How will the ETA’s CPP program impact merchant services?

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We have all come across the rogue agent or office that says what it takes to get the deal and then disappears. They make grandiose offers and claims without disclosing the full truth. Merchants are treated as nothing more than a conquest, a means to an end. Their philosophy? It’s up to the merchant to read all of the details – not for me to disclose them.

This behavior has tarnished our industry, caused distrust with merchants, and even caused the loss of many agents who had great potential.

Over the past few years, “old-timers” like myself have had ongoing conversations about ethics, principally the ethics of those who sell merchant services. We bemoan these approaches and the damage control offices like ours face everyday because of them. All of our conversations circle back to the same point: that something needs be done to bring credibility back to the payments industry.

Recently, the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) announced the Certified Payments Professional (CPP) program. This program will provide a standardized test that measures the key knowledge required for our profession, and will also provide training to help improve upon it. Those that pass the test can add the designation of “Certified Payments Professional” to their business cards and other communications.

This seems like a step in the right direction, but there are some questions that remain unanswered.

  • What does it really mean to be certified? Many unethical salespeople know the business, but knowing the business and acting ethically are not linked. It may be said that thorough knowledge of the business may be necessary to walk on the ethical fence, but does it actually empower further unethical behavior?
  • What will it cost? Agents may not be able to handle an expensive certification program, and membership in the ETA is not cheap.
  • What is the value on the street? Unlike other industries, merchants may not know or see any value in this certification. What will be done to garner the value?
  • How does an agent lose their certification? There has to be some way to “decertify” an agent or else the value will be diluted. Who will define the actions that will cause one to lose their certification?
  • What’s in it for the agent? Unless ISOs and credit card processing companies see the value in this program and reward those who become certified, agents might not bother. Some offices – like the rogue ones I mentioned earlier – can do significant damage to the program by certifying all of their agents and then reverting back to their unethical business practices. Who will police this?

This last concern may be the biggest. Certifying an agent is not the only driver of ethical improvement in the merchant services world. Ethics should be driven from the top down. Until this is addressed, this program may be nothing more than an educational tool that quickly loses value in the eyes of agents and merchants alike. Is the ETA ready to expel members who act unethically? That hasn’t happened yet.

Yes, the CPP program is a start, but it’s just that – a start. It’s also important for agents to look in the mirror and evaluate their own ethics, as well as those of their processing partner. In turn, it’s time for processors to walk the walk. With or without a CPP behind our name, it’s our ethics that have the biggest impact on our reputation.

What do you think of the CPP program? What other issues need to be resolved before it helps improve our industry’s reputation?

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