By Bill Pirtle
MPCT Publishing Co.
Editor's Note: The Green Sheet is delighted to welcome Bill Pirtle, author of Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing, as the new Street Smarts columnist. Throughout the coming year he'll be asking members of GS Online's MLS Forum for input as he pens articles of interest to our industry's feet on the street. As you will see from his inaugural article, he is off to a very good start.
The Electronic Transactions Association recently revealed plans to certify payments industry professionals through its Certified Payments Professional program. (For details, see "ETA to launch certification program," The Green Sheet, March 14, 2011, issue 11:03:01, as well as the ETA's website, www.electran.org.) The announcement brought a flurry of comments in the MLS Forum, and I started a new thread to ask forum members for opinions.
Responses indicated ISOs seemed to be accepting of the concept.
STEVE NORELL said, "If used correctly and universally, I believe [certification] can be a great tool, advantage and benefit. ... Merchants, in general, will believe just about anything you tell them, no matter how outlandish. At least this program has some credibility to it."
CLEARENT disagreed, stating, "I do not believe that anything short of government intervention or a serious, and active, involvement of the card associations can make anything mandatory. And I do not see that happening."
More insight was given by CARDPLAYER, who wrote, "As I've said in the past, this is the key first step to cleaning up the industry. Going into 2012, the ETA needs to launch an ad campaign aimed directly at merchants, appearing in the various industry trade rags in key vertical markets, such as retail, restaurant and hospitality.
"The ads should say, 'Shopping for merchant services? Be sure to only deal with a representative who has the CPP designation on his/her business card.'" He then added, "Once the brand gains visibility, it will begin to shape behavior in the industry. When was the last time you bought a lamp or appliance without a UL tag on it?"
The merchant level salesperson (MLS) community was more in opposition: "Who needs the ETA for that," MAKETELINC posted. "Make up your own gibberish [and] call it what you want. Certified by Congress of Credit Card."
SDSORENSEN agreed, stating, "It appears to me this is about some ISOs trying to regulate the MLSs to help keep rogue agents from taking advantage of merchants. The reality is the MLSs are not the problem. The problem is the ISOs that train the rogue agents to lie, cheat and steal.
"So, while certifying agents seems like a noble cause, it: 1. Doesn't solve the problem; 2. Will be another hoop to jump through for honest agents; and 3. Will end up being a money grab for somebody. Figure out a way to keep ISOs in line and your MLS 'problem' will go away. If you want to take care of something, cut off the head, not the finger."
JDECKARD added, "The 'brands' don't enforce the rules that they have now. If they did, there wouldn't be any need for a 'Certified Payment Provider' program."
I researched the ETA on LinkedIn and found the ETA's Director of Education, Rori Ferensic. I asked her four questions about the CPP initiative. First, I asked if MLSs must be ETA members to take the exam or receive the designation. Ferensic replied, "Eligibility for the certification exam will not be contingent upon ETA membership, but there will be eligibility requirements." One such requirement might be industry experience.
When I asked about the expected cost of the exam, she stated that the ETA was "still finalizing the costs, but [it is expected to be] in the $300 to $500 range, with member and nonmember pricing."
I posed another question often asked by forum members. I asked whether there are plans to create a process to handle complaints or "decertify" agents or ISOs that do not meet established professional standards. "There will be some sort of disciplinary process, but the ETA will not be policing the profession," Ferensic answered. The final question I asked was, "Will the exam be different for ISOs and processors than for MLSs?" Her response was, "No. Everyone will take the same exam and, upon successful completion, will be awarded the CPP credential."
Before closing the conversation and I posting Ferensic's answers on the forum, I informed her that the biggest concerns among the industry's feet on the street seemed to be the costs and the appearance that the ETA is trying to police the industry without the card brands' involvement.
"That's why I want to make sure only the correct information gets out," she replied. "A certification program (in any industry) is not a license to practice, nor does it serve the purpose of policing a profession. While we definitely want the support of the ISOs and the card brands, we want that support so that they, in turn, support their employees to sit for and pass the exam."
Did these responses make a difference to the forum?
MTY MSI stated what most MLSs seemed to think. "In my honest opinion, $300 to $500 is too expensive, especially considering the value (more aptly put, lack thereof) at least initially to a MLS," MTY MSI posted. "I would be interested at around $100 but would not consider spending $300 to $500 unless certification was mandated by the card companies.
"I'm guessing that the $300 [for certification] is for ETA members and the $500 for nonmembers. Count me out at those prices. Not sure what the ETA's thought process was in pricing this, but obviously it wasn't to encourage participation. I can't imagine that the actual cost of developing and administrating this program is anywhere near that expensive."
SCAINE countered, "I still think this is a good start, but without some type of mandatory registration, licensing, etc., for all entities selling acquiring services, this really won't change much. The unethical ISOs will continue unabated while the ethical folks get certified. Sort of like gun control laws. Only the law abiding citizens follow them. Criminals don't care."
THECREDITCARDMAN said, "[The] $400 price tag will reduce the pool of 'somewhat interested' and greatly increase the 'not interested.' ... While the basic idea is a step forward, I now think the ETA has even more questions about their role than they have answers. It seems to me that they have not thought out the details. It's like building a house and starting at the roof.
"I am out till I see a reason to be in. I understand it will take years and tens of millions of dollars to get a merchant to ask, 'Are you qualified?' ... if that ever happens. ... Might I suggest that the forum and the ETA have a direct dialog? Do they even know we exist?"
While most responses were against the expected range of cost, there were a few individuals who liked it because of the cost. COACH BOB commented, "Here is why I like the high price. First, ... those [questionable] ISOs will not pay just to churn numbers. Second, short-timers and rogues won't make the investment. Two birds. One stone."
There are good reasons for certification or registration in this industry, including:
On its face, the ETA's CPP designation does none of these. If the CPP is only available to established agents, if it has no infrastructure to provide training, and if it has no teeth for enforcement of its code of ethics, I do not see much chance that it will succeed in its current form.
MLS Forum members have seen all kinds of devious and deceptive practices in the industry. For example, forum member ALEXPHER, stated, "Now you can be CPP certified, but it does not change where it hurts the most. The MPA (merchant processing agreements) and lease agreements are what the merchants are bound to - if only they were standardized in clear human language with the help of Visa and MasterCard, many of the problems may disappear.
"Bill back, enhanced bill back, evergreen MPA, early termination fees, PCI compliance fees, IRS fees, absence of rescission period and the rights to add fees at any time during the contract to fund a new Bentley are some of the key problems that need to be addressed prior to certifying anyone.
"If there is no full disclosure of terms and fees, certifying someone means squat because craigslist is and will always be full of recruiters to hire in the masses to sell the same [stuff] that merchants have complained [about] the most." The Better Business Bureau has recently seen its reputation damaged by allowing paying members to have higher rankings than nonmembers, even wiping away complaints from their records. Some processing agents wonder whether ETA member organizations might receive the same benefit.
I believe the disposition of the the forum since I became a member has been that nothing we do will make a difference. That idea is baloney. It reminds me of the Edmund Burke quote, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
History is filled with single people or groups that changed history. We need to take actions we believe in. Once our actions gain traction, the card brands or government will be moved to get involved.
Until we can show that we want change, the brands will be content to keep the status quo. The CPP designation is a good first step. If we do not put our own house in order, it is only a matter of time before Congress or the states try to do it for us. Perhaps if enough of us work with the ETA or other efforts, the card brands will take note and lend their support.
I have five suggestions for the ETA:
Forum members disagree in many areas, but we all want to see the "bad" agents and ISOs go away. Most just do not see the CPP designation as the vehicle to accomplish this goal unless the ETA can acquire the card brands' backing and there is an effort to educate business owners to only deal with Certified Payments Professionals.
Bill Pirtle is the President of MPCT Publishing Co. and author of Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing. He is also a merchant level salesperson for Clearent LLC, Electronic Payments Inc. and Electronic Merchant Systems Inc. Bill's website is www.creditcardprocessingbook.com, and his email address is email@example.com. He welcomes all connections on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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