The fact that The Green Sheet is still here is something of a miracle, given the changing payments industry and the changing nature of the media. To remain relevant for three decades in any field is difficult, and we believe that it speaks to the laser focus of The Green Sheet: helping our readers continue to earn a living wage in the payments industry and to continue to advance new opportunities yet unrealized.
While our industry's survival has been no easy task – with business failures, acquisitions, a poor economy, governmental changes and the tightening of capital – what has been abundant is the continuing creativity and grit of those who work in this and aligned industries.
We have tightened our belts, found efficiencies and, through sheer will, we have found a way. It is said that the delicious futility of impossible tasks is the catnip of overachievers, and this is what we have in common, the thing that the "bankers" who first employed us never understood, and the thing difficult circumstances cannot take away.
Today other companies attempt to reach the ISO and merchant service provider (MSP) market in the same way The Green Sheet does, and flatter us by continually copying elements of our business model. But they, too, have come and gone through the years, and yet The Green Sheet continues.
With our focus we have helped to:
Create an income opportunity previously only available to banks Speed up retail payments Reduce the risk and cost of payments Provide better equipment options Expand the numbers of individuals working in the industry and their income potential
And today, we continue to reflect the needs of those working in retail payment sales.
Michelangelo would say that life is like sculpture: a matter of seeing what others couldn't, then chiseling away the rest. Literally, the opportunities that we all see today to make income, in any aspect of the payments industry, we have "dreamed" into existence. They didn't exist before, and they will not be realized without some risk taking.
This has been true from the early days of the ISO industry and remains true today. Our mission at The Green Sheet continues to be that we actively participate in the process. As we have always said, knowledge is power, and we continue to bring our readers the information and tools necessary for their success.
What follows is an article I wrote 10 years ago, at our 20th anniversary. We have chosen to include the majority of this article (we excluded staff comments), as it not only addresses how we have seen ourselves over the years, but also how our readers, supporters and detractors have seen us.
If you have worked in the industry for some time, you will recognize people and companies, both current and gone from the industry, and we hope that you enjoy this trek through time with us.
There is an old saying about time really flying when you are having a good time, and it would certainly be appropriate for The Green Sheet. It is hard to believe that the crazy idea that I had in 1983, to create an information resource designed just for salespeople in the financial services industry, would still be alive and growing in 2003, but it is.
Perhaps because we have always had a good time creating The Green Sheet, the time has gone unnoticed. I am proud to say that, today, the GS staff continues to find new and even better ways to meet the varying needs of our readers – while having fun. The Green Sheet reaches 15,000 print readers and 1.5 million electronic readers each month, and we are continuing to add new services and information.
Pulling together the information for this anniversary issue, I realized that the readers have had as much to say about this 20 years as any of us at The Green Sheet might. So here are selected comments from you, as well as my thoughts about The Green Sheet's journey.
In 1982, after a seven-year career as the President of Telecredit Check Services, I became a third owner in Unlimited Marketing Services Association and then founded American Marketing Corp. (AMCOR), the nation's first ISO.
My vision was to build independent sales offices throughout the United States. With the signing of our five-year contract with Citicorp Bank, we began to do just that, selling $1.5 billion (with a "b") of new bankcard business our first year.
While working first to build AMCOR and then for the next 18 years to build CrossCheck, my other job was always The Green Sheet. People inside the businesses, as well as industry people whom I met on the road, would always say, "It seems like you are always writing." This was my life for over a decade, writing every word that The Green Sheet published.
The important thing that I would like to remind our readers is that The Green Sheet has never been a business to me; it has always been a mission. Our mission is to help the sales individuals on the street to know what they need to know to make a livable wage. For this reason, for more than half of The Green Sheet's life, it had no advertising and was financed by my other business ventures.
Given a large and growing national sales force, all made up of independent companies and salespeople, AMCOR needed a way to communicate regularly with the "feet on the street." With this realization, The Green Sheet was born.
The first issues bore a hand-drawn banner head that I thought gave it an old world feel; in fact, the very first newsletters weren't green. With the adoption of the green paper and a four-page format (produced in Microsoft Word and printed at a local copying business), The Green Sheet began to take shape.
The first issues of The Green Sheet were only four pages and about 1,600 words each. In October 1986, we moved to a slightly more professional look. The first issue on green paper (Oct. 31, 1986) announced that AMCOR had received approval from MasterCard and Visa for the use of bankcard logos on AMCOR business cards. Downstream independent sales offices also were permitted logo use.
In the March 6, 1987, issue, we introduced our first industry cartoon, which has been a staple ever since. The April 7, 1989, issue announced the first Visa/MasterCard ISO regulations and restrictions in the industry and suggested that this was the result of a certain player in the industry. Following this story, The Green Sheet was sued by Peachtree Bankcard, the beginning of several suits against me and the publication, for a variety of reasons.
The April 23, 1993, issue was the first to grow to six pages, and it later became a tri-fold layout for the July 25, 1994, issue. In January 1995, The Green Sheet Inc. became an independent corporation for the first time. After 11 years of publication and support by UMSA, AMCOR and CrossCheck, The Green Sheet published its first issue without a co-logo.
Also in January 1995, the recurring feature "Resource Guide" was created, with a three-quarter-page layout and 11 categories. With Green Sheet independence, the publication launched its website in July 1995. Modest as it was, it began to pave the way for more robust computer systems for managing the 11 years of previously published text and the readership database. In 1995 alone, The Green Sheet published more than 75,000 words with a staff of three, including the webmaster.
We did not move from our tri-fold, six-page, 3,200-word format from April 1993 to March 1997. The current magazine format began with 10 pages in '97 and has grown to as many as 96 pages, from 4,800 words to 28,000 words per issue. The Green Sheet now has more to say in three issues than it used to say in an entire year in 1995.
With the growth of the initial publication and its online alter ego, The Green Sheet also launched its GSQ full-color magazine in 1997, publishing four issues per year both in print and online.
I am pleased to say today that The Green Sheet is a household name in the industry, and with continuing praise from our readers, we regularly find new opportunities such as the MLS Forum, the Registered ISO Network and our new PPL (Payment Processing Litigation) section to improve our overall offering.
While I am proud of the fact that we have received nine Awards for Publication Excellence with our Green Sheet print product, GS Online and GSQ, what pleases me most are your comments that we have remained on target and relevant to your needs.
Not everyone who has received The Green Sheet likes it, and some even find it irritating. Over 20 years, we have had both critics and admirers, but most are somewhere in the middle, finding enough of what we provide beneficial to endure those areas of disagreement.
My personal favorite of the notes that we have received was from Wyatt Baxter, then a Bankcard Services Association board member. As part of a longer letter to me in which we were disagreeing on the direction of the BSA, Wyatt wrote, "I can't wait to get The Green Sheet each time, to see what politically stupid thing that you will say next."
As for our admirers, here is a sampling of their comments:
"I enjoy your publication tremendously!" – Craig Johnson, COC Merchant Services
"I look forward to The Green Sheet every single month." – Josh Weiss, Merchant Masters "I get all kinds of information from The Green Sheet. Actually, what I like most is when The Green Sheet teaches me something that I didn't know, like the difference between check verification and guarantee. The Green Sheet taught me this. I love it and keep every issue." – Fred Harland, National Bankcard
"The Green Sheet is pretty informative. It's kinda cool. I wouldn't change anything." – Troy Myer, Merchant's Choice
"I like The Green Sheet; it's witty and informative. The Resource Guide is invaluable! It's saved me over $1,000/month. The Green Sheet Resource Guide puts me into contact with companies I would otherwise never find." – Steven Brunet, Electronic Credit Services Northwest
"I regularly have customers and ISOs ask me questions, and if it weren't for The Green Sheet, I'd be hard-pressed to find some of the answers. In fact, sometimes I go so far as to pull out an issue and show them an article straight out of print. ... I'm happy to be receiving The Green Sheet and enjoy reading every issue." – Joy Callahan, Callahan & Associates
"I love The Green Sheet. It's informative and I like the 'overall' ISO industry info best. I think the Sales Tips are excellent. In fact, I put them out regularly at sales meetings. I use the Resource Guide to track competitors." – Bernie Cavenaugh, First Premier Bank
"Very enlightening ... I find the Sales Tips useful. They cause you to think about what you're doing and saying to your customers. The Green Sheet contains very good advice." – Robert Culver, Culver Sales and Service
"You people are doing a good job out there. I think The Green Sheet's layout is good, it's informative and I get quite a few helpful tips from it. I've used the Resource Guide to call a few other companies and compare their service offerings to my own. I use The Green Sheet as a training tool in my own business. Keep up the good work." – James Dimitroff, Master Minds Inc.
"We are very impressed with the reader base you seem to have. After you ran the article in version 96:04:01, we received a tremendous response and have in turn recommended other ISOs and banks to call and get a subscription to The Green Sheet." – Scott Rutledge, The Horizon Group Inc.
"I want to thank you for the wonderful publication that you put out. It is very informative." – Jerry King, The ATM Network
"I would like to compliment you on The Green Sheet. I have only one word for it, and that is 'Excellent!' " – Robert A. Holtan
"Thank you for listing [The ATM Network]. My phone has been ringing since it first came out [in the May 13, 1996 issue]." – Jerry King, ATM Network
"We love The Green Sheet. We fight over who is going to get to read it first each time it arrives in our office." – Ellen Hudec, First American Payment Systems Inc. "I get more information from one issue of The Green Sheet than from one year being an ETA member." – Ken MacDonald
"Outstanding periodical. Just received my copy of your new GSQ. I've been in the check guarantee and credit card processing sales business for some 15 years. Have been getting your Green Sheet for two years now. Unequivocally the premier publication regarding these two areas of sales available." – Edward J. Damian, Kingdom Marketing Inc.
"You put out one terrific newsletter. It is the only publication in my whole life that I read cover to cover." – Lloyd Dorner
"The management here at PayPoint enjoys your publication and finds it to be one of the top sources of information within our industry." – Chi Chow, PayPoint EPS Inc.
"The reason for this note today is to thank you and your excellent staff for the outstanding service that you all provide for this industry. I just finished reading your article 'On Being Independent' in the back of issue 98:07:02. What an inspiration you are to all of us independent reps on the firing line!" – Randal DeHart, Superior Bankcard Service
"Your publication is the best of its kind in our industry. It is informative and covers topics of value to the Independent Sales Organizations in the country. You are particularly good at reviewing new products that can offer ISOs an opportunity to differentiate their offer and make them better able to compete in what has become a commodity industry." – Steve Nichols, Paytran
"The insight, objectivity and honesty of your publication continue to impress me. Thank you for the continued help in sorting out this maze in the financial industry." – Lester H. Keepper, LHK Quality Associates Ltd. "I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that I have always enjoyed reading your publication, look forward to its arrival in the mail and secretly wish I had done something like you have done. You should be very proud of your accomplishments – they're well deserved." – Bob Joyce, Alliance Payment Systems
"I am a great admirer of your publication. Having worked for the New York Times Women's Magazine Division, I know a good publication when I see it. Your stories about our bankcard industry are invaluable to so many of us for obvious reasons." – Bart Kohler, Merchant Service Center
"I just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your publication, which is well respected in my company." – Tanya Handy, Retriever Payment Systems
"I have been a reader of The Green Sheet for a long time ... since it was a small, four-page newsletter mailed either monthly or biweekly. It has gone through many changes since then. However, I continue to read it because I agree with the direction. It is a good combination of facts, advertising and a forum for questions and opinions.
"I think that the publication has done an excellent job of becoming a real resource for the ISO industry. It is obvious from some of the letters that the readership varies greatly in experience.
"This tells me that you are doing an excellent job of mixing the content. You hold the interest of everyone, from the president of a large processing company to someone just breaking into the ISO business. While we may not agree with what is said ... we all look forward to the next issue." – Larry A. Henry, L.H. Enterprises
"I find The Green Sheet very fascinating, interesting and well done. I think it's wonderful and can see no way to improve upon it." – Mark Dickerson, National Financial Payment Solutions
"I am amazed that you can continue to put out so much good information, issue after issue. I have written for a newsletter much like The Green Sheet, and I know that it is damn hard work." – Jerry Karley
"As far as industry literature is concerned, no one delivers it to a larger audience than The Green Sheet. If you are involved in the payment processing industry, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you do not subscribe to this magazine. To many of us, it is the Industry Bible, the beat that we march to." – Benjamin Whittemore, IRN
"As a member of the original advisory board of CCM (Credit Card Management magazine) back in 1988, I was excited to see a publication focusing on the credit card industry. In the last 14 years, the two sides of the industry have changed dramatically. The number of card issuers has shrunk to a handful, while the number of merchant service providers has mushroomed into the thousands.
"Now, as then, CCM still puts most of the focus on the issuing side. CCM should wake up or it will end up like the ABA Bank Card Convention. The Green Sheet does a great job and is much more than a direct competitor to CCM – it's the winner!" – David Meyer, APEX Inc.
Through the years I have loved all the wonderful comments that have helped confirm that we were staying on the right track, but, truth is, the comments we receive are as diverse as our readers.
"I have never found your newsletter to be informative. Therefore, I suggest you save your postage and remove me from the mailing list immediately. Also, I would like to request that when you refer to my company in your rag that you correctly spell the name of my company. To save you research time, let me spell it for you: 'Cardservice International' (please refer to the top 10 list in your December 23, 1996, issue)." – Chuck Burtzloff
"Congratulations, Paul. You've done it again. Anytime you can piss off someone ... [like] Chuck Burtzloff, you must be doing something right. ... Unlike Mr. Burtzloff, I do find your 'rag' to be very informative in a timely manner. You very often have your finger right on the pulse of many of the changes and happenings transpiring in our industry. I also want to make note for everyone out there of the very high level of integrity I have found in all my dealings with you and your Green Sheet. "You refuse to be backed down by threats of legal action by very large companies when you know the person that presented information to you was correct. I again want to thank you for the way you stood behind me in our tiff against the Zon Jr. XL.
"They finally did make the necessary corrections with a new chip, but how are they going to update all of the thousands of XLs that are still 'ticking time-bombs' in thousands of merchant locations? Keep up the good work. I look forward to receiving The Green Sheet and send copies to all of my sales reps." – Bob Miller, California Bancard Systems
Through the years, we have taken on many issues and some players. We regularly lambasted the earlier stages of the Bankcard Services Association, charging that its focus was too narrow and that the direction was too exclusionary. We never let up until the BSA became the Electronic Transactions Association, and we still have been outspoken about things we thought the association should address.
We didn't like that the ETA never discussed the changes in equipment distribution from ISO and bank to retail locations such as Costco, and we thought that the ETA should be the advocate for the industry when the Federal Trade Commission went after CMS.
We made no friends when we first published bankcard interchange and later received very hostile comments from the equipment manufacturers when we first published equipment pricing.
Our ongoing efforts to share the results of salespeople losing bankcard business to Discover reps they were working with eventually led to the Discover ISO program and to American Express finding interest in ISOs.
From the changes in check processing to the opportunities in ATM and private-label cards, we have used The Green Sheet to educate, inform and lobby.
"I have been a participant in The Green Sheet's growth for about six years. In 1996, when I had my first exposure to The Green Sheet and Paul, as well, I was very impressed and liked the fact that someone was trying to streamline communication in this industry. Since then, I have seen numerous articles. Some I agreed with; others I did not.
"Regardless, you never have shied away from taking a stand or blowing the whistle when you have deemed it necessary. That is a respectable trait to have, and your distribution list has grown as a result of that. I currently recommend it to everyone I talk to who does not receive the publication." – Scott Rutledge, The Phoenix Group
"I am concerned that BSA seems to get negative reviews in your newsletter. This is somewhat confusing since your company has been a member and has supported BSA through attendance at our meetings. In fact, I don't know what your 'beef' is with BSA and would welcome talking with you to perhaps understand your position better. … As for a category of membership that is less costly, BSA does have a category of membership for salespeople whose company they represent. In fact, this is a very inexpensive membership.
"As for BSA giving some people the feeling that 'we don't belong here,' I find that very troubling because during the past year of Jack Martin's presidency, BSA has made every effort to get our members involved. ... I would love to be on your mailing list of The Green Sheet. That way, I wouldn't have to rely on members to fax it to me." – Ken Bowman, BSA (May 1996)
"I want to take a moment to tell you that I have appreciated your comments in recent Green Sheets concerning our name change and other issues of mutual concern. Even though we may not have broadened our mission as quickly as some would have liked, I believe that ETA is now on a very inclusive path. Of course, we will have many issues to discuss and figure out, but over time I think we will see an association that will truly represent all in our industry. I would hope, however, that you will not stop providing suggestions on how we should proceed!" – Ken Bowman, ETA (November 1996)
"We enjoy reading The Green Sheet regularly. Even on the periodic occasions when there were differences of opinion between The Green Sheet and ETA, it seemed that these were amicably reconciled through your sense of fairness and Ken Bowman's incomparable skills of diplomacy." – Nick Ferrante, American Heritage Bankcard
We have also fought hundreds of private battles along the way. Some helped us explain what we meant by something we had said or published, and many were to help sales reps work out their differences with the organizations through whom they sold.
"Card Payment Systems is an independent ISO/MSP headquartered in New York. For the past couple months, I have been discussing advertising rates with your ad department for The Green Sheet and your new quarterly publication (as well as listings in the Resource Guide).
"I am currently waiting for an invoice to begin advertising immediately in the Resource Guide with my long-term commitment to The Green Sheet. However, I must admit my extreme disappointment in the Dec. 15 issue [Letters to the Editor] in which you personally recommend American National Bank to a prospective agent looking for an ISO relationship.
"In my opinion, journalistic integrity was seriously breached by your publication in this matter. I would imagine your other advertisers were not particularly pleased as well. As a 'small' industry, there are very few avenues for medium advertising. I hope in the future you will exercise better journalistic professionalism." – Ryan O'Connor, Card Payment Systems
Ryan: Thank you for your letter, and I will have Suzanne Cagnassola contact you. I must admit that I continue to be amazed that my view of things seems so much at times to be at odds with very capable and successful people like you.
While I understand your view and I will publish your letter, I will tell you that I see things in the exact opposite way from your expressed view. The Green Sheet, right or wrong, is an expression of my thoughts and views on things, and it has been for 14 years. I am well aware that people often do not agree with me and some, like you, say so. While I have provided advertising space, beginning in early 1997, to further my goals for The Green Sheet, I believe that the day that an advertising dollar keeps me from saying what I think or reporting on what I believe, then that will be the day that I am being unprofessional.
I will also say that I have made it clear to Green Sheet readers that advertising is not an endorsement of any company or product; however, that does not eliminate my ability to express my view on a program that I know, have experience with and have reason to recommend.
Perhaps if I knew more about your program, I would feel the same about it. I must close by telling you that The Green Sheet has always been controversial, and it is likely that as many people disagree with me as those who agree. You should consider this point as a potential advertiser.
While I will say that I have enjoyed many years of letters from readers, many which have been published and many that have asked us not to publish them, the movement from snail mail to email has truly sped up the frequency and directness of your comments:
"I just want to express my appreciation to you for putting out a fine online publication specifically addressing the ISO segment of the payment processing industry. Better education benefits all concerned." – Sonny McKinney, First Data Merchant Services Inc.
"Paul, from the very first time I logged onto www.greensheet.com, I was impressed by what a wonderful tool this was for the newbie and the 'guy on the street.' Obviously, there is significant cost and time invested by you in the Forum, and I just want to thank you for these efforts." – Kent Dusing, tranzaxtions.com
"I've been in the bankcard industry for 10 years and am the hardest person to please, but you've managed to do it! Got your newsletter a couple months ago and hate the nasty jabs some of these bozos send you guys. Jealousy is an ugly thing. But am sending you an e-mail [because] viewing your website has really put a couple light bulbs in my head. Great place to find people to connect with ... just super. Keep up the good work and to hell with the naysayers." – H. Beaton
Through the years The Green Sheet has been in a constant state of change, and we would like to believe that it has always changed for the better. This ongoing change has been reflected in various styles and approaches to addressing the information needs of the sales professional as well as continuing efforts to advance the quality and content of all of our publications.
While the vision for an ISO newsletter/magazine has been constant, it has unfolded on an ever changing business landscape, including business acquisitions, an explosion in the number of ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) and continuing ownership changes in these businesses.
During the last 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to have some really terrific people provide support for the growth and improvement of The Green Sheet. If you don't read every word we write, we understand, but keep an eye on us because we never stop changing.
As long as I continue to hear from our readers that our efforts are helping their lives, we will be here for you. Thanks for your readership through the years!
Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that a painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by light. Most painters do the opposite, starting with a whitewash and adding the shadows last. In life, like art, the only things people can ever know about you are the ones you let them see.
Thousands have taken the time out of their lives to help others in this industry, and The Green Sheet has been a point of coalescence for many of these efforts.
So, I want to thank the hundreds of people who have written for The Green Sheet during that last 30 years; have contributed ideas; submitted answers to Advisory Board questions; sold or bought advertising; created or paid the invoices; designed or provided ad designs; written online questions, or tried to answer them; wrangled our online systems and kept the online discussions civil; and who have poured over the writing, layout, design and grammar to make our publication the best cooperative effort it can be in our industry. Many lives have prospered through your efforts.
The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.
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