Visa U.S.A. is easing its policies toward the independent sales organizations that help sign card-accepting merchants.

Rob Robbins, the card association's executive vice president of market development and acceptance, said it will no longer distinguish between direct employees of the ISOs and their independent contractors-people whose pay gets reported on 1099 forms instead of W2s.

Speaking Friday to the Electronic Transactions Association annual conference, Mr. Robbins got approving applause from merchant-acquirers in the audience. They have long complained about Visa's rule requiring annual registration fees of $2,500 from the sales organizations and $500 for each outside contractor. Visa is dropping the latter for most people.

MasterCard does not have such a rule, which Visa instituted to help enforce discipline on ISO activities.

Mr. Robbins attempted to court the independent sales organizations, asking their help in signing merchants to accept cards. As part of its "war" on cash and checks, Mr. Robbins said, Visa needs to broaden acceptance in places like movie theaters, fast food restaurants, and government agencies.

"You are the key to our success," Mr. Robbins said. "We are still closer to the beginning of our quest than to the end."

Members of the Electronic Transactions Association, a seven-year-old group of 250 ISOs, mainly sign small businesses to accept credit cards.

The association had never before held a conference on its own. It previously piggybacked on the American Bankers Association's annual bank card conference, usually held in September. The transaction group's growth reflects how far ISOs have come from an unsavory past that forced policing by the bank card associations.

Linda S. Perry, Visa's senior vice president of market development and acceptance, said the rule change announced by Mr. Robbins indicates the association's eagerness to work with the association's members.

Ms. Perry said she hopes "some of the small ISOs come and communicate directly with us. If they don't come out of the woodwork, I can't find them."

Terry Moons, vice president of sales and marketing at Integrated Currency Technologies, Lakewood, Fla., saw the rule change as a sign of "improved communications" between Visa and the ISOs.

Richard M. Vertel, president of the credit card division of American National Bank of De Kalb County, Ill., said banks and the card associations are coming to recognize the role of ISOs in business development. "This industry is driven by 1099 people," he said.

Mr. Robbins said Visa's growth "depends on partnering in every aspect of the payments business.

"With so many cards in circulation, issuance strategies alone will not be enough," he said. "The more we can do as common partners, the faster we can grow."

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