The Electronic Transactions Association plans to keep expanding its advocacy, educational and networking efforts in the coming year, the trade group’s CEO says.

As part of its advocacy work, the association is holding a series of “ETA Hill Day” meetings to help Congress understand the payments industry, Jason Oxman, the organization’s chief executive, tells PaymentsSource.

“The ETA membership, collectively, processes $ 4.6 trillion in payments in the U.S. every year,” Oxman says. “It is not an exaggeration to say that without the ETA members, commerce would grind to a halt in this country.”

To make that point to Congress, the association will hold periodic Hill Day meetings, beginning Dec. 3 and continuing in the coming year.

The meetings will begin with morning sessions featuring panel discussions with industry leaders, Oxman says. The association hopes the meetings attract members of senators’ and representatives’ staffs and perhaps even a few members of Congress, he notes.

“It’s somewhat detailed and complicated subject matter, and we want to make sure staffers are fully versed in it,” Oxman says.

During Hill Day afternoons, association members will visit members of Congress in their offices, Oxman says. ETA intends to emphasize meetings with members of the House Financial Services Committee, the Senate Banking Committee and the Congressional delegation from Georgia, the state much of the acquiring industry calls home.

Meanwhile, next year’s educational efforts are expected to include a campaign to publicize the results of an ETA best practices initiative led by Deana Rich, an industry consultant, Oxman says.

The association has formed a working group of 38 member companies to compile best practices as a guide for small and medium-sized independent sales organizations on topics that including boarding and monitoring merchants and underwriting.

Plans call for presenting the best practices in sessions at the ETA’s annual conference and possibly at the regional acquirers association conferences.

“Rather than just developing a book that sits on a shelf, we’re going to go out as part of our ETA University programming and teach classes in this important subject matter,” Oxman says.

In another development on the educational front, the association will stop charging extra for attendees to take part in ETA University classes that precede the annual conference.

Attending the classes will now be “quite literally hundreds of dollars less expensive than it would have been in years past,” Oxman says. “We’ve received some feedback that for smaller ISOs and agents that accessing all of the programming at the ETA show has been too expensive.”

The trade group is also continuing the shift away from paid outside conference speakers in favor of inviting industry leaders to make presentations.

The annual conference attracted participants from 24 countries this year, and more companies from abroad are expected next year when the association introduces an international track to its programing.

Meanwhile, the ETA was pleased with the results of its first truly multinational conference, the International Acquiring Forum, which was convened this fall in London. The group is considering another forum next year.

It’s also pondering an expansion to Europe, which has no ETA-like payments association. However, trade associations are rarer in Europe than in the United States, and Europe’s welter of differing rules and regulations present challenges, Oxman observes.

When it comes to networking, the ETA is discussing the possibility of forming a committee to concentrate on the venture capital community, where ISOs have an interest in raising funds or selling their merchant accounts.

Another possible new committee would deal with big data. Many companies are positioning themselves as payments firms that handle both transactions and data, Oxman notes.

Next year’s new directions follow a year of change for the ETA.

“It’s been a year of really explosive growth for ETA, both in terms of the constituency we represent and also in terms of the activities we undertake on behalf of our members,” Oxman says of 2013.

The association recently broadened its membership, inviting a variety of companies to join the acquirers that formed the association more than 23 years ago. That precipitated this year’s 20% growth in member companies, with 525 firms now on the roster.

New members include all of the nation’s mobile network operators, such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular. Technology companies that have joined the ranks include Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Groupon and Ericsson. App companies that have joined include Tabbedout and BilltoMobile. Point of sale startups, including ShopKeep and Clover, have also joined.

Still, more than 250 member companies come from the acquiring side of the business, and they benefit from networking opportunities with the new member companies, Oxman says.

“As a result of bringing this community together, the activities we launched in 2013 are much broader than what ETA has done in the past,” he says.

This year also marked the formation of the association’s political action committee, ETAPAC, which is soliciting funds from members to make campaign contributions to politicians who support the trade group’s positions on issues.

Another advocacy activity that began this year is the “Voice of Payments,” a campaign to persuade members to make their concerns known to their representatives.

A continuing program, the Certified Payment Professional credential, continued to grow this year, and more than 500 members of the industry have passed the test to earn the designation.

“We have several member companies that have made it a condition of employment to pursue the ETA CPP designation,” Oxman says. “It’s bringing a level of professionalism to the industry.”

This year also saw the creation of the Large Processors Committee to concentrate on the concerns of that segment of the industry. It joins the established ISO and mobile payments committees.

The ETA staff grew enough this year that the association finds itself in need of additional office space, Oxman notes.

“That’s a good problem to have,” he says.

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