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Issue 03:02:01
Features

Knowledge is Power:
Show Me the Money!
By Bob Carr

Point: Check Volume is Checking Out!
By Richard Crone and Ed Bachelder

Counterpoint: Not So Fast: There's Still a Lot of Life Left in Checks
By Patti Murphy

White Paper:Visa's Vision: 'Credit is Boring ... We're an Electronic-payment Company'
By Eric Thomson

Company Profiles

Concord EFS

HMSBLUE

News

Computer Worm Reveals Flaw in Financial Networks

MasterCard, Visa Raise Interchange Rates

Bah Humbug for the Euro's First Christmas?

New Products

A Nice Touch for C-Stores

'E' Stands for Easy

Inspiration

Give Me an 'I,' Give Me an 'S,' Give Me an 'O'

Maintaining the Team

Just One More

Departments

Forum

FYISOs

Resource Guide

Datebook


New Association's Aspiration: Pave the Way to Street Savvy

An idea whose time seems to have arrived might finally turn idle talk into something tangible. The first meeting to discuss the formation of an association specifically for independent sales contractors in the financial services industry is scheduled for Feb. 24, 2003 in Tampa, Fla.

Organizers behind this initial planning session said there were several factors coming into play that make now the right time for an association geared toward independent agents. They also agree that they'll have their work cut out for them, but the possible results for the industry will outweigh the blood, sweat and tears that may be shed in the process of getting an organization going from the ground up.

In an industry where there is fierce competition for accounts and, often, little training provided, the independent agents are most likely under-informed, living from paycheck to paycheck, and, as independent contractors, at a disadvantage when it comes to going toe-to-toe with the big guys.

Green Sheet Advisory Board member Steve Norell of U.S. Merchant Services and Brett Mansdorf of Mansdorf Marketing Associates have been working with others, including Elbert Enrique of Bridgeview Payment Solutions, to plan the conference, scheduled to be at the Sheraton Suites Tampa Airport. Norell and Mansdorf said they're hoping to improve the way these agents work and in the process, add more credibility and professionalism to the industry.

They said motivation for forming the new association includes the need for better education among independent contractors and setting industry standards for certification and ethical practices. All of the benefits attached to membership in a professional organization - such as access to health and dental insurance, legal assistance and providing members with a cohesive voice - will only add to the value of the association.

Mansdorf estimates there are between "24,000 and 28,000 reps on the street, working for themselves. They're doing work on piece rate or by an agreed-on dollar amount. They have no control. They have no contractual ownership of anything. We want to give them a voice."

Norell said, "There are definitely inequities out there. These are the guys out there working the leather off their shoes."

The vision is to create an independent, contractor-only association that's affordable for the agents. "They're living on a wing and a prayer," Norell said.

Affordability is only one attribute that organizers say will give independent agents reason to join the new association. Participation should have some intrinsic value for people, Norell said; otherwise, they won't join. What planners are hoping to outline at the Feb. 24 conference will create a foundation of training and standards that, in the long run, will have far-reaching, positive results.

According to Norell and Mansdorf, trust is a vital part of doing business in any industry, and many times that's missing in financial services. Merchants soon will discover, though, that they can trust well-informed reps. Because they're the ones on the street, making the calls and contact with merchants, when bad information and bad customer service happen, "the independent contractors get the blame," Mansdorf said.

"Better educated reps will make a better industry. This movement is based solely on and driven by education," he said. "Right now, these agents are not gaining the knowledge they need; sometimes they get only half-right answers. We want to get these agents trained and give them the skills set they need."

Norell said that often the reps don't fully understand the business and services they're selling to merchants and end up passing along bad information. "They do what they're told and what to say. Sometimes what they're told is probably egregious, if not fraudulent."

The lack of training and certification in the industry has been a topic of conversation for a while. It also has caused a negative perception of independent sales agents among merchants. "That's why we're in this dilemma," Norell said.

"The more credibility we can establish in what we do, the better," he said. "The information we take from merchants is highly sensitive. Right now there's no licensing required, no testing, nothing. Real estate agents and air conditioning repair people are tested and licensed. [These agents] should have to meet some standards, not given a book and kicked out the door."

Norell said the Certified Merchant Services case helped expedite the move to organize an association. By self-policing and setting industry standards for themselves, he said they will avoid government interaction and regulation.

The new association will have benefits for vendors, too. While the focus is on independent contractors, involvement from all facets of the industry is essential. Mansdorf said they are expecting participation from "a good cross-section - mostly independent contractors, some ISOs, VARs, leasing companies, people who see this as a value. We're looking to form partnerships."

The direct contact between agents and vendors that organizers are envisioning happening through the new association will only benefit the industry overall, they say. "Vendors want to talk to the guy on the street, not to each other," Norell said.

Mansdorf agreed. "Vendors will want to talk about interchange or technology," he said, adding that the agent learns directly from the manufacturer or vendor and can pass that information on to merchants. "If I can give a guy knowledge that he can turn into sales dollars, he'll respect me and then listen to my sales pitch. Merchants see where your heart lies. They buy from who they trust."

Some of the benefits Norell and Mansdorf said they are hoping the association will be able to offer members include access to group health and dental plans, retirement plans such as IRAs or 401(k)s, and legal advice. Norell also mentioned that association membership will add validity to a rep's merchant presentations; when the merchants begin to understand the requirements of belonging to the association, such as having a license and no complaints on record, they will prefer to deal with those reps who are members.

Norell said that so far most of the confirmations they've received are from people who live outside Florida, including Texas, Michigan and New Jersey. They're expecting anywhere from 25 to 100 or more to attend.

Lofty goals are great, but it could be a different story getting this thing off the ground and making it fly. This initial meeting will be a litmus test - Norell and Mansdorf said that getting everyone to agree and then finding the seed money to back it up might be problematic. "It's going to take a few bucks to get this going, maybe $50,000 to $100,000," Norell said.

"Getting the idea sold will be the challenge. Everyone has a different idea of what this should be," Mansdorf said. "There has to be a foundation before we can come to a consensus." That will come after a lot of written documentation and building a foundation of clearly defined by-laws; he'll have a copy of Robert's Rules of Order tucked under his arm when he arrives at the meeting, he said. "This will be a meeting of the minds - with some order."

Important decisions that need to be made early on include choosing a name of the new association, defining an overall mission and electing a board of directors. Down the road, though, issues such as regulations for licensing/credentialing, writing training manuals, testing and meeting logistics are all items for future discussion.

The conference is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Feb. 24. The Sheraton Suites Tampa is located at 4400 West Cypress Street, two miles from the Tampa airport. Anyone interested in attending the conference should contact Norell at 772-220-0386 or Mansdorf at 330-352-4590. Their e-mail addresses are steven@us-merchantservices.com and mansdorf@msn.com.

Catch up on current discussions about the association by visiting The Green Sheet's online ISO Forum at www.greensheet.com/forum.


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