ORLANDO–If the annual Card Forum and Expo staged here last week were a car on a family trip, attendees played the roles of restless kids in the backseat asking, “Are we there yet?”

Last year’s conference clearly defined itself as one for contemplating Durbin amendment and CARD Act implications, but this year’s event left most in attendance uncertain about when, or whether, the industry will reach its destination of embracing mobile payments. PaymentsSource publisher SourceMedia Inc. hosts the annual event.

On top of that, attendees learned of other destinations that aren’t quite clear yet, including the significant planning necessary for U.S. EMV adoption and whether alternative payment companies eventually will face regulations similar to those saddling traditional card issuers and acquirers.

Even the most-seasoned industry veterans were hard-pressed to speculate about what will happen next in payments and when the industry effectively will reach those destinations, Campbell Edlund, president of EMI Strategic Marketing, told PaymentsSource in an interview at the forum.

“When I talked to the most-experienced people in the business this week (at the forum), they were saying things like, ‘I don’t know,’ which you rarely hear,” she said.

If a common theme took hold among those talking about industry trends, it was that no one claimed “to have a crystal ball about which mobile or point-of-sale technology will prevail,” Campbell added.

If anything, forum attendees agreed that issuers and acquirers must focus on their customers while awaiting the technologies that will serve them better develop, she noted.

Attendee Brian Strigel, vice president of Green Bay, Wis.-based Associated Bank, agreed that this year’s Card Forum, held the past 24 years, most likely will be remembered as one in which uncertainties ruled the roost.

“Mobile payment is out there, but it is pretty far off; but how far off, we don’t know,” Strigel said.

In addition, issuers must contemplate what other types of federal regulations may loom, Strigel noted.

Like others in the banking industry, Strigel is keenly aware of one reality. “Regulations have taken a lot of revenue from banks,” he said.

Roger Tripp, manager of CHS Inc., a St. Paul, Minn.-based petroleum retailer, said he attended the conference “to get a gauge on where everyone else is at” concerning the numerous issues facing the industry and future opportunities through new payment methods.

Did he get the answers he was looking for?

“I heard what I expected to hear,” Tripp said. “There is just a lot of uncertainty out there now.”

That mix of uncertainty and tons of information about the various technologies, challenges and opportunities facing the payments industry likely made the 2012 Card Forum and Expo one of the most important in recent memory.

At least Deborah Baxley, payments consultant at New York-based Capgemini Financial Services, gave that impression during a presentation regarding a “Roadmap to Standards” for the various payment methods.

“There are so many different payment methods being brought forward now, merchants want to know where the payments industry is going,” Baxley said.

However, it benefits the industry as a whole to have so many discussions taking place, she noted. Numerous opinions and thoughts on technology and standards through forums and research white papers will help issuers, acquirers and merchants navigate a new payments landscape, Baxley added.

Possibly, the most significant thought to take away from the event was one that Baxley shared.

A battle royale is brewing between those that would like to see Near Field Communication take hold–mostly banks–and those supporting payments in the cloud, such as companies like Square Inc. and PayPal Inc., Baxley said.

“But it doesn’t have to be one or the other [technology],” she suggested. “The two can co-exist for some time.”

Which means it is entirely possible the industry will reach its new destination at some point, and maybe sooner than some might think.

So, will next year’s forum carry a theme of “OK, we’re here, but do we like it?”

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