a market or a technology or a payment type emerges, we want them to be in our mix."
The organization has endeavored to continually increase the value it provides to members and has broadened its focus beyond producing its highly successful annual gathering of a who's who among payment professionals. It recently enhanced its online educational offerings; it is also adding an Investment Community Forum to its 2010 meeting and expo to bring investors and payment professionals together.
A significant difference between the ETA and the regional acquirers associations is that it is membership-based. "According to the agreement we have forged through this membership relationship, [the ETA] has to deliver them with service," Balakgie said. "That might be a magazine; it might be an annual meeting; it might be government advocacy; it might be education; it might be a whole host of things."
Balakgie said the "engaged, active members" who enjoy networking, are involved in the industry, display a spirit of "coopetition" and care about the organization are the main drivers of the organization's longevity. Not to shortchange the leadership, she added, "We have to give them the right environment in which to do that. If we weren't delivering service and if we weren't delivering value, [the members] would vote with their feet."
She also credited the ETA's executive leadership with knowing how to make good choices, capitalize on opportunities and steer the organization in a way that anticipates and meets the needs of its members as the industry grows. Robert O. Carr, Chairman and CEO of Heartland Payment Systems Inc., who is on the board of two of the newest industry associations, the Secure POS Vendor Alliance and the Payments Processor Information Sharing Council, and has participated substantially in others, including the ETA, said leadership and a clear mission are crucial to the success of an association.
He added that adequate resources, generally starting from the top down and then from the membership at large, are needed to sustain the organization so it can meet its mission.
With more years under its belt than the ETA, the Northeast Acquirers Association, founded in 1985, is the oldest regional acquirers association. It provides MLSs an opportunity to learn, engage with peers and meet vendors at its annual winter conference. Originally the Northeast Bankcard Association, the NEAA assumed its current name in 1997. "The short story of it is that we could never get American Express to show up," said Jacques Breton, Treasurer of the NEAA.
A friend of Breton's took Northeast Bankcard's request for involvement up the American Express Co. corporate ladder. AmEx agreed to participate if the group took the word "bankcard" out of its name. Subsequently, AmEx started participating, and an AmEx executive now serves on the NEAA board.
According to Breton, the NEAA averages approximately 400 attendees at its annual event in Mt. Snow, Vt., and over the past three years, 35 to 40 percent of attendees were first-time participants. The NEAA seeks to be affordable for MLSs. Breton said the stable board of directors, quality of accommodations and food, and ample opportunities for networking and activities have kept the event, and the association, strong. Breton said the NEAA is exploring other locations (not within driving distance of an established association event) where it can host a similar, but smaller event.
Listed below, with details such as dates of upcoming events and Web site addresses, are the ETA and all four regional acquirers associations, which dedicate themselves to providing maximum educational resources and professional opportunities to the feet on the street meeting after meeting:
Primary event: April 13 to 15, 2010, in Las Vegas
Focus: National, membership-based organization
Web site: www.electran.org
Primary event: July 21 to 23, 2010, in Schaumburg, Ill.
Focus: Regional, event-centric organization
Web site: www.midwestacquirers.com
Primary event: TBA (late January 2011 in Mt. Snow, Vt.)
Focus: Regional, event-centric organization
Web site: www.northeastacquirers.com
Primary event: March 22 to 23, 2010, in Atlanta
Focus: Regional, event-centric organization
Web site: www.southeastacquirers.com
Primary event: Oct. 13 to 14, 2010, in San Diego
Focus: Regional, event-centric organization
Web site: www.westernstatesacquirers.com
The payments industry consists of a spectrum of stakeholders, including ISOs and MLSs, vendors, processors, gateway providers, technology companies, security companies, issuers, acquirers, banks, and hardware and software developers.
To provide support, resources, networking opportunities and so forth to the specific players in this dynamic industry, a number of associations focus on just one aspect of the whole. Below is a list of some of these associations:
Description: A global, membership-based organization for the credit and collection industry. Its members include third-party collection agencies, asset buyers, attorneys, creditors and vendor affiliates. Its mission is to support the success of its members, the positive reputation of the industry as a whole and the health of the economy.
Web site: www.acainternational.org
Description: A global, nonprofit, member-based trade association aimed at promoting ATM convenience, growth and usage worldwide. ATMIA strives to protect the industry's interests by providing education, best practices, networking opportunities and a political voice for member organizations.
Web site: www.atmia.com
Description: A membership-based, interindustry trade association formed to contribute to the continued growth and success of the network-branded prepaid card industry.
Web site: www.nbpca.com
Description: A not-for-profit, multi-industry association organized to promote understanding and growth of smart card technology in the payments industry. It seeks to influence standards relevant to smart card adoption and implementation, maintain a voice in public policy, serve as an educational resource, and provide a forum for discussions and projects.
Web site: www.smartcardalliance.org
Description: A membership-based, national nonprofit organization for women at all levels of the payments industry. It provides inspiration and networking opportunities through its regional meetings (Local Interest Networking Circles), educational offerings, annual summit and mentoring program.
Web site: www.w-net.biz
Financial institutions (FIs) have always been integral to the payments industry. With passage of the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act in 2004, new technology and products have streamlined operations, and new avenues of collaboration have opened for payment organizations and FIs. For some MLSs, community banks and credit unions are primary referral partners, as well as prospects. Below are several major associations in the banking sphere:
Description: A national membership-based organization for FIs. Its mission is to enhance and strengthen the role of financial service institutions through federal legislative and regulatory activities, consumer education, research, and products and services for its members.
Web site: www.aba.com
Description: A national interindustry association whose members include ATM networks and owners, card companies, retailers, hardware and software manufacturers, government agencies, industry consultants and security firms.
The EFTA's objective is to promote the advancement of electronic payments and commerce, inform the public and private sectors on important issues involving electronic payments, and to keep EFTA stakeholders apprised of the business implications of legislative and regulatory initiatives aimed at electronic payments and commerce.
Web site: www.efta.org
Description: A membership-based organization that also operates a network for automated clearing house (ACH) payments. Its educational and developmental efforts are all in support of the growth and health of the ACH network. Members include FIs through either regional payment associations, such as the Western Payments Alliance, or direct membership.
Web site: www.nacha.org
Many banking industry associations existed before the payments industry existed. Even the newest of the FI organizations listed, the EFTA, predates most of the other associations in this article.
Bob Bucceri, Partner with Chaddsford Planning Associates LLC and media representative for the EFTA, said the secret to that organization's longevity is its adaptability and its "creditability." He said the organization does not lobby, but it does inform government and regulatory agencies about the industry.
New needs develop, along with new technology and new ways of doing business. Below is the latest crop of associations established in 2008 and 2009.
Description: A national, membership-based association dedicated to the service of Canadian credit card, debit card, gift card and electronic-wallet businesses through events, networking opportunities, education and representation.
Web site: www.acquirers.ca
Description: A not-for-profit membership organization created to promote competition and efficiency throughout the merchant cash advance industry.
Web site: www.northamericanmaa.org
Description: A membership-based, nonprofit organization that works with payments industry stakeholders to develop an end-to-end security framework, raise awareness of security issues, encourage adoption of best practices and bring consistency to the standards that govern disparate technological components and participants in the industry. Its membership primarily comprises equipment manufacturers, processors and security companies.
Web site: www.spva.org
Description: A council of payment processor executives operating under the umbrella of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a nonprofit dedicated to distributing information related to breaches and data security compliance. The PPISC's aim is to share breach and security information in a spirit of cooperation to strengthen the industry as a whole against future attacks.
Web site: www.ppisc.com
Description: An organization dedicated to establishing stronger legal rights and greater unity for MLSs. The organization is still in its early stages and its Web site is incomplete. It intends to provide educational and training materials to MLS members.
Web site: www.mlsrecognition.com
Participation in trade associations has benefits, regardless of a particular association's focus. According to Breton, MLSs should attend regional association events to find out what's new in the industry, network with peers, exchange vital information and expose themselves to new products from vendors.
Breton has seen a trend among larger ISOs toward not encouraging their sales agents to attend regional events for fear that they will be recruited by other ISOs attending the event. "If you're treating your salespeople properly, professionally and fairly, they're not going to leave you," he said.
Balakgie said being part of an association "exposes you to your community of practice." She added that the resources and networking opportunities provided by associations help payment professionals solve problems, become educated and attain goals more easily. "I can say for sure that my involvement in associations has paid me dividends that I will never be able to repay," she said.
Taking membership a step further and becoming involved as a volunteer can put professionals closer to the core people within the industry who make things happen and provide an inside track on new developments within the industry and the association.
Breton pointed out that NEAA board members strive to work for the association's constituents, not for themselves. He added that he gains exposure from signing his name to some 3,000 e-mails every year, but exposure is a byproduct of being involved, not something you need to go after.
The list of associations in this article is by no means exhaustive. The Green Sheet invites readers to also peruse the Datebook and Trade Association News sections in the magazine, as well as the online calendar at www.greensheet.com/datebook.php, for news of upcoming events. Go forth and associate.
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