Now that the Electronic Transactions Association has been administering the Certified Payments Professional credential for a full year, ISOs and agents could start facing more pressure to obtain the certification, according to an acquiring industry veteran.

"This may be the year where if you’re not a CPP, merchants are going to start questioning if you’re the real deal," Steve Eazell, director of third-party sales and marketing for San Diego-based payment processor Secure Payments Systems Inc., said in a reference to 2013.

The association held its first three month-long testing periods this year for candidates seeking the credential. The three-hour exams were offered at sites throughout North America, the association says.

Once merchants become familiar with the credential, they can use a registry on the association’s website to find ISOs and agents who have earned the endorsement. The registry’s searchable by last name and by state.

The credential is intended to demonstrate the expertise of the holder, according to the association.

The trade group also hopes to raise the level of professionalism in the industry by promoting the credential as a training and retention tool for ISOs hoping to educate and keep their agents.

In other comments during a wide-ranging conversation with ISO&Agent Weekly, Eazell, who has served as president of the Western States Acquirers Association, offered an ISOs’ and agents’ to-do list for the coming year.

The list includes notations for innovation, chip card adoption and finding new ways to set themselves apart.

Competition has been a mainstay of Eazell’s 30-year run in the industry, and 2013 will be no different, he says.

Eazell anticipates shakeups from the likes of Square Inc. and other emerging players. Those disturbances can help ISOs redefine and revolutionize what they bring to the business, he suggests.

"ISOs have a very strong penetration in this marketplace, and that’s not going to go away," Eazell says. "Just because the Squares of the world are talking to the Starbucks of the world, they’re still not going to be able to do what we do as well as we do it."

Like many, Eazell cites the strong relationships ISOs and agents can build with merchants as one of the key factors for holding onto a niche in the payements business no matter what changes technology may bring.

Despite that faith in the role of ISOs, Eazell acknowledges that problems can arise.

Financial concerns, for example, will continue to drive merchants’ decisions, and merchants are always trying to pinch pennies. Some aspects of the economy will improve in the coming year, but there’s no telling how much, Eazell says.

The good news for ISOs is that merchants are always looking for a better deal. As long as ISOs can, in a professional manner, convince merchants that they can save them money, ISOs will come out ahead, Eazell says.

Still, ISOs never want to lead with price. They’re better off opting for differentiation, uniqueness and a personal relationship with the merchant, Eazell says. "Price is important, but ultimately merchants are looking for value," he says.

The industry has reached a saturation point with price. ISOs have continually dropped prices over the years, and merchants are getting bombarded three to four times a week with processing offers.

Value-added services will continue to gain importance for ISOs looking to differentiate themselves. As technology continues to flood the payments industry, be on the lookout for new services beyond standards such as gift and loyalty, cash advance and check guaranty, Eazell says.

An expanded version of this article is scheduled to appear in the January-February print edition of ISO&Agent and on the website.


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