By Dale S. Laszig
Certification programs across the payments industry keep like-minded professionals connected and up to date on emerging trends and technologies. The Green Sheet interviewed security, finance and payments specialists at different stages of their credentialing journeys. This article highlights the features, benefits and broadening appeal of these programs and how they enrich individuals, organizations and industries.
While their specializations vary, the individuals interviewed view certification as more than just a badge. As they reflected on their chosen career paths, they described how they study for exams, keep credentials current, and what they have learned from mentors, supporters and peers.
Mark Cline, Payment Card Industry Professional (PCIP), is senior vice president of sales at Netsurion. He manages a sales team for the company's suite of network security products and services. Cline credits his PCIP training for his holistic view of the payments ecosystem and consultative approach to applying the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to specific client networks, environments and use cases.
The PCIP program, administered by the PCI Security Standards Council, certifies industry practitioners with expertise and understanding of the PCI DSS. To qualify, applicants need at least two years of work experience in IT or an IT-related role, as well as basic understanding of the payments industry, information technology and network security and architecture, according to program guidelines.
Cline had initially learned of the PCIP credential through a LinkedIn colleague and researched further, obtaining additional information and resources from the PCI SSC. As a seasoned professional, he already knew about payment card security. Study guide test questions, quizzes and data helped him prepare for the exam. "There are so many functions and requirements in PCI that it's crucial to interpret requirements for specific business cases," Cline said. "The program provides access to thought leader insights and a place to consult with other professionals who deal with similar situations."
The three-year renewable PCIP credential provides a competitive advantage, solid payments industry career path and professional credibility, Cline stated. Members of the PCIP community are listed on the council's website and participate in community meetings. The credential allows them to capably support compliance for clients and within their organizations and is transferable if they change jobs, he noted.
"People who have never gone through a program like this don't really understand some of the key benefits a certification provides," he said. "There's a tendency for payments professionals to think of a certification as just a piece of paper, title or a credential. As I looked into it, I realized there is much more to the PCIP program."
Deborah Reuben, Certified Lease & Finance Professional (CLFP), is CEO at Reuben Creative LLC, a technology consultancy focused on helping individuals and companies transform legacy systems into modern, innovative platforms. In 2016, she heard of the CLFP program, a global credential for equipment lease and financing professionals.
A consulting friend was preparing for the exam, and being naturally competitive, Reuben purchased the study guide and enrolled in the Academy of Finance and Lease Professionals, a program managed by the CLFP Foundation. Reuben enjoyed the academy's bootcamp but found the study guide disjointed; she compensated by drawing pictures and diagrams to help her study. Her graphics connected the dots, illustrating how pricing, accounting, legal and tax issues impact the overall business. This conceptual framework became the basis for the 2019 edition of her industry's manual, which she edited.
"There's no single person who knows everything about this business," Reuben said. "You have to pull from a variety of perspectives to understand the big picture. It helps to have some sort of visual framework that you can pull that knowledge into and hang it on. I kept 40 percent of the original material and worked with 40 subject matter experts across the industry, creating building blocks to show how loans and leases originate and how you manage the entire lifecycle."
Reid Raykovich, CLFP, executive director of the CLFP Foundation, praised the 2019 edition of The Certified Lease & Finance Professionals' Handbook: The Essential Guide to the Commercial Equipment Lease and Finance Industry, noting the book helps industry stakeholders understand lease and finance functions beyond their individual areas of expertise. This is important in a mature industry, she stated, where there's no single approach.
"One company does it one way and you do it another way, but academy teachers help identify key areas of focus and what you need to know," Raykovich said. "We constantly renew and update our body of knowledge to stay abreast of changes."
Ryan Gibbs, Electronic Transactions Association Young Payments Professional (YPP) is marketing manager at Advanced Mobile Payment Inc., a payments technology company. Gibbs was inducted into the ETA's YPP Class of 2020. The year-long scholarship program is designed to prepare young payments professionals for leading roles in the ETA and payments industry.
YPP benefits include courses at ETA University, conference registration and travel assistance, professional mentoring, and complimentary access to the ETA's Certified Payments Professional (CPP) exam. After the scholarship year ends, the ETA encourages YPPs to volunteer on ETA committees and councils, write articles and work with incoming ETA YPP scholars.
Gibbs had heard about the YPP program from mentors who made sure he applied and admitted that he would have missed the deadline if they hadn't been persistent. "YPP's broadly focused program connects me with other young people who have similar aspirations and enables us to study and take the CPP exam for free," he said.
Another unexpected benefit of YPP is that it drives interest and awareness about the CPP program, which Gibbs observed is geared to experienced payments professionals. "CPP seems aimed at people who have been in the industry for a while, but YPP puts you on a fast track, with free courses, conferences and access to people who have already done the certification," he said. "Less than 24 hours after my nomination, four individuals reached out and suggested setting up a CPP study group."
Becoming a YPP means you were chosen out of a group of your peers, Gibbs noted, but it doesn't actually give you that certification. It just sets you in the right direction. "YPP provides the tools and support to get CPP certification," he said. "After attaining CPP certification, there is a little bit of maintenance to retain the credential, which involves attending seminars or ETA events. I think that's great, because the industry is always changing."
Gibbs pointed out that YPPs and CPPs have access to collective industry knowledge, a key membership benefit. "The ETA is our guiding star and a really big deal in the industry," he said. "But the other really great part for me is that I meet other young people in similar scenarios, who have a similar set of credentials and aspirations to apply to this program. We're not only in the same industry, we're in the same swim lane, working together on special projects and speaking engagements."
Reuben also drew from her industry's communal knowledge base as she developed the study guide. "It was amazing to have access to those brilliant minds and to organize the entire body of knowledge into a framework," she said. "We reframed the whole book by chunking topics into categories, the same way I did when I was studying. We built the book around the body of knowledge – all the things that a professional in our industry should be aware of and understand."
Cline has found that the PCIP knowledge base saves time and improves efficiencies by providing all the information he needs to do his job professionally and effectively in one place. "I read a ton of PCIP articles, white papers and case studies to stay up to date with emerging security trends," he said. "The council is constantly publishing newsletters with updates and changes to compliance variations and suggested timelines for changes. Being kept up to date on changes that are happening in real time at the council is another benefit and a kind of mindshare."
Reuben mentioned that sample pricing problems have been added to the lease and finance study guide. These practice examples are designed to test responses to financial statement analysis and scenarios involving business owners who want to lease different types of equipment. Participants practice analyzing financial statements and coming up with ratios to gain a better understanding of what it means and what it looks like in practice.
Reuben went on to say that finance professionals tend to be narrowly focused in their jobs. They may be responsible for credit or documentation or accounting. They don't necessarily get involved in other aspects of the business. Even if they don't deal with these scenarios every day, certified lease and finance professionals need to see the big picture. CLFP certification broadens their perspective, which is why these practice exercises are really helpful.
"One of the challenges I see in my consulting work is when people don't understand how their role fits into the larger picture," she said. "That's where we see breakdowns. A program like this helps people to expand their understanding of the broader picture to see just where they fit in. And then you can understand how your role and what you do impacts those downstream and how these interrelated activities impact your customers."
Gibbs observed that professionals can similarly feel a bit silo'd in the payments industry. "I work on the technology providing side, so my whole world is payment terminals and software," he said. "But I know there are others who are working in the merchant services space or in the fraud and risk space. And if it weren't for these kinds of programs, I wouldn't have access to those young people, shy of just like walking up to them on a tradeshow floor to make a direct introduction."
Perhaps the best benefit of certification programs is their capacity to bring together industry stakeholders with varying backgrounds and expertise and help them find common ground. As the pace of innovation accelerates, the programs are becoming more flexible and scalable. Recent changes in the PCIP, CLFP and YPP programs reflect a warm, communal spirit.
Raykovich has seen CLFP holders across the country regularly get together to network. "We've [mastered the exam] together and we've done some myth-busting too," she said. "We no longer say things like, 'risk is there to kill my sales.' I have not looked for a job since I got my certification."
Gibbs had expected a rather formal YPP welcome call and was pleasantly surprised by the open and spontaneous reception of incoming YPPs. Event organizers gave us a really wide open platform for input and strategy to make the program more valuable, he stated, adding that he didn't expect them to ask for feedback.
"I thought it was really cool that they weren't treating everybody with kid gloves; instead, they were saying, you've made it into this program; how can we shape it into something that provides value for everyone?" Gibbs said. "We're all at very different levels, doing very different things. And I think that's a great way to make sure these programs stay relevant for future generations."
Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content development specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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