On Aug. 13, 2007, The Green Sheet published "Learning the ISO lingo," which addressed challenges involved in understanding the terminology coined within the payments industry through the years. The article began:
"Like many business sectors, the payments industry has coined its own vocabulary. But while doctors can turn to the Physicians' Desk Reference, and entire law libraries define legalese, our sphere has no comparable compendia.
"Terms like 'vested residuals,' 'revenue share' and 'free terminal placement' mean different things to different people. This can create truly baffling conversations. Moreover, some of our murkiest verbiage describes ISO programs that merchant level salespeople (MLSs) depend on for their livelihoods. And when misunderstandings involve earnings, the consequences can be severe."
Fast forward eight years, and new terminology and acronyms are proliferating, especially those having to do with technical innovations. Virtually every press release, news article, sales presentation and blog produced in the industry today uses at least one, and often several, high-tech terms with corresponding acronyms. The industry's communications are beginning to sound like a foreign language to most laymen. Add in acronyms that are identical but have no connection to each other, and the communication divide gets even wider.
For example, one acronym that often appears has two distinct meanings. The payments industry is increasingly referring to point-to-point as P2P, an acronym that has been in wide use by the public to mean person-to-person since consumers began sending payments directly to each other via PayPal.
In addition, point-to-point encryption was aptly dubbed P2PE by the PCI Security Standards Council. There is no relationship between P2PE and P2P when P2P is used to abbreviate person-to-person, though someone unfamiliar with the industry could easily assume a connection exists. The terms are being used concurrently and with increasing frequency, creating a potential vulnerability point for the industry.
This type of overlap isn't a stumbling block for most payment professionals, but it creates a breeding ground for confusion among people new to or outside the industry. "We casually throw out terms like chip and pin, EMV, P2PE and other phrases we all understand, but we cannot assume we can use these terms with a merchant with any level of success," said Nancy Drexler, owner of Acquired Marketing.
ISOs should be concerned about how their merchant prospects and potential partners will interpret these terms. As ISOs have raced to offer secure, state-of-the-art mobile solutions, they have needed to describe the features of mobile POS products, and P2P has become a standard industry abbreviation for point-to-point. The acronym appears in public relations releases and sales materials industry-wide. It is reasonable to assume it is also used by MLSs during in-person communications with customers.
How much thought is being given to the likelihood that P2P and P2PE are breeding confusion in the minds of merchants? Additionally, in an industry that is heavily reliant on software integration partnerships and third-party reseller relationships, competing terms such as these could make it more difficult to close partnership deals or convince resellers to sign on.
Is there a solution? Drexler said that as the industry becomes more technical, the number of acronyms will also rise, and the potential for encountering problematic terms such as P2P and P2PE will increase. She recommends that industry leaders place this issue high on the credibility priority list.
"Certainly, when we're speaking about person-to-person, we mean something very different than when we talk about point-to-point," she noted. "When merchants get confused, the risk of being labeled as misleading is greater, and it is incumbent upon us as sales and marketing people in the industry to take care not to speak in acronyms, but to be very clear about what we say."
As Drexler pointed out, the payments industry has often been considered a confusing and misleading industry in the eyes of its market. She believes there's little room for its reputation to become further tainted by a cascade of acronyms. She said the only way to combat that is to be extra vigilant about education, both inside and outside the industry.
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