Before changing its name last month to the Payments Authority, the Michigan Automated Clearing House Association would sometimes get strange questions over the phone.
One caller asked if the association could clean her house. Another thought he had reached Publishers Clearinghouse.
Even those who may have known something about payment systems could have mistaken the Troy, Mich., association of financial institutions for a payment processor.
Executives at Payments Authority are hopeful the new moniker will clarify its purpose-to be "a resource for information with respect to electronic payments in general, not just automated clearing house-type payments," said Margaret L. Zimmerman, president of the organization.
Macha's rechristening is the latest in a series of repositionings by regional ACH associations.
As the payment system pie expands to include various forms of home banking, Internet transactions, and federally mandated electronic payments, the not-for-profit associations have joined their members and others in assuming higher profiles and grabbing for bigger pieces of the business.
The Payments Authority has an educational charter that includes teaching the ins and outs of electronic payments to depository financial institutions, corporations, and consumers.
The group has an advantage in being in Michigan, which is ahead of much of the country in ACH usage.
An estimated 60% of Michigan paycheck recipients use direct deposit, compared with the national average of 55%. Michigan's figure could rise if the state legislature passes a measure that would let employers require employees to receive their pay via direct deposit.
Seventy-five percent of Michigan Social Security beneficiaries receive automatic payments, compared with the national average of 68%.
Of the nearly four billion electronic payments that flowed over the national ACH network last year, 51% were direct deposits and about 28% were direct debits. Less than 0.5% were customer-initiated items such as bill payments.
As the ACH grows, so too will automated teller machine and credit card networks. Banks and merchants increasingly are looking to learn about how the different pieces of the payment systems fit together.
"Just focusing on ACH isn't good enough anymore," said George Thomas, senior vice president of the New York Clearing House Association, which operates the New York ACH. (The New York and Arizona clearing houses and Visa U.S.A. are the only private-sector ACH operators in competition with the Federal Reserve System.)
To communicate its message, the Payments Authority has developed marketing tag lines for specific groups.
To appeal to employees at its 516 member financial institutions, the group uses the slogan, "Educating Michigan's electronic payment professionals."
With consumers, the organization talks about "Promoting electronic payments in Michigan."
On its letterhead and in correspondence, the group calls itself "Michigan's electronic payment association."
"Financial institutions used to have checks, ACH, and wire transfer in separate silos," said Mr. Thomas. He said it makes sense that as banks consolidate their payment services, automated clearing house associations are revising their missions.
The Payments Authority is one of a number of such associations to have changed its branding. Florida's led the way some years ago, becoming Payment Systems Network.
More recently, those based in Arizona, Virginia, and California became, respectively, American Clearing House, EastPay, and Wespay.