With his trademark cigar in hand, Groucho Marks once quipped, "I wouldn't
want to be a member of any club that wanted me as a member." Such is not the
case with the latest trend in the payment processing industry. In response
to an ISO outcry to have their voices truly heard, regional associations
have burst onto the scene and are actively recruiting members. NEAA, MWAA,
SEAA, WSAA and NAOPP are their monikers. Creating a forum for education,
training and networking are their goals.
What spawned these births? Could it be a reaction to the perception that the
leading national association for payment professionals has not stepped up to
the plate for the ISO? Are ISOs starting to realize and flex their power
with programs of value or are they just creating opportunities to golf and
To accurately answer these questions, one first has to examine each regional
group. Starting in the northeast corner of the United States is the
Northeast Acquirers Association, the oldest of the regional organizations.
NEAA was founded in 1985 and focuses on a target membership of ISOs and
banks from Virginia up north to the Canadian border. Self-defined as a
"non-member" association, it actively solicits over 1,500 professionals in
the northeast area of the country. Its primary object is "to serve as an
educational forum for financial institutions and ISO/MSPs/MLS in the
To facilitate that mission statement, NEAA gathers and distributes
information on the latest technology and the hottest topics in the payment
industry as well as new changes to card association rules and regulations.
This not-for-profit association holds various networking events and seminars
throughout the year that are funded by vendor sponsorship and minimal
registration fees. Their most recent summer seminar was held in Woodcliff
Lake, New Jersey on June 8 and was sponsored by American Express, Discover,
MasterCard and Visa. Their next event will be their 20th anniversary Winter
Seminar in February of 2005 at Grand Summit, Mount Snow, Vermont.
"NEAA started in 1985 which I believe makes us the oldest running show,"
says NEAA President Alan Forgione. "Our success is based on regional people
working to make our industry better through education and networking
Moving down the coast, we next come to the Southeast Acquirers Association.
Like the NEAA, the SEAA is a "non-member" association. According to their
website, all those who in the past, at the present time, or are someday
looking to participate in the Merchant Acquiring Industry are welcome at
The mission of the SEAA is to " provide a regional opportunity for training,
education and networking for the Acquiring community." Sound familiar? Its
goal is to improve the Acquiring industry as a whole by providing small- to
mid-sized ISOs and MLS with affordable access to the latest in industry
regulations, information and technology from the leading vendors in the
Acquiring industry. For the most part, this goal is accomplished through
seminars. For a $75 seminar fee, attendees have the opportunity to learn
about the latest information and technology direct from the source. SEAA
seminar presenters include the major card networks, processing companies and
equipment manufacturers. These seminars also provide education on a broad
range of topics, including information vital to operating a business,
generating new sales and the latest products to cross-sell to current
merchant bases. Their next event, the 2004 SEAA Seminar, will be held in
September in Atlanta, Georgia.
Heading towards the heart of the country, the next group on the list is the
Midwest Acquirers Association, founded in 2003. MWAA also boasts a
"non-paid" membership. Participation in MWAA events is open to anyone in the
electronic payments industry. Like its fellow regional groups, NWAA aims to
serve the needs of MLS, ISOs, processors, vendors, banks and financial
institutions connected with the bankcard industry.
Geographically, MWAA concentrates on a constituency within the Midwest,
which is roughly defined as the area from Pittsburgh to Denver and Fargo to
Dallas. Their mission statement reads similarly to NEAA and SEAA: "Our
mission is to provide a regional opportunity for training, education and
networking in the Midwest Acquiring community." Do you see a mission
statement pattern here!
How do they accomplish that mission? This group was founded on the belief
that it is important to educate the ISO and MSP community with the
constantly changing information that the industry dictates. They are
committed to delivering that information by involving all aspects of the
payment processing community. MWAA emphasizes open communication, question
and answer dialog and a level playing field in friendly, professional market
Paramount to their strategy are seminars and conferences that address
current and important industry-related issues. Their annual conference to be
held this month in Chicago will offer opportunities for MSPs, MLS, ISOs,
banks and vendors to spend a couple of days focusing on industry trends. The
MWAA conference is highly cost-effective for all with vendor table space
going for under $1000 and attendee registration at $100 (for early
registration). Since all vendors get a six-foot table, it is possible for
smaller companies to look just as big as larger companies. The
groundbreaking MWAA 1st Annual Conference took place last July. Over 400
industry professionals were in attendance and MWAA expects an even greater
number of attendees at this year's conference.
Moving on towards the Pacific Ocean, the next and newest group to join the
party is the Western States Acquirers Association. WSAA was established in
January of 2004 by a group of respected industry veterans with the vision
and intention of meeting the needs of all types of merchant acquirers in
their area. These veterans noticed the impact other regional associations
were making on the Merchant Acquiring front and decided to bring that
opportunity to the Western states.
Like its fellow groups, WSAA is a not-for-profit, non-membership
organization that boasts an independent forum dedicated to keeping Acquirers
educated and informed on the ever changing industry environment. As a
regional, non-member based organization established to co-exist and
cooperate with the other regional Acquiring associations, WSSA hopes to meet
the needs of the payment professionals of the western region of the country
by providing a substantive opportunity for all facets of the Merchant
Acquiring Industry from street level sales reps to agent banks to nation-
al ISOs looking for education, networking opportunities and ways to stay
competitive and keep abreast of the ever changing environment.
The WSAA will be calling all interested professionals to join them in San
Francisco in November for their inaugural meeting. The plan is to provide
educational and training sessions for all attendees as well as an
opportunity to meet with leading industry vendors for one-on-one exchanges.
Not to be overshadowed by the ISO-centric associations, the Midwest ATM
Association has also stepped onto the field. This not-for-profit corporation
was formed in Chicago in April by three industry executives in response to
Illinois' recent legislative changes banning surcharges on ATM
The current goals of the Association are to promote ATMs and their usage,
raise funds for legislative lobbying and to bring together area ATM
deployers to gain benefits not otherwise available to small ATM deployers.
The companies represented by the Association's membership and board
currently manage more than 1500 ATM locations. The Midwest ATM Association
invites ATM deployers, manufacturers and processors who do business in
Illinois to attend upcoming meetings.
With the express vision of education and training but taking it one step
further to the feet on the street, a new and ambitious association has been
created the National Association of Payment Professionals. Based out of
Tampa, Florida, this grass-roots organization works on the premise that the
ability for a product or service to be delivered to the merchant is
dependent upon the merchant level salesperson. For those who know what it's
like to sell and service payment products, NAOPP is your voice. While
existing associations are geared to product vendors and manufacturers, NAOPP
was formed by MLS for their own benefit. NAOPP intends to assist in bridging
the gap between the sales force at the street level and the decision makers
at the top. NAOPP believes a better educated MLS will deliver better service
to the merchant, reduce training costs to the ISO and submit higher quality
business to leasing companies and processors.
That belief is reflected in its mission statement: "This organization shall
exist for all those selling in the payment processing industry by providing
education, benefits, liaison/representation and certification."
NAOPP celebrated its first birthday in February of 2004. During its first
year, it elected a board of directors to protect the interests of the MLS.
Fundamentally, NAOPP is run by its members who elected the board. It was
decided that the board of directors voting members must always be made up of
a majority of MLS.
During its inaugural year, NAOPP created a forum where MLS can be
recognized. For a minimal $25 membership fee, NAOPP has afforded hundreds of
MLS an opportunity to let their voices be heard. On a more practical note,
NAOPP offers much needed benefits and education programs for MLS such as
low-cost legal consultation and representation, a 401K plan and health
benefits (all documented on the organization's website).
"More than anything else, NAOPP was designed and created for one major
purpose to give a much louder voice to the smaller ones in the industry,"
says co-founder Steve Norell. "It's all about having a one-man MLS needing
help and not having a chance to get his or her point across unless he or she
can add it to hundreds of others."
According to Norell, "We're focused on benefits, accreditation and
certification. For example, if an MLS were to go to a large retailer and
prove that he is a better qualified professional, he stands that much closer
to closing the deal. NAOPP offers certification to MLS and that could mean
the difference between gaining or losing a merchant."
Still in its infancy stages, but gaining momentum, is the NAOPP
certification program. It is web-based and available to all members. MLS can
get certified by taking an open test online that encompasses over 1,000
industry-related questions and answers and 100 test questions. Once the MLS
passes, he or she is awarded a certificate and receives a card stating they
are a NAOPP-certified merchant service provider.
At present, NAOPP holds membership seminars and meetings at the various
regional association meetings. NAOPP will next share the spotlight at the
October SEAA meeting where it hopes to increase its current membership of
200 by much more.
"If we can show we bring something to the table to give MLS value, then they
will join NAOPP," says Norell. "Down the road, we hope to hold one large
annual meeting each year with MLS from all over the country. It won't be
oversized booths sponsored by super vendors who will have to pay an arm and
a leg. It will just be MLS networking. It won't be like ETA. That's gotten
out of hand."
And therein, perhaps, lies the core of the controversy surrounding the birth
of these associations. Could it be the associations versus ETA? Transaction
World went to industry consultant, Paul Martaus, to get his take on why
these groups have formed, what they are really accomplishing
and if the widespread opinion that the ETA doesn't cater to ISOs has fueled
this growing movement? What does it all mean to the industry? Are ISOs
gaining power? Are they putting together programs of value or just creating
opportunities to golf and gab?
"It's a multi-faceted argument," says Martaus. "There is a perception that
although the ETA does try, there are two voices within the ETA. One is the
millionaires club and the other is the smaller ISO. ETA is controlled and
managed by the millionaires club. Part of their constituency is the guy on
the street, but the ones who pay the most in dues and fees are the large
ISOs. They are the ones that make ETA run. There is a perception the ETA
has lost its focus since they moved to Washington, D.C. which is well off
the beaten path for any ISO."
According to Martaus, what has happened is that the regional associations
have crept up to provide a voice for the little guy, the guy who can't get
his voice heard among the super powers. But if it is all about speaking out,
why don't these voices join together, as NAOPP is attempting to do?
"There is some truth in saying that regions do have region-specific needs,"
says Martaus, "As an example, online debit is huge in California. Some other
areas are very big in wireless because of technological resources of
regional providers. But these are all tactical as opposed to strategic."
Martaus doesn't see regional associations insulating themselves as much as
providing a voice for their specific regions.
"Look at the SEAA membership for example," says Martaus. "What you will see
are people who know each other and compete with each other on a regular
basis. Where the super ISOs can get together and fly in to meet each other,
the regional guys drive to meet each other. I think there is
a need for local interest groups. These regional guys can get together
easily and not have to spend a lot of money to fly to Vegas. They meet on a
local basis and solve local problems. After all, all politics are local."
With the associations gaining in strength and numbers, how can ETA compete?
Martaus cites their latest programs as ammunition.
"The ETA is trying to compete with the new regional shows, but their pricing
mechanism looks to be preventive in nature," says Martaus. "They want to
reach out to MLS since the regional associations, for the most part, are not
aimed at MLS but rather the smaller ISOs. On the other hand, ETA's regional
show pricings are out of whack. For ETA, it seems it's all about money."
Another issue that is rearing its ugly head with the advancement of regional
associations, and the counterattack by ETA with regional shows, is the
growing financial burden on the vendors. Martaus sees it quite clearly.
"The vendors that provide the bloodline to all these events are getting
ready to revolt," says Martaus. "They used to be able to budget their trade
show dollars. Now, there are shows every couple of weeks and they're not
inexpensive. Vendors are waking up and smelling the coffee and not liking
what they smell. They're spending a whole lot of money because as industry
leaders, they have to be seen everywhere. At what point will they reach
their limit and say no?"
As regards the positive value of regional associations, Martaus sees it as
"I don't see an advantage to them yet, other than local voices solving local
issues since they don't perceive they can be heard at the national level,"
says Martaus. "One guy in Temecula, California, with six guys in his office
won't get his voice heard at ETA, whereas, a guy with three MLS can wind up
being president at the regional level. I don't know if these associations
will have any impact. Will they be able to approach Visa? The ETA can't even
do that. I really don't see a big impact on a strategic level."
Northeast Acquirers Association
Southeast Acquirers Association
Midwest Acquirers Association
Western States Acquirers Association
National Association of Payment Professionals
Midwest ATM Professionals