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A Thing Smooth Sailing at the ETA

Smooth Sailing at the ETA

The Electronic Transaction Association (ETA) Annual meeting held in San Diego, California, March 8 through 10, turned out to be the biggest event ever for the association. Pre-registration exceeded 1,700, and it is believed that total attendance exceeded 2,000.

While San Diego was certainly a wonderful spot for this trade show, it was the high caliber of vendors, valuable information and some fabulous parties that made this event so much fun.

The change from the founding BSA organization to today’s ETA has certainly had a positive effect on the size of the association and in helping it serve the entire payments industry. Rather than functioning as just an association of bankcard service providers or even ISOs/MSPs meeting their own needs, the ETA has matured.

While ETA meetings continue to be attended by many ISO/MSPs, the ETA is clearly no longer solely an ISO/MSP organization. This year, the majority in attendance were the employees of more than a thousand equipment, bankcard, T&E and private label acquirers, communication, software, check service, leasing, and ISP organizations, all interested in forming business relationships with each other, and with ISO/MSP organizations indirectly.

Every aspect of the event was well presented, and our hats are off to the executive director’s staff, the organizing committee and the ETA board of directors. The venue was perfect, the booth layout looked great (some of the vendors outside the main convention floor were slightly unhappy, but changes were quickly made in an effort to assuage their concerns, after opening night), and the food and programs were well chosen and executed.

While I will not attempt to comment on all of the vendors’ efforts to have fun and catch the interest of attendees at the show, I feel compelled to mention a few.

Bridgeview Payment Solutions (www.bridgeview.com) had the ear of everyone at the show each time they revved up the new Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 they gave away late Saturday. Both VeriFone and MIST had wonderful themes. VeriFone (www.verifone.hp.com) created their own version of “Pleasantville” with something called VeriTown, complete with its own newspaper, The VeriTown News. While the talk of “town” was the Omni 3600 e-payment terminal, a lot of interest was shown in VeriFone’s new check imaging device (CR 1000i) since off-line and online check conversion interest was so high at this year’s mid-year show.

In addition to the usual suspects talking about checks, both Vital Merchant Services and Visa had announcements. In the Visa Directions  magazine given to attendees, Visa debuted its POS Check Service, in which they noted “POS Check Service Benefits Visa Acquirers and Merchants.” They reported that check information scanned at the POS will be routed by Visa to either participating members for authorization of check amounts on their issued checks or to third-party authorizing agents for authorization of check amount on other checks. This clearly signals that Visa is in the check authorization game.

On another note, Vital Merchant Services made a pitch to ETA attendees that online check conversion is just around the corner and noted that in the online check conversion model, knowledge of a consumer’s current balance is available now. While I will deal with the subject of Check Conversion in the May 2001 GSQ  in a lot of detail, it is important to briefly note for those who did attend the ETA that this subject is a great deal more complicated than the ETA session suggested.

There has been enormous consolidation in the banking industry. There are fewer large players. Remember that once you get below a billion dollars in assets, virtually all community banks use a third party service bureau (Fiserv, M&I, Jack Henry, Bisys, etc.) to do their data processing, and in some cases their item processing as well. All S&Ls and credit unions use service bureaus. These are batch processed at night. Also, some transactions take precedence over others; wires are posted first, then controlled disbursement, etc.

We know from speaking with Thomson Financial regarding their EpicWare product that there is no one place to go to get the right information on the account number. We are also resigned to the 3% administrative return problem. This is just to determine the right account number; forget about whether or not it has any money.

So what is Vital offering? They are saying that if you bank at one of the member banks (and there are fewer than a dozen) then, and only then, can you sneak a peek at the DDA. They are undoubtedly saying that these banks have a large market share, but I am skeptical, particularly if you include the S&Ls and credit unions, which should not be overlooked. Look at PPI—after a dozen years they still can access only a limited number of accounts, and that is on a next day basis.

MIST (Mobile Information Solution Technologies, (www.mistwireless.com) unveiled FreedomGate, their solution to eCommerce, messaging, adverting and time and attendance, (to name but a few of their wireless solutions for retail commerce), with a “come hang with us” theme including very wired monkeys, a sort of “Gorillas in the MIST” idea.

U.S. Wireless (www.uswirelessdata.com) designed a space theme, complete with a talking robot that seemed to know just about everyone walking the aisles. The theme was carried from their inventive booth all the way to the evening party, with some shiny suits that continued to turn heads all night long.

A number of really interesting products were introduced at the show, and some companies reaffirmed their commitments to the ISO sales channel. As an example, a company called Precidia Technologies (www.precidia.com) introduced the IP3201, a small device which allows any POS dial terminal to make authorization calls using the internet TCP/IP connections for free.

On another note, Authorize.Net (www.authorize.net), an InfoSpace company, had for a short time developed a direct sales force, but has now re-committed itself to the ISO sales channel, introducing Authorize.Net’s Branded Payment Solutions, which creates the ability for ISOs to have their own Payment Gateway, without the headaches. Among those on hand to explain Authorize.Net’s new direction, was Roy Banks, Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing. A number of people were giving Roy a hard time—first, about his Authorize.Net’s contribution to the February GSQ and second, by wondering aloud if the cover was a caricature of Roy. Roy wanted everyone to know that it is not a drawing of him; however, if you wish to mail your copy to his office, he will be more than happy to sign it for you. rbanks@authorize.net

The general and closing sessions offered powerful and provocative presentations. The Bay Group International, a highly acclaimed training and consulting group, presented its “Shooting Star” program at the Saturday general session. This was not a typical session, but rather a highly interactive exercise involving the entire audience. The session included topics critical to today’s sales professional—how to sell value, not price, when closing business with key customers.

The meeting’s closing keynote speaker was also a real treat. Paul Confrey, MIT Sponsorship Manager for MasterCard International, brought his captivating humor and knowledge to the podium. Confrey is part of MasterCard’s e-business Department, where he manages strategic alliances with the MIT Media Lab, the Sloan School of Business and the London Business School. Currently, he’s coordinating efforts with MIT relating to its research on the future of transactions.

Overall, the event was terrific, and everyone with whom I talked felt that the show had brought them many new business opportunities.

Plan Ahead

The ETA would like for us all to make plans now to attend the 2001 Midyear Meeting & Exposition in Dallas. The meeting will be held September 13-15 at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel (the site of The Green Sheet Seminar in April 2000). The ETA tells us that you can be assured of finding the best educational and networking opportunities available anywhere in the industry and that the mid-year tradeshow floor will be the biggest yet. For more information visit www.electran.org.

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copyright 2001 · The Green Sheet, Inc.