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Street SmartsSM:
Eye on ETA

I have conversations with Merchant Level Salespeople daily, and I am privy to many of their observations, concerns and questions. Recently, I encountered an issue that inspired the topic for this column: whether or not to attend the 2003 Electronic Transactions Association's (ETA) Mid-Year Meeting held September 16-18 in Boca Raton, Fla.

This year's meeting, "Ride The Wave to Success," a Strategic Leadership and Networking Forum, served as a new venue for the organization because it wasn't a traditional trade show.

Based on the questions MLSs were asking me about the event, it appeared many really had no idea what it was about.

  • "I'm a hardworking MLS. Should I go?"
  • "Is it worth the money?"
  • "I don't have the luxury of time. What will I miss? "

When time and money are issues, you want to be sure you attend a conference that will provide you with valuable resources. I hesitated advising them not to go, but, as a spokesperson for MLSs, I felt it was my duty to report back and answer their questions.

Our great industry offers wonderful opportunities for Merchant Level Salespeople, but this year's Mid-Year conference wasn't one of them. We should recognize that not every ETA event is designed for MLSs. Some target ISOs and acquirers; therefore, this particular conference was very helpful for me.

I was delighted to attend, and I believe many other attendees share that sentiment. But MLSs are not part of that group. If you are a MLS, this meeting wasn't for you.

According to association's figures, there were nearly 500 attendees at "Ride The Wave to Success." While it was well attended by acquirers, providers and related payment - processing professionals, I didn't run into five people at this event that would call themselves MLSs...and for good reason.

The admission fee to attend the show was a pricey $545 and some educational and training sessions required additional fees. After you read about the topics covered, you'll quickly see there weren't many issues of relevance for MLSs, nor were there any sessions that addressed their special needs.

Here's a recap of the topics:

  • Introduction to Electronic Processing

    Billed as appealing to "financial institutions, ISOs, processors, hardware manufacturers, software developers and card associations." A separate fee was required for this session.

  • "Catch Me If You Can" - The Man Behind the Legend

    One-on-one presentation from the con man of the moment - Frank Abagnale, made famous by Steven Spielberg's recent movie starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. Later on the first day, Abagnale also delivered the Keynote Address - "The Many Faces of Fraud."

  • The New Cost of Privacy-Are You Prepared to Take the Hit?

    This session dealt with companies that are preparing to proactively report compromised data of consumers as well as new legislation affecting our industry.

  • "To Take or Not to Take" - The Great Debit Card Debate

    This presentation focused on recent changes in debit card, settlement and legislation as a result of the Visa/MasterCard/Wal-Mart case.

  • Appreciating Appreciation - The Evolving Role of Private Equity Investors in Our Industry

    This session concentrated on the minds and methods of the new breed of investors in the transaction industry.

  • Surviving Data Security Concerns

    Understanding obligation, risk and potential exposure in the face of changing data security requirements was the gist of this session.

  • Can One Size Really Fit All When it Comes to Data Security?

    The goal of the closing session of the 2003 ETA Mid-Year Conference was for attendees to get a better understanding from the various card associations on their plans for required data security and what the future might hold.

As you can see, the overall program lacked any MLS-centric topics...and that was unfortunate. Please, don't get me wrong. ETA is very valuable to the acquiring industry, regardless of your place on the food chain. I thought the 2003 Strategic Leadership and Networking Forum had many topics of interest for ISOs and MSPs that are liable for merchant losses-just not enough to warrant MLS participation.

You may also notice this column doesn't contain the usual quotes and opinions from MLSs. That's because nobody responded to my post on The Green Sheet MLS Forum regarding his or her experience at the ETA Mid-Year Conference. Was it because no MLSs attended?

If this was the case, then it supports my belief that while ETA is a positive and productive organization, these types of events-as well as membership in ETA-are not for the MLS.

While I don't think you, a hardworking and professional MLS, needed to attend this event, I do think it is important that you understand why ETA exists and what it's doing for our industry...and for the companies you represent.

ETA's mission is to "fully serve its members and advance their profession by providing leadership through education, advocacy and the exchange of information."

If you're a MLS, my advice to you is to call in and ask the executives of your ISO if they are indeed members of ETA, and if they were in attendance at Boca Raton.

Whomever you do represent should not just be a member of ETA, but also should have representation at all events, including this past one.

I believe it is very important that you work for an ISO that not only is a member of ETA but also supports its initiatives. This is a worthy association. ETA is the organization of the industry, but not necessarily essential for individual MLS membership. As a merchant acquirer and staunch supporter of our industry, I always enjoy attending ETA events. I particularly look forward to seeing the many faces of our industry - some new, some familiar.

When I first walked into The Boca Raton Resort, almost immediately people came up to greet me. I have cultivated many valuable friendships over the years at ETA meetings, and I'm always eager to spend time with other industry members and leaders at these events.

As I have stated in the past, some of my best friends are also my most fierce competitors. In fact, at this recent ETA conference, I took a lot of abuse from my friends in the business, teasing me about writing this column. Some of my colleagues said, "Stop embarrassing yourself!" Others said "Give it up!" I know-with friends like these, who needs enemies? However, during the event, several people also came up to me to thank me for writing "Street SmartsSM." They told me I'm making a valuable contribution and to keep up the good work.

I want to thank all the many professionals who have given me very positive feedback about this column. It is for those people-and you, the MLS-that I will continue writing.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please send your feedback on this topic (and any others) to

My next column will discuss the growing phenomenon of regional acquirer associations and my experience with and opinion of the Southeast Acquirers Association's recent regional meeting held in Orlando, Fla.

Additionally, I will also report on the First Annual NAOPP (National Association of Payment Professionals) conference that is also scheduled during that time in Orlando. Please continue to look for my postings on The Green Sheet's MLS Forum.

I welcome all your responses and promise to include them in my columns. Your voice must always be heard!

"Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend."

- Theophrastus (300 BC - 287 BC)

I'll see you next time where the rubber meets the road.

Ed Freedman is founder and President/CEO of Total Merchant Services, one of the fastest-growing credit card merchant account acquirers in the nation. Ed is the driving force behind all business development activity as well as the execution of Total Merchant Services' marketing plan, including recruiting and training independent sales offices and establishing strategic alliance partnerships with leading vendors, so that Total Merchant Services can provide its customers with the highest quality and most reliable services available.

To learn more about Total Merchant Services, visit To learn more about partnering with Total Merchant Services, visit or contact Ed directly at

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