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ETA Annual Meeting & Expo a Resounding Success

The management team at Electronic Trans-actions Association (ETA) headed by Carla Balakgie set quite a benchmark for themselves with their first annual meeting and expo held in Las Vegas, April 19 - 22, 2004. This event was a resounding success on several different levels for the association.

According to Balakgie, ETA's Executive Director, "The overwhelming response we received from this meeting means two things. First, ETA is fostering a dynamic and attractive venue that serves as a conduit for the professional and business development of those in the industry.

"Second, vendors and payment professionals recognize the value of this opportunity and are increasingly turning to ETA for the best education and networking," she said. "This is good news for our industry and for ETA. We' re excited and privileged to be a part of this growing professional community."

ETA University

Prior to the opening of the vendor expo, ETA held four introductory classes, three of which debuted at the annual meeting: Intro to Electronic Processing; Sales/Marketing; Operations; Technology.

Overall, 450 people attended the ETAU classes in Las Vegas. It was standing-room-only, with more than 100 attendees at each class running the gamut of experienced veterans to fresh-off-the-street newbies. The ETA staff is still reviewing the attendees' critiques, but the consensus-and the buzz on the floor later in the week-was that all of the introductory courses were a hit.

Each of the classes was videotaped and digitized for distribution by ETA, which is exploring options for alternative delivery methods for these valuable training sessions. Watch for them to be made available at the upcoming ETA Network Expos.

President's Dinner

Nearly 300 guests attended the second annual President's Dinner gala on Monday evening. This event is designed to thank all the volunteers who support ETA with their time and gracious hard work. Annual awards were announced and presented as follows:

Vendor of the Year: Discover Business Services-In recognition of its generous and ongoing support of ETA. Discover sponsored Frank Abagnale's two sessions and book signing at the ETA's 2003 Strategic Leadership and Networking Forum and has provided generous financial support and significant investment in human resources by enabling its employees to participate on several ETA committees. Discover also sponsored Wednesday night's Rat Pack Party.

Committee of the Year: Membership-In recognition of the significant accomplishment of this committee to address the need to expand ETA's reach within the industry. This committee established the recently announced affiliate service provider (ASP) program, which enables independent merchant level salespeople (MLS) to participate in ETA, its programs and benefits.

Committee Volunteer of the Year: Holli Targan-In recognition of Targan's exemplary job in conducting the review of ETA bylaws and nominating procedures. The review and rewriting process brought ETA' s formal written procedures into compliance with current practice and governing statutes. The amended bylaws were ratified unanimously at the business meeting.

Member of the Year: Mary Gerdts-In recognition of her tireless service and enthusiasm in producing the new ETAU courses. Gerdts' efforts were invaluable to the implementation and production of the courses introduced at the Las Vegas event.

Gerdts was also instrumental in assuring ETA' s smooth transition to the new management team and headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 2003.

The dinner was delicious and well-paced, with award presentations interspersed throughout the meal. Mary Dees graciously presided as mistress of ceremonies. The hotel and event staffs were top-notch.

Golf Tournament

The annual golf tournament was held at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, utilizing the Wolf and Snow Mountain courses. The spring weather made for a perfect outing, where the networking was even more important than the scores. The tournament winners were:

Snow Mountain Winners:

  • 1st Place: Eddie Davis, John McGrane, Jeff Foster and Kendall Myles
  • 2nd Place: Dennis Busbaum, Jim Oberman, Brian Kamstra and David Werner
  • 3rd Place: James Wieland, Matt Price, Brad Hoeweler, and Bill Marquardt
  • Closest to the Pin #4: Jon Stevens
  • Closest to the Pin #8: Denise Small
  • Long Drive #3: Reese Kimball
  • Long Drive #11: Michelle Crowe

Wolf Winners:

  • 1st Place: Bob Bennett, Craig Shapero, John Hunnicut and Rick Stanford
  • 2nd Place: Steve Davy, James Bunn, Laurie Kestell and Guy McDonald
  • 3rd Place: David Petry, Mike Bustos, Phil Kumnick and Ted Sarosdy
  • Closest to the Pin #4: John Gardner
  • Closest to the Pin #8: Wilamena Blake
  • Long Drive #3: John Hunnicut
  • Long Drive #13: Tasha Beckman

First-Time Events

The annual meeting was complemented by several new events. A "New Member and First-Timer Attendees" reception was held Tuesday evening, prior to the opening reception.

Over 200 people attended this meet-and-greet with ETA's Board of Directors. Mary Dees spoke about surviving the annual meeting and deciding which presentations and events were must see's throughout the meeting. (This new approach will most likely become a fixture of the annual meeting, which can be overwhelming for new attendees.)

On Wednesday, the ETA ISO Advisory Committee hosted the "ISO Pub," billed as the "ISO Mixer." Approximately 125 people attended the cocktail reception in the room designed to look like a neighborhood bar. Stations hosted by committee members focused on issues specific to the "invitation only" audience including risk management, wholesale ISOs and value-added services.

There were numerous huddled conversations taking place throughout the hall. The networking opportunities must have been very productive for everyone, judging by the number of business cards that were seen being swapped.

The National Association of Payment Professionals (NAOPP) Cocktail Party was a separate event held concurrently during ETA. NAOPP board of directors and officers were easily spotted wearing their scrolling message boards, "JOIN NAOPP NOW!" Most attendees sported buttons advertising the Web site, .

The Terrace Suite on the 17th floor of the MGM Grand, where the party was held, offered breathtaking views of The Strip. Between the setting and the laughter ringing throughout the suite, everyone found out about the work being done on behalf of NAOPP members, such as providing benefits like reduced legal fees, equipment and lease funding incentives, buying power initiatives, a 401(k) program through American Express, group health insurance, education and training goals, and the NAOPP Web site. Visit for more information.

BBB means Blues Brothers Beginning

The 2004 ETA General Sessions opened with a rousing "Blues Brothers" performance, complete with gospel choir. It was a bit early for dancing in the aisles, but the music certainly pumped up the energy level, preparing the crowd for the day ahead. The general session that followed featured Wayne Best, Senior Vice President of Business Research and Reporting for Visa U.S.A., who presented an upbeat overview of the economy.

Best noted that household net worth is on the rise, growing 8.4% in the past year. He pegged overall U.S. economic growth to date this year at 5.6%. This growth is being fueled by several factors, Best explained, including consumer spending, business inventory control and a favorable tax environment. On this latter point, Best noted that new capital investments by small businesses are supported by an accelerated depreciation schedule under recent federal tax code changes.

"Don't Make Me Stop This Car"

Al Roker is often referred to as "America's best-loved weatherman." For those of you who were fortunate enough to attend his keynote address in Las Vegas, you also learned that he is a former college classmate of Mary Dees, who invited him to speak at this year's meeting.

He said he especially enjoyed the Discover Business Services "Return of the Rat Pack Party." Roker caused quite a bit of laughter when he said ETA should be redefined as "Everybody's Tanked Already!"

Roker's humorous story of growing up the oldest of six children was inspiring. He discussed his struggle with weight, his recent decision to undergo surgery to control his eating, and his ongoing struggles with raising teenagers. The laughter and applause in the room was testimony to the truths he spoke-there were certainly many who related to his experiences.

Roker signed complementary copies of his book following the presentation. It was a pleasure to meet him and to have a moment to chat with this very personable celebrity.

Vendor Expo

From the opening reception Tuesday night until Thursday's closing event, the Vendor Expo was a definite success. With 146 vendors from across the spectrum of products and services participating, it's fair to say the entire payment processing industry was represented. The hall was completely sold out-and 19 companies were on the waiting list. The thousands of attendees crowding the floor certainly found value in the displays.

Kudos to ETA's staff for significantly improving the professionalism of this event. The inappropriate entertainment of years' past was nowhere to be seen.

Members of The Green Sheet staff were on hand to visit with each vendor. We found that the overwhelming response to this year's show was that it was the best-attended and best-organized event to date. ETA delivered the attendees that the vendors wanted to meet and greet. Without exception, people told us that this was a very successful expo for the vendors.

Our conversations with numerous attendees found that they were pleased with the depth and breadth of the vendors exhibiting and with the quality of the educational sessions. Critical industry topics addressed by those sessions included wireless payments, emerging markets and portfolio management, and how to move your organization to the next level.

One highlight was the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" panel featuring Garry O'Neil, Electronic Exchange Systems; Ed Freedman, Total Merchant Services; Mark Courchane, Wind River Financial; Ellen Hudec, Sterling Payment Technologies, Inc.; Marla Knutson, TransFirst; and Joe Kaplan, Innovative Merchant Solutions LLC. The panel addressed a room bursting at the seams and the Q and A session lasted well beyond the allotted time. Many panelists reported they were still fielding questions via cell phone the following day.

Next Year

The 2005 ETA Annual Meeting and Expo has been scheduled a month earlier, for March 15 - 17. The event will also move to the Mirage property in Las Vegas. The change in venue should address the one constant criticism of the MGM Grand location-the extraordinary mile-long march from the rooms to the conference center. (Thank you ETA and Moneris Solutions for providing the shuttle service this year.)

Mark your calendars for next year's meeting. Also, be sure to read the lead story in this issue of The Green Sheet. The Green Sheet, Inc. is offering registration, airfare and hotel accommodations for the 2005 ETA for the best Street SmartsSM feedback letter received this year.

The Green Sheet continues to believe that the ETA Annual Meeting and Expo is an important event for anyone and everyone in this industry. We look forward to seeing you there next year. ETA Annual Meeting & Expo a Resounding Success

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