Looking Back and Looking Ahead with NAC's Chair Emeritus Curt Selman
Curt Selman, of Selman Telecommunications Investment Group, is known among his peers in the ATM industry for his quick-witted sense of humor, straight forward manner, and clever anecdotes. Professionally, he's earned an enviable reputation for building ATM and vending routes throughout the Dallas Metroplex. Today his locations include a mix of hotels, convenience stores, sports venues, and independent retail outlets.
As a founding member of The National ATM Council, Inc. (NAC), the organization's first Board Chair, and first Chair of its Government Affairs Committee (GAC), Selman has been instrumental in leading NAC in its early regulatory fights and acted as a driving force to forge a positive identity for the sector. The development of an industry voice and recognition on Capitol Hill as well as in numerous state capitols around the nation, achieved by NAC during its first seven years, is due in no small part to Selman's early efforts. Despite turning over the NAC Chairmanship and stepping away from leading the GAC, Selman remains an active member of both the NAC Board and the GAC.
We spoke with Selman, who is unwavering in his commitment to industry advocacy, for a look back and look ahead at the industry in the U.S., along with the role NAC has played.
SO, WHY NAC? WHAT WAS THE REASON FOR CREATING THE ASSOCIATION?
We needed an organization aimed at independent ATM operators that unequivocally looked out for their interests. From the very beginning, the association started as a government affairs and educational effort. Before NAC, we weren't really organized. When laws were passed that impacted the industry, we weren't able to offer any effective input during the legislative process. Very often, by the time we really came together on an issue it was already a done deal. Laws were passed and regulations enacted without an awareness of the costs and consequences of implementation on ATM businesses. Individual ATM entrepreneurs across the country desperately needed representation on these issues that could mean millions of dollars for this unique financial payments sector.
CAN YOU OFFER AN EXAMPLE OF THOSE KINDS OF REGULATIONS OR LAWS?
In those early days, one of the most pressing issues was fee sticker rules that led to spurious litigation against ATM providers nationwide. The sticker requirement was outdated. Disclosure requirements could be more effectively met by a digital posting on the ATM's screen, but outdated Fed regulations required posting of a physical fee notice on the enclosure. That spawned a cottage industry of lawsuits against providers who had their stickers peeled off and were then sued. When NAC was told by others that the issue was dead for that Congressional session, we persevered and were successful in having the Senate companion bill introduced that ultimately made it to the President's desk and was signed into law, ending thousands of lawsuits facing our industry. This showed very clearly how an organized approach against frivolous regulation could achieve results.
NAC WAS SUCCESSFUL IN ADDRESSING NEW ADA REGULATIONS AS WELL AS THE STICKER LAW, WASN'T IT?
NAC did amazingly well in both of these fights. Through oral and written testimony and supporting materials, we were able to have many of the new ADA regulations made applicable to ATMs in a manner that was acceptable to everyone. The only regulation that we weren't successful in shaping was the requirement for voice guidance at ATMs. Meeting this requirement was enormously costly and challenging, but our industry made the significant required investments to upgrade the installed base. I think stopping the fee sticker litigation was the first hands down victory for our industry, and for NAC. Along with being able to help temper the effects of new ADA regulations this showed we could fight and win on important national issues. I still believe that had we formed NAC earlier, or had another association looking out for our interests, we could have worked with the ADA regulations to make them even more palatable to the industry while still achieving full access to our ATMs for all people.
HASN'T EMV BEEN ANOTHER COSTLY SHOCK TO THE INDUSTRY, WITH MORE RETROFITTING OF MACHINES?
The association really came alive in addressing the new EMV requirements. This was an issue that required another round of expensive retrofitting, with no prospect of any offsetting revenue increases. It was a technology brought to the U.S. market after years in place elsewhere in the world. The U.S. was left for last because our financial system is the most unique and complex. NAC was able to negotiate an "accord" with Mastercard covering its initial rollout of EMV with its Maestro international card products in May of 2013. NAC's work with Mastercard shielded 80-90% of the nation's retail ATMs from chargeback liability for three solid years until the full rollout of EMV by Mastercard in 2016. NAC worked hard to make EMV as tolerable as possible for our segment. We definitely helped to ease the pain, making it a softer landing for ATM operators. There was also an educational component that NAC was able to provide for our members about the new technology and downside to not implementing EMV in a timely fashion. In the end, everyone benefited from the new timetable and educational process.
FIGHTING OPERATION CHOKE POINT AND BANK ACCOUNT CLOSURES/DENIALS DEVELOPED AS NAC'S NEXT MAJOR INITIATIVE OVERLAPPING WITH EMV, RIGHT?
As if EMV wasn't enough, Choke Point really woke up ATM operators in a big way. When banks started closing vault cash accounts, blaming Choke Point, operators realized that if they didn't invest some of their time and treasure into protecting and promoting the industry, there wasn't going to be an industry for many of them. To be perfectly honest, Operation Choke Point is a good example of a well-intentioned but severely misguided regulation that can have unforeseen disastrous consequences. NAC has been successful in getting Choke Point rescinded, which was another major victory for the association and industry.
BUT THE INDUSTRY IS STILL FEELING THE IMPACTS OF CHOKE POINT, ISN'T IT?
Absolutely. Our industry is still combating the after-effects of Choke Point on a daily basis. Despite Choke Point's formal end, there's still a lingering attitude among regulators and banks that paints our industry in a negative way. Bank accounts are being closed and new ones denied for no reason whatsoever, and so, NAC is still fighting to stop the bank account blacklisting that continues to plague our industry. We'll continue working with members to help them address their specific account shut-off issues, and we'll not give up the battle in DC to restore reasonable access to the nation's banking system for independent ATM providers. As part of this fight, NAC also recently commissioned a national study showing how independent ATMs make up 60% of the current U.S. ATM base, serving inner city urban and small rural areas of the nation with no other ready access to cash, and demonstrating our important stakeholder role in helping fuel the national economy.
WITH ALL THESE LEGISLATIVE BATTLES BEING WAGED, SHOULD THE TAKE-AWAY BE THAT NAC IS AN ADVOCACY GROUP?
I'd say we're an advocacy group that tackles the tough issues and get results. We're not just a tradeshow and website organization. We didn't even have a tradeshow for the first couple of years. And when we did begin hosting a tradeshow the response was great. That's because we focus on providing educational tracks and networking with ATM entrepreneurs from across the country. We've worked hard to give attendees the most bang for their buck.
WERE THERE ANY SURPRISES WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED WORKING WITH D.C. POLICY MAKERS?
Our industry wasn't well known or understood at all. When we first started going to Capitol Hill, I was surprised to find most of the legislators thought that banks owned all the ATMs. They were completely unaware there was a homegrown industry made up of thousands of small businesses, and responsible for the existence of a number of other industries that support our sector. I am also proud to say that as an industry we hire an inordinately large percentage of U.S. veterans, which is something Washington also needed to know. So, there was an educational process that needed to be started and is continuing to take place.
IN ADDITION TO ITS EFFORTS AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL, HASN'T NAC BECOME ACTIVE AT THE STATE LEVEL, AS WELL?
NAC has been working on issues of great import and potential precedential value in state capitals all around the U.S. We have successfully fought to stop adverse legislation and local ordinances in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and have consulted and advised our members in other states as well. When a member calls to alert us of an important state or local issue, we respond immediately to see how NAC can help. We worked this past legislative session in Alaska to develop legislation that will allow surcharging at ATMs for international card transactions, now effectively prohibited under current law. That measure passed the Alaska state House but ran out of time before making it all the way through the process, and so we will be hard at work again in the 2019 session seeking passage. We're also working to ensure that surcharge cap legislation continues to be kept at bay in Illinois, while also supporting passage of legislation there to dramatically reduce fines for potential violations of the state's recent ATM disclosure requirements. NAC worked there last year to ensure those posting requirements could be satisfied on the ATM screen versus the original proposal to require an external sticker. Through our members, we're actively monitoring the never ending local and state initiatives across the U.S. that will help or hurt our ATM businesses in a big way. NAC will continue to jump in and act at the state and local levels, whenever and wherever the need arises. The main thing to remember here is that NAC is 100% on the side of the U.S. Independent/Retail ATM owners, operators, and suppliers. NAC's sole mission is to protect and promote their interests everywhere and every way we can.