By Tom Waters and Ben Abel
Bank Associates Merchant Services
Three years after the first group of candidates passed the exam for the Certified Payments Professional (CPP) accreditation, recertification notices for continuing education are being circulated. The CPP certification is valid for three years before action must be taken to prevent its expiration. Professionals in electronic payments are faced with the question: to renew or not to renew?
The CPP program was designed and implemented by the Electronic Transactions Association, a nonprofit payments organization, to "establish a uniform, defined standard of practice and knowledge for ISOs, sales personnel and other payments industry professionals." The ETA has been around since 1990 to provide leadership through advocacy and education to electronic payment professionals. At $350 per examination, industry professionals must weigh the benefits of accreditation versus simply doing nothing at all.
We approached The Green Sheet MLS Forum to assess the agent consensus on whether or not unaccredited professionals intend to take their certification exam or if accredited professionals plan to renew. Many merchant level salespeople (MLSs) believe the ETA has not done enough to attract industry professionals to the program. We asked forum members the following questions about the program:
The utility of the CPP program was a topic of great debate, with most participants addressing the lack of notable publicity the ETA has developed toward the everyday merchant. The general belief is that the ETA should take a top-down approach to establishing legitimacy to the program and spread awareness to merchants by targeting processors, associations, and government bodies for publicity.
THECREDITCARDMAN offered an interesting insight. "The crux of the matter: We have 10,000 agents and 100 processors (Numbers just for illustration)," he wrote. "Which group is easier to control?" His illustration suggests that the certification should apply to a narrower, more influential audience in order to encourage the demand of a higher standard of service across the industry.
Gsutherland noted, "[The] ETA would do a great service for the CPP program, our industry and to the merchant community if they would seek involvement and support from various national, regional and local trade associations who represent the merchant community." The comment also notes that the straightest path to influencing our target audience (the merchant) can be best achieved by promoting the accreditation to larger associations that have many merchants as members.
The forum participants mentioned other authoritative bodies such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for banks or the Restaurant Letter Grading system of the New York City Department of Health. Comparing these "seals of approval" to the CPP focuses on one factor of accreditation (legitimacy) but does not encompass the entire mission of the CPP program. Perhaps it is best to compare the certification to another financial endorsement program: Certified Public Accountants (CPA).
The ETA touts its advocacy for payments professionals in government relations and professional development. The merchant level acceptance of the program would be a side effect of the larger picture of establishing generally accepted industry practices and assessment of agent competence. The core objectives of the ETA CPP program are not unlike those of another nonprofit that has great power and influence in the modern financial sector: The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
This professional organization was founded in 1887, seven years before any official attempt to involve government authority in the accreditation process. Those members recognized the need for an industry standard and lobbied to create one. It was not until 1896, nine years after the organization was founded, that a bill was passed in New York establishing an official government endorsement of the program.
Considering the fact that the CPP program is only three years old, there is still much time for the ETA to develop the program and create an influence to standardize our industry practices. The communities of agents within The Green Sheet forum seem to respect the efforts of the ETA's attempt at standardization but are disappointed in the lack of traction so far.
THECREDITCARDMAN said, "I love the idea of CPP. (I like the idea of Communalism and Socialism as defined by the dictionary even while being a Republican capitalist myself) I really do but the implementation is just not possible."
MLS Forum member gsutherland said, "I believe having something like the CPP program in place is better than having nothing at all. I share the opinion of many on this forum though that the CPP designation as it is today has no teeth to it because the ETA lacks oversight authority over our industry."
An interview with Dr. Dale Flesher, Associate Dean and Professor of Accountancy at the University of Mississippi, yielded exceptional insights into the early days of developing accreditation in the U.S. financial sector. In a publication he co-authored, The First CPAs of 1896-97, Dr. Flesher noted the following: "Initially, emerging professional organizations tried to stabilize accountancy as it was being practiced, but this was not enough; legislation was needed."
This assessment is similar to the consensus of the current community of payment professionals. It sets a precedent for the direction the ETA can take to establish legitimacy for our industry and its accreditation.
Dr. Flesher further stated, "[A]fter the first bill was passed in New York, it took a mere 25 years for the remaining states to adopt the standard." It seems the ETA has some work ahead to develop the program to become a national industry standard; however, with persistence and publicity, the association has a fighting chance to establish a new class of industry professionals within our community.
Tom Waters has been dedicated to the merchant service sales profession since 2001. Currently, he is responsible for cultivating relationships with entrepreneurs in information technology, accounting, sales and marketing in his role as Sales Director of Bank Associates Merchant Services (www.bams.com). Using fresh and matter-of-fact training methods, Tom has contributed to the success of thousands of agents, affiliates and clients. He can be reached via email through email@example.com or via phone at 347-651-1065.
Ben Abel is Regional Director at Bank Associates Merchant Services. Since joining the team in 2006, he has risen through company ranks with a paradigm that his success was measured by the success of those around him. Ben is a dedicated, pioneering trainer whose methods of merchant services consultation have helped many agents expand their portfolios in terms of processing volume, deal count and profitability. He can be contacted at 347-866-9571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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