Acronyms and the World of Business Credit Card Processing

My wife discovered texting a few years back. She never considered herself technologically skilled, but she found joy in the ability to send a quick message rather than having to make a phone call.

Shortly after discovering how to text, she began getting texts back using lexicons, those text-speak acronyms that have a specific meaning. Of course, since there’s no school that teaches “text speak” she didn’t quite understand them. She couldn’t understand how people could make typos like LOL or (my favorite) TTYL.

Lexicons and acronyms have found a place in the English language, too. I hear people use LOL, TTYL, and others in conversations.

The world of business credit card processing is awash with acronyms. We love them and use them for just about everything in the industry. We also tend to reuse them for different things, adopting a new meaning just for our industry, although it may be a common term elsewhere. That can make it difficult for those who are new to the industry to stay on top of these terms. It also makes it confusing for merchants when we use them in everyday conversation.

Merriam-Webster defines an acronym as a word (as NATO, radar, or laser) formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term; also: an abbreviation (as FBI) formed from initial letters.

For example, POS is an acronym for Point of Sale. This acronym has been used to define a terminal, a computer-based program, or even a standalone system like Aloha and others. Ask someone who sells credit card payment processing services what they think of when they hear the term and they’ll most likely say a computer-based system or a standalone system. However, it was originally used as another way of saying terminal.

The same thing happens with the term ISO. This acronym began with Visa, as Independent Sales Office was their term for a registered ISO. Now it can mean any office, or even a one man shop, that sells merchant services. Registration is no longer assumed or implied when using this term.

Lately I’ve received several questions regarding industry acronyms. That’s why I’d like to clarify their meaning and help eliminate any confusion. After all, there is no dictionary that focuses solely on terms used in business credit card processing.

So, here’s a test for you. Below is a list of acronyms that you’ll hear in the industry. I know it’s hard, but try not to look at the answers and see how many you can define, with both their original meaning as well as any alternate meanings that you may have heard.

  • MLS: Merchant Level Salesperson, could refer to either a company or an individual agent
  • ISA: Independent Sales Agent
  • VAR: Value Added Reseller and Value Added Resource
  • DSL: Digital Subscriber Line or Digital Subscriber Loop; refers to a type of Internet service
  • IP: Internet Protocol; refers to a terminal that connects over the Internet; some also use this term when referring to Internet access
  • ETF: Early Termination Fee
  • EMV: Enhanced Member Card, Merchant Value Card, and also Europay, MasterCard and Visa; these are essentially chip cards
  • NFC: Near Field Communication; very similar to its more well established cousin, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification); used for contactless payments
  • CAP: Chip and PIN
  • ABR: Agent Bank Referral
  • MSP: Merchant Services Provider; this is what MasterCard originally called ISOs; it now refers to the organization that does the actual settlement
  • PIN: Personal Identification Number

How many were you familiar with? Perhaps you knew what the term meant, but were unsure about what each letter stood for. (This is often the case with EMV.)

About Author

Jeff Fortney

Jeff Fortney

VP, ISO Channel Management

Jeff Fortney has 25 years of experience in payments, with a focus on helping ISOs and agents grow their portfolio. His experience encompasses all forms of payments. He has served on various industry committees and boards and is also an author in various trade publications. He and his wife of 40 years live in Plano, TX.

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