Over the past three decades, trade associations have become essential to the payments industry. Why? Because forward-thinking industry executives, many of whom are competitors, have cooperatively worked to form organizations that, year after year, have given the industry a voice, as well as networking, partnership and educational opportunities that have strengthened the industry for all.
A pivotal example is the small group of entrepreneurs on the acquiring side of the credit card industry that launched the Bankcard Services Association in 1990. "There were a number of organizations that represented issuers and retail banks, but no one really focused on the merchant acquiring side of the industry, and that's what gave birth to what was then the Bankcard Services Association and today is known as ETA," said Jason Oxman, Chief Execuive Officer of the Electronic Transactions Association.
While the ETA has since grown to 525 member companies, it still adheres to the three core tenets established by the BSA 23 years ago. "One is advocacy on behalf of the industry, to make sure that state and federal government officials understand the economic benefits that payments companies bring to the U.S. and help them understand how regulation can harm innovation and growth in our industry," Oxman explained.
In 2003, shortly after moving from Kansas City, Mo., to Washington, D.C., the ETA hired Carla Balakgie as its first full-time Executive Director. Mary Gerdts, President of the ETA at the time, felt the timing was right for the move and the new location would give the association better access to government officials and policymakers. The ETA has since increased its government relations staff and recently launched a political action committee, the ETA PAC.
"The second thing we do is education," Oxman said. "We run the payments industry's only credentialing program, the ETA Certified Payments Professional." Plus its ETA University offers courses online and at its annual meeting and expo. Oxman noted that these courses will be included in the price of registration for the association's 2014 event in Las Vegas.
The ETA's third tenet is to foster business growth through networking, which it does through the annual meeting, as well as leadership and regional conferences. In September 2013, the ETA collaborated with Global Vision Group and Linda Perry, a payments industry consultant, to host the first International Acquirers Association conference in London. "What we found was that there is an unbelievable amount of international acquiring activity going on that people may not have noticed," Perry said, noting that representatives from 22 nations attended.
Making resources accessible to ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) closer to home was the motivation for forming the four regional acquirers associations. They are all autonomous, nonprofit organizations that charge no membership dues and provide top-notch training, education and networking to the industry's feet on the street.
The Northeast Bankcard Association, founded in 1985 under the direction of Jacques Breton, became the Northeast Acquirers Association in 1997. "If you go back to 1985, it was a bunch of us that wanted to play golf, and during the day we were all networking," Breton said. "But what happened and really evolved was that middle management and below had no way of interacting with their peers and colleagues, or even getting firsthand information or knowledge on what was going on in the industry."
Breton noted that what had previously been the domain of banks was opening to a new breed of ISO, prompting the NBA to change course. "In 1997, the executive directors of what is now NEAA opened the doors totally," said Breton, who at the time was working for General Credit Forms Inc. The NEAA hosts summer and winter conferences.
Next came the Southeast Acquirers Association in 2000, spearheaded by John McCormick of General Credit Forms, a family run business started by his father. "So Jacques and Alan Forgione sat down with me and Judy Foster and Audrey Blackmon and said, 'You guys need to do this down in the Southeast.'"
After the SEAA hosted its first event in October 2001, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana became key destinations until severe hurricane seasons forced organizers to consider springtime in Atlanta. McCormick recalled that not long after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, a busload of SEAA attendees visited City Park in New Orleans to help replant the children's community center garden.
In 2002, the Midwest Acquirers Association was founded by a group of six that included Jim McCormick (John's brother), Mark Dunn, Caroline Marino, Lisa Lenczyk, Lori Carney and Misty Rowe. It hosted its first conference in 2003, and later added the MWAA Lifetime Achievement Award and Shark Tank competition to recognize industry innovation.
In 2004, Dunn launched a series of educational sessions, known today as the Field Guide Seminar which is now part of the regular agenda for the MWAA, SEAA and WSAA conferences. "The standard agenda now for the Field Guide Seminar is there are six speakers and it takes about four-and-a-half hours to do the entire seminar," Dunn said.
The Western States Acquirers Association celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2013 at its annual October conference. Before founding WSAA, Sherry Friedrichsen, also with General Credit Forms, had previously established the Bankcard Association of Southern California, where she welcomed banks, ISOs and MLSs to the group's annual networking events.
In 2003, she approached Steve Eazell, Ken Elderts, Alice Kong, Bruce Ferguson, Steve Christianson and Lynele McGill about forming WSAA and launched the association the following year. San Francisco's Sir Francis Drake Hotel provided the venue for the first conference.
"We wanted to be the voice of the industry for the smaller players, the feet on the street, and give them access to the same things that ETA is putting out there," said Steve Eazell, President of WSAA. "Our goal was to create an atmosphere of networking and training and education for these folks that couldn't afford to spend more than a day or two off the streets."
In 2005, four women founded Women Networking in Electronic Transactions (W.net), which later changed its name to Women's Network in Electronic Transactions. W.net provides a forum for professional women to inspire and empower one another through networking opportunities, mentoring programs and career development. Of the four founders, attorney Holli Targan, and consultants Diane (Vogt) Faro and Linda Perry remain active in W.net today.
"We were all leaders in the ETA at the time, and before and subsequent to that," said Targan, a Partner with Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss PC. "We were looking around and seeing that really there were not a lot of women who were rising up in the ranks of the industry. We wanted to pass along to women coming up in the industry some of the learning that we had gained from our journey and encourage them to meet their full potential."
W.net initially hosted events solely in conjunction with ETA meetings in the spring and fall, but organizers realized that to reach more women, the group would have to branch out regionally. Local Interest Network Circles were the answer, and eight LINCs formed in metropolitan areas; another will open soon in Washington, D.C.
About 800 women participate each year in the local LINCs and W.net's national Super LINC and Career & Leadership Summit. "The energy that is in a room of high achieving women who have common goals with one another, it's really something to experience," Targan noted. "Everyone is there to help one another. Of course we're all at competitor organizations, but there's really a mentoring type feeling among the group of women."
According to Shawn Taylor Zelman, Executive Director of W.net since October 2012, the Gateway to Success mentoring program has been so successful that W.net plans to launch online mentoring software in 2014 that will assist members with mentor connections. W.net also developed an online career center for job postings and for members to connect with employers.
As a nonprofit organization, W.net relies on the financial support of corporate sponsors, membership dues, member participation on its board and five committees to produce events and manage programs. "We cannot do anything without the contribution of companies out there," Targan said. "And also the women themselves need to get involved because of everything that they and their companies will gain by that involvement."
When The BayPay Forum launched in Silicon Valley, a small gathering of payment technology innovators attended the inaugural event held at Stanford University. Nearly eight years later, the forum serves roughly 8,000 executives from over 2,700 companies; about 2,000 attend BayPay events scheduled throughout the year thanks to the support of corporate sponsors.
For Daniel Chatelain, founder and Managing Director of The BayPay Forum, creating such a forum was not his original plan. A technology entrepreneur, Chatelain was seeking funding for a software startup when he stumbled upon the idea. "The concept was like Square, but way too early, so I made a mistake there," he said. "But I realized in trying to get traction, people really didn't understand the potential of payments in commerce."
He then decided to approach major payments industry providers about creating a forum for exchange across multiple platforms to identify the trends and structures that will ultimately shape the future of commerce. "The whole point behind BayPay is to use payment as a pretext," Chatelain said. "The goal is looking at constructions of the payment model within the different industries – retail, banking, media – and focus on really changing it at length."
From the beginning, BayPay's mission has been to create an international network of commerce innovators connected through an interactive platform and regional events via local chapters. In addition to Silicon Valley, BayPay has chapters in Los Angeles and Europe.
The Los Angeles chapter emphasizes payments in digital media and entertainment. "I've met with CEOs of start-ups who were trying to figure out the future of entertainment, how movies and videos will be distributed and how they will make money from that," Chatelain said.
Cross-chapter dialog between the Silicon Valley and European chapters has helped members gain an understanding of how to address regional differences in infrastructures and technology. "With mobile in Europe, it's best to be aware that people are using NFC everywhere," Chatelain said. "And on the other side, you have mobile in the U.S., where everybody has mobile and they make payments."
Priming the U.S. market to make the switch from mag stripe card technology to the Europay/MasterCard/Visa (EMV) standard for chip-enabled cards is no easy task, especially when you consider the phase-in period mandated by the major card brands ends October 2015 for most merchants (October 2017 for the petroleum industry) at which point fraud liability for noncompliance will shift to the least secure party on the transaction chain.
Back in 1992, years ahead of the curve in championing smart card technology in the U.S. market, leaders from the banking and smart card industries formed the Smart Card Forum. The Smart Card Forum merged with a second industry organization, the Smart Card Industry Association, to establish the Smart Card Alliance in 2001. "The SCA began as an organization primarily focused on the payments industry," said SCA Executive Director Randy Vanderhoof. "Over time, the smart card industry has spread to other uses of smart cards, such as government ID cards, mobile phones, transportation systems, health care, access control systems and network security."
Vanderhoof said that within the past decade, the smart card industry has diversified and matured as a technology and now represents a much broader marketplace than the single vertical market of payments. The SCA established a Latin America chapter in 2005 and now has members from U.S., Latin America and international organizations engaged in every aspect of smart card technology. Also involved are government institutions, consultants and end users.
In addition to hosting conferences and periodic SmartTalk web seminars, the SCA offers online resources and courses including the Certified Smart Card Industry Professional program for individual members, as well as a Leadership, Education and Advancement Program. Last year, the SCA introduced the EMV Migration Forum to support organizations in the implementation of EMV contact and contactless technology.
Outside the U.S. market, Helsinki, Finland-based Mobey Forum was established in 2000 to accelerate mass deployment of mobile financial services. Membership in the bank-supported forum has since embraced payment processors, mobile manufacturers and vendors from the mobile money sphere.
Munich, Germany-based Smart Payment Association was created in 2004 to offer smart and secure payment system guidance to international members. In October 2013, a group led by Payvision launched the Cross-Border eCommerce Community in Amsterdam, to serve as a resource for global expansion in e-commerce for businesses and acquirers alike.
Here in the United States, the Electronic Payments Coalition, comprising credit unions, community banks and payment card networks, seeks to educate policymakers, consumers and the media about electronic payments' role in economic growth. The recently launched CardLinx Assocation hopes to increase interoperability and growth of the card-linked-offers industry.
Vanderhoof noted that the payments industry is facing change on three different technology and business fronts: the transition from mag stripe cards to EMV chip cards, the growth of mobile payments, and the challenge of addressing fraud in the card-not-present, e-commerce channels. In moving forward, innovators will likely disrupt the current payment ecosystem. Perhaps the balm is in communities of competitors working collaboratively through industry associations.
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