How to Become a Registered ISO and Start a Credit Card Processing Company
One of the most lucrative fields that you can get into as a salesperson is selling to other businesses and especially selling merchant services. Unlike most end consumers, business owners keenly understand the value of investing wisely in long-term solutions, and not merely throwing away their money on something cheap. If you want to truly contribute value to other business owners, while making a decent paycheck every month yourself, one of the best ways to do that is to offer quality merchant services. You will be invaluable to your clients, and if you serve them well, they will continue to look to you for ways to make their business more efficient.
Why start selling on your own, though? Isn't that a lot more work? What are the benefits if you're already working in a commission-based kind of job? Well, here are a few of the major ones:
Even if you're working in a field where you get a relative amount of independence, like in sales, you still don't have complete control, and your whole work life revolves around satisfying someone else's numbers. You may have your own personal selling style, but the overall strategy that the company follows—the direction in which “the ship” is being steered—is not determined by you, but by someone else. This may not be such a bad thing for some people, but it also means that your livelihood is ultimately in someone else's hands. What if the owners of the company that you work for make a dumb decision that spells the end of the business? You will have to suffer the consequences anyway, even though it wasn't your fault.
Of course, if you own your own business, you have the potential to make a lot more money than someone who doesn't. If you're an independent contractor, at the end of the day, the people above you are raking in the most money. Sure, as a merchant services representative, you might make a hefty percentage of that, but the fact of the matter is that your potential for financial growth is stunted. If you have a business that you control yourself, it is basically up to you how much money you want to make, and you keep more of the fruits of your hard work.
The Potential for Scale
The thing about a normal job, even a merchant services sales job, where you're working for someone else, is that you rarely have the possibility to scale things up. In other words, you can't “replicate” yourself by hiring someone else to do some of your tasks, and this can greatly reduce your long-term income potential. When you run your own merchant services business, you can choose to run it in many different ways, but one way is to outsource the work slowly until your business can practically run on its own. For true residual, passive income, this is the kind of situation that you will want to be in. This is what makes it possible for you to work because you want to, and to make money even in your sleep. You just can't do this when you work for someone else.
Now, you may be thinking: How to start a payment processing company? Maybe you've been a salesperson for awhile—maybe you've even been selling POS equipment and other important retail tools—but you're not sure how to make that leap into selling for yourself.
Well, unless you've invented and designed your own solutions, you're going to have to start by forming a partnership with a company that you believe in. They're going to have to make a product that you can really get behind because, if you're building a business for yourself, most of your money is ultimately going to come from the back-end, from repeat customers. This is why it is so important to take a step back and think about quality above anything else. By all means, find a program that is lucrative, but don't ever sell a product that you wouldn't feel enthusiastic about using yourself. In the end, this is what is really going to create repeat business.
What traits do you look for in a merchant services agent program, then? Don't be taken in by any fancy bells and whistles. Basically, these are the things you are going to want to see:
A History of Reliability
Again, there's no sense in selling shoddy services or products. Look up reviews of the company and decide if they are any good. Research their products and make sure that they are user-friendly. Find a way to use them if you can. The easiest products to sell are the ones that are actually good because they basically sell themselves time and time again.
Generous Revenue Share
Since this is going to be the core of your business, you are going to want to find a merchant services partnership that gives you a good cut of the sales. If you're doing all the work of finding and maintaining leads, then you need a fair percentage of what that customer is paying.
Part of what makes selling merchant services and POS services so lucrative is that there is often a monthly fee involved or else the merchant services company takes a percentage of the user's sales. As a partner, make sure that you have access to a significant portion of that long-term income as well. This is what is going to pay you month after month, even long after you have made the initial sale. This is where most of your money is, really.
Lots of Options and Flexibility
The company you work with should have lots of different options when it comes to revenue sharing, that way you will be able to build a strategy out of the one that best suits your business.
Become a payment service provider today and take your business to the next level. If you are a sales-oriented individual with vast experience in the world of payment processing or you are a driven and motivated professional looking for a new challenge, the SMG ISO agent program might be a great fit for you. With the highest paying commission structure in the industry, superior products, and sales support, our program will see to it that you are rewarded for your efforts.
For anyone with a sales background or a passion for the payments industry, SMG is the ideal partnership. There are dozens of reasons to become a sales partner with Shaw Merchant Group, but don’t just take our word for it. Here are some of the top reasons that we were given when we asked our ISO agent participants why they chose us and why they continue to work with our highly lucrative program.
Sales Partner Portal
With our industry leading partner portal, you’ll have access to online enrollment, training sessions, marketing materials, and you’ll always be ahead of the game with the latest news and promotions.
Stay up-to-date on merchant issues and their resolutions via automated emails and text messages that include a detailed ticket number describing what the merchant’s concern was and how it was resolved.
Registered DBA (White Label)
With our program, you’ll be able to market under your own brand, without paying costly fees! Your brand will be seen on the partner portal, marketing communications, merchant statements, and more.
Free Equipment for Your Merchants
Selling businesses on a new processing plan is much easier when you are able to effortlessly jump over the hurdle of the cost of the equipment. With this program, you can offer your clients free equipment that they will need for their processing provider change. This lowers the barrier to switching and creates a higher conversion rate for you.
Lifetime Passive Income
You will recieve 50–70% of residual income based on the pay structure you select. You will share income on every available revenue stream. With SMG, you get a True Interchange Revenue Split. Unlike other ISO agent programs, there is no basis points off the top for BIN sponsorship or for what they call hidden losses. Our sales partners earn more residual income with our 50/50 partner program than you would with our competition who claim to offer a higher percentage because thier interchange cost (buy rate) is higher.
$20K Performance Bonus
We offer a performance-based fast start bonus that is payable for anyone that onboards more than the standard threshold of clients in the first 4 months. This program is designed to reward those experienced sales members that join our team and quickly learn how to sell this product. The bonus can reach up to $20,000, making it one of the most lucrative and competitive in the industry.
Profitability Based Bonuses
We will look at how much profit is generated on the account after they have been processing for one month and you earn 14 times of the total profit. Example: If we retain $100 in residuals in that month, the bonus would be 14 x $100 or $1,400. You would have already been paid $600, so we would pay you an additional $800 on that account. This bonus is capped at a max of $10,000 per merchant per location. With our dual pricing program it is easier than ever to earn huge bonuses with a 14x profitability bonus. This dual pricing model enables you to maximize your bonus at $10,000 on almost every merchant processing over $90k.
Dual Pricing Program
When you are selling merchant services, one of the best assets of any partner program is more rewards and incentive programs that save your client money. The Edge dual pricing program is one of the hottest new commodities in credit card processing, as it is designed to save the client thousands of dollars in credit card processing cost, instead passing on the fee to the consumer in a way that isn’t damaging to their own conversion rate and revenue. We offer this program to our clients and make it easy to understand and present for our sales partners.
With some sales jobs, you don’t even have the option for medical coverage. With the SMG ISO agent program, you’ll have the resources that you need to provide healthcare coverage to you and your family at an affordable rate. We take care of our own, and when you are in our program you will have access to these benefits.
Are you a merchant services representative or an Indendent Sales Organization that’s looking to make it to the big leagues of the merchant industry; the payment gateway providers? Well, it might require some serious investment to set up a complete infrastructure that can even break your bank. However, there’s an alternative - white label payment processing.
It’s a low investment, low-risk solution allowing you to set up your own payment gateway without having to manage any technical aspects of the payment gateway. Curious? Read on to know more about a regular payment gateway, how a white label payment gateway is different and what main advantages it can offer you.
Let’s Discuss What Payment Gateways Do:
Before we move towards the payment gateways for white label merchant services, let’s talk about the regular ones to ensure everyone reading this is on the same page. Payment gateways are crucial for every business for credit card transaction processing. When the card is swiped against the machine, the payment is cut and sent through the payment ‘gateway’ to the processor for authorization. This additional gateway ensures the security of customer’s data and the authenticity of their transaction.
Once it’s cleared, the information of the transaction is added to the credit card networks and sent to the bank that issued the card to the user (customer). If everything is correct and there’s a balance available to be charged, the transaction is approved; otherwise, due to any reason, it can get declined.
How Payment Gateways Do What They Do?
Payment gateways equip the merchants with interfaces and tools to collect the information for credit card transactions from the customers. This can be done in several ways. Most of the gateways offer APIs (Application Programming Interface) that enable the websites, business software, mobile applications, and POS (point of sale) device to connect and send transactions right to the payment gateway for authorization.
They also offer virtual terminal abilities allowing credit card info to be input directly in a webpage form, which can then be submitted for a transaction.
You can also find a range of value-added functions in payment gateways allowing merchants to easily manage their business and transactions. These added features can be fraud detection, recurring billing, tokenization, PCI compliance, and more.
Merchant Acquirers & Payment Gateways:
Merchant acquirers and ISOs (Independent Sales Organizations) act as agents/salesperson of the payment gateways by reselling their services to the merchants. ISOs or merchant acquirers employ a team of salespeople and support agents to connect with merchants, nurture them and eventually sell them the payment gateway’s services and equipment like POS machines.
Since it doesn’t really make sense for the merchant acquirers to build and manage their own gateways, they mostly partner with existing payment gateway service providers and get a small chunk of the pie. However, there’s an alternative, providing ISOs or merchant acquirers with opportunities to set up and differentiate their own payment gateway brands. This is where a white label payment gateway comes into play.
What’s a White Label Payment Gateway?
With the help of a white label payment gateway, you can get similar features and functions and perform the same duties as a payment gateway provider. However, there are many distinctions and benefit with the white label service. While the regular gateways get into contracts with the ISOs and merchant acquirers to resell their services, white label gateways allow and also prefer the ISOs and merchant acquirers to sell their services as their own with their own branding.
The merchant services resellers and ISOs have the liberty to use their logo, play with the branding and color scheme to match it with their own, and service the customers however they see fit.
Becoming a White Label Payment Provider:
If you become the payment gateway provider rather than reselling someone else’s, you’ll have several unique opportunities at hand. As the white label payment facilitator (Payfac), you can set your own profit margins and actively get your share of the revenue stream. This also means you will have the freedom to set up your very own brand, market it and get visibility rather than living under someone else’s shadow. You will have control over customer experience, and how you want to service them, which means direct customer acquisition.
Here are some more benefits that you experience when you become a white label payment provider:
- You will not have to set up or manage the service by yourself. All the heavy lifting and technical aspects like infrastructure and security compliance will be taken care of for you.
- You will get access to the shopping cart integrations processor connections of the platform, enabling you to offer solutions to a wider merchant group and take care of their needs.
- You will get total control over the customer relations, meaning you will establish the rules for how your gateway equipment and products will be serviced and sold.
- Every effort put in by you and your team into the promotion of payment gateway technology will enhance the worth, reputation, and value of your brand.
- The use of a white-label payment gateway will solidify your relations with your merchants and put you in the position to meet their needs better.
Who White Label Payment Providers Partner With?
First things first, you need to know if you have the kind of business that can benefit from the white label payment provider. There are four kinds of resellers that will benefit from the white label model the most:
- ISOs – Independent Sales Organizations
- ISVs – Independent Software Vendors
- VARs - Value Added Resellers
- PayFac – Square or Paypal
When opting for a white label payments provider, work with someone having experience and a good track record of working with these business types.
Finding a Good Quality White Label Payment Services Provider:
To get the most value out of your while label gateway experience, it is imperative that you work with the provider offering exactly what you need so you can meet and exceed the needs of your merchants. To find that kind of service provider, here are a few questions you should ask:
- Will you get access to their support service, guides, and training materials?
- Do they have an intuitive payment gateway platform? You don’t want something that’s buggy and complex.
- Can you rely on their platform? It should have 99.99% uptime; once it goes down, your payments won’t be processed until it's back on.
- What about the security level of their platform? It should be encrypted with the latest and most impenetrable technologies.
- Does it sell its services to the merchants directly?
Branding on Your Payment Gateway:
You will require a highly flexible platform that allows you to leverage your or your designer’s creativity and customize every aspect of the product/service. You would want to make the payment gateway your own in the truest sense of the word. Therefore, make sure to find out the branding options they have available that’ll allow you to brand your payment gateway exactly the way you want. Here is a small list of some things you should be able to make your own:
- Color scheme
- Marketing guarantee
- Login portal
Make sure to ask about all of these features’ customizability, so you know what to expect from the white label provider and if you want to go with them.
Types of Merchants on Your Gateway:
If you’re wondering what kind of merchants I can put on my white-label payment gateway, then the answer is; anyone you want. However, not every provider agrees to this, so make sure to ask this beforehand. The payment gateway provider must be able to offer you the liberty to get anyone on board and do business with them.
Some Final Considerations:
You will also need to find out about the third-party integration options, SDKs, and API functionality of the payment gateway. Some more important things to consider are:
• Who will own the website’s domain name?
• Who is going to bill the merchant?
• Who will manage the SSL Certificates?
• What kind of shopping cart integrations will you get?
• How the customer support to merchants will be handled?
• What kind of merchants will you be able to provide a platform to?
Remember, the best white label merchant services will have incredibly useful features to help you crush the competition and get as many merchants on board as you can. This can only happen if you have the freedom to have any merchant you want and your platform is robust enough with tons of useful features that attract them.
Credit cards are all the rage in the USA and have been for decades, and six out of ten Americans have at least one credit card. The number of credit card users has been growing each year exponentially. People use them as the primary mode of payment. Similarly, debit cards are widely used online payment substitutes, and the number of new users is rising worldwide. Today, debit card usage accounts for 25% of all purchase volume which was 13% in 2005.
Moreover, there were 45 billion dollars in credit card transactions in the year 2019. It means more volume of the transaction will increase demand for credit transaction processors. Payment processing companies act as a bridge between the merchant and the customers making the payments. This industry may be competitive, but it’s true that it can be very profitable. Do you want to become a merchant service agent, or wondering how to start a payment processing company? If yes, then read on to learn how to become a credit card processor.
How to become a credit card processor in 4 simple steps?
You might think it’s simple to become a credit card processor, but it is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, it is more than project projection, payment terminal, and POS options to get things started. Follow these steps if you are on a mission to becoming a merchant service provider.
Conduct Market Research
Market research will not only help you better understand your target market but also uncover insights about your competitors. So don’t forget to invest some time to conduct market research to analyze your competitors and potential clients. Determine the viability of new selling merchant services and the niche of the local retailers. Don’t forget to monitor how your competitors are doing business, their services, and the average fee their customers are paying for credit card processing.
Come up with a great deal for your future clients. If you offer to deal with a lower amount than your competitors, you will likely get more profit. All you need to go to your local market and create a survey to gather comprehensive information from your targeted audience about the service they use the most. Ask them about their current merchant service provider and check how much they are satisfied with them. And most importantly, don’t forget to collect the contact information of your potential clients, like their phone numbers and email address.
Plan Out How You Will Operate Your Business
The second step is to create a profitable business plan. It will give you an idea of how your credit card processing company will work. Plan out what kind of services you will offer and their pricing. Moreover, your business plan should also cover how large your sales team will be. In other words, it is a guideline that will help to make business-related decisions. Also include other details like how much capital you need to start a payment processing company, how you will obtain this capital, and how you will market your new business.
There are two main options for those who are becoming a credit card processor, i.e., start your own company or franchise (work under another company or brand) a credit card processing company. When you start your company independently, it offers various benefits. First of all, starting an independent business may cost less, and you earn more profit because there are no chances of getting your hand-tied in any contract or bad deal. In addition, it comes with downsides too. When you start a new company, no one recognizes you in the market, and you have to do a lot of hard work to beat your competitors around. Not only that, you should have good terms with banks to finance your company.
On the other hand, if you choose the second option, i.e., franchise an existing credit card processing company, forget about designing a winning business model, finding credit card terminals, machines, and other equipment, and build a relationship with finance resources like banks. However, if you choose this option, you will require big bucks to get started. Moreover, the parent company will also cut through some percentage of your profits.
Partner With The Bank
You need to partner with a bank to handle the interbank routing and get financing for operational costs. Initially, you need at least $50,000 capital to start a credit card processing company with a physical office location. If a contingency plan fails and unexpected expenses arise, consider a secondary source.
Execute Your Business Plan
Now, it’s time to execute your business plan and launch your company. Having a killer marketing strategy helps you grow your business exponentially. Your ultimate goal should be to stay ahead of your competitors. To reach out to more clients, business networking can help you rack up new contacts. Provide the best services as promised to your customers. Referrals from merchants play a crucial role in the company’s growth.
How To Sell Merchant Services
Want to know how to sell merchant services? Just keep in mind that there is no secret formula to selling it; it starts with you. First off, you should know how this transaction processing procedure works. You should be an expert as a credit card payment processor that helps you get more profit than MSPs (Merchant Service Providers). Over time, when you see more trade growth, people will recognize your business assets. Prepare your business assets like yellow and white pages, business cards, website, business cards, and local directory for your company and market them to grow your business.
Tips On Selling Merchant Services
One of the best tips on selling merchant services is that give your clients the reason to choose you. Don’t offer the same thing that other hundreds of merchant service providers are offering. Let them know what benefits they will get because only special discounts are not enough. A high percentage of profit is probably is more attractive to sell your merchant services. Don’t focus on discount price offer only. Show your numbers and merchant testimonials as your company’s proof of growth. Moreover, don’t hesitate to build a good relationship with them which helps you increase sales.
In this article, I am going to teach you ways to start a successful credit card processing company. I am also going to take you through the fine details of planning, setting up, and starting a credit card processing company.
You are going to learn about what it takes to become a successful credit card processing agent, how to conduct market and niche research, how to create a great business plan, how to get funding for your venture, and also tips to run a successful credit card processing company.
It is important to note that when you become a merchant service provider you will be helping corporate and businesses to process payment for their customers.
Your credit card processing services will involve offering the platform and equipment to facilitate the sending, approval, and processing of payments and transactions between customer’s bank accounts and your clients' bank accounts.
What It Takes To Become a Credit Card Processing Agent:
The credit card processing industry is very dynamic, and the success of becoming a merchant services agent is both easy and hard.
There are a few things that you need to know; some of these include having a clear understanding of how selling credit card processing works. You will also need to have deep knowledge of how credit cards work and what they do.
Another overly important thing that you will need to understand is your market and, most importantly, your niche market. This way, you will be able to connect with your customers on a personal level. In addition, you will also be able to create a solid relationship with banks for financial transactions and payment processing.
Market Feasibility and Niche Research
It is critical to note that any successful venture always starts with thorough research. When you want to become a credit card processing agent, you will need to do thorough market research.
Understand the type of services or products you will be offering and where your clients are and their needs.
Make sure that you look at the services offered by your competitors, their rates, and also how satisfied their customers are with the services they get.
The few steps you can take to become a merchant services reseller are to first create a survey on several businesses in your area, determine the most common services they use, and evaluate the satisfaction level of customers with their current payment providers.
Another important step that you need to take is to gather client information, such as phone numbers or email addresses. These details will help you when you start sending out pitches.
Crafting a Comprehensive Business Plan
For you to become a credit card processing agent and be successful in it, you will need to come up with a detailed business plan.
It is okay if you are not a seasoned writer, but you can hire one to do the work for you. Better still, there are several business plan templates available online that you can use.
There are several details that need to be included in your business plan; some of these details include:
- How you intend to run your venture
- The executive summary about your business
- How you intend to raise startup capital
- Products and services you will be offering
- Marketing and sales analysis
- SWOT analysis
- And more
Ideally, the business plan for a credit card processing company can serve as proof to investors and stakeholders that you are serious about with your venture as the document shows all the strategies.
A great business plan can help you win funding from various investors and banks.
How to Finance Your Credit Card Processing Business
Most business requires a startup capital; the same case applies to credit card processing companies.
To become a credit card processing agent, you need to consider where you are going to get funding to start your venture. You will also need to cater for all the operational costs until you start realizing some profits.
According to research, on average, a minimum of $51,000 is needed to start a payment processing company.
There are options that you can use to get financing for your credit card processing company, some of these options include;
- Getting a loan from banks
- Approaching investors
- Getting funding from business partners
- Using your savings or selling assets to raise funds
- Sourcing some funds from friends and family members.
Launching Your Merchant Services Reseller Company
Once all the above are set up, you can go ahead and launch your credit card processing company. There are other finer details that you will need to consider before you do this. These include finding the appropriate location for your business, understanding the requirements which you must have beforehand, and understanding the manpower needed to run the business.
To become a payment service provider, you should fully implement your business plan. The best way is to strictly follow the plan without cutting corners.
Tip: Due to the competitive nature of the credit card processing business, it is critical to ensure that your business stands out.
Put more efforts to stand out among your competitions. The best way to do this is to have a business network. You can reach out to organizations and corporations to widen your reach and customer base.
Marketing Plan for Your Credit Card Processing Company
- Just like any other business, a marketing plan is a must. You can do all the above work, but if you don’t come up with an effective marketing plan, you might fail.
- Take your marketing strategies seriously. The following are some effective marketing ideas that you can use.
- Use social media platforms to spread the word about your business
- Reach out to stakeholders, clients, and managers of big corporations
- Make sure that your business is listed in local directories
- Use TVs, magazines, newspapers, and radio to advertise your business
- Start bidding for available contracts
To further increase your reach to potential clients, you can create business cards, flyers, pamphlets, or business website.
Tips To Help You Run a Successful Credit Card Processing Business
In order to succeed in starting a processing processing company, understand that you will not only be providing requirements and services to help process payment for customers BUT also, you will be selling yourself. As a credit card processor, you will need to clearly show potential clients why they need your services. Show them the benefits they will get from your services. Never seize to reach out to potential customers. In addition, ensure that you do a follow up on those pitches. To simplify the process of becoming a credit card processing agent, North American Bancard provides all the tools you need for a successful credit card processing business.
All around the world, there are thousands of businesses that use vital services that are referred to as merchant services. These are services such as payment processing, which is what allows businesses to accept and process payments so that they can make a profit on their product. Without these services, businesses would be unable to function in the modern world. You might think that the fact that these services are an absolute necessity to these businesses make them an easy target for selling, but that is now always the case. There are definitely some positives as well as some negatives when selling merchant services.
This guide will show you some of each and hopefully give you some insight as to whether a career selling merchant services is right for you.
Undoubtedly, there are some very positive aspects of selling merchant services for a living. If you have had a sales job that is similar in the past, you already have known some of these benefits. Here are some of the best things about selling merchant services.
There is always a market
One of the best things about working in the merchant services industry is that there is never a lack of demand for these services. There are always new businesses sprouting up as people chase their passion for owning their own business. And existing businesses are always evaluating their options and ensuring that they are getting the best deal on the market. For that reason, you won’t ever have to worry about the industry as a whole drying up. People will always need to spend digital money and businesses will always need to find a way to accept it.
Set your schedule
For many that are in a commission-based sales job, one of the greatest benefits of it is being able to get to the point where you are working when you want to work instead of punching a time clock when you get to work. When you are a partner in a merchant services ISO agent program, you will be able to set your appointments on a schedule that works well for you.
Build passive income
Finding and signing clients to lucrative merchant processing contracts is hard work, nobody denies that. However, all of the hard work that you put into this process could end up paying out tenfold throughout the years. One of the greatest things about being a merchant services salesperson is that your accounts can earn you passive and residual income long after you have closed them to a contract. This could help you build passive income for years to come and eventually phase out the bulk of the labor that is involved in this career.
High commission rates
When you compare merchant services to other industries out there, you will find that it has a very competitive and comparatively high commission rate compared to those other industries. The high price of the contracts and the fact that they continue to pay out for years to come is what makes these sales so valuable and why some of the best salespeople in the world turn to merchant services when they want to increase their earning potential.
Just as there are many pros to selling merchant services, there are also some aspects that could prove difficult. You should watch out for these aspects and consider whether they are something that you are able to overcome and overlook.
Highly competitive industry
There is always a lot of demand for merchant services, but this fact also means that there is a lot of competition. One of the hardest aspects of selling merchant services is that you will always have competition breathing down your neck, waiting to provide your client with a better rate. This is really where your ability to create and nurture relationships will come in handy with client retention. This industry is not for those that don’t like competition and healthy capitalist tendencies.
Dependent on success to make money
When you are a merchant services representative in any industry, you know that your ability to make money is heavily dependent on the success that you have when selling your product or service. It’s no different in selling credit card processing accounts. If you want to have a good income, then you will need to become skilled at selling these products. If you don’t feel confident that you can do that, then it might not be the right choice for you.
Though you might hear the term ISO or Independent Sales Organization used a lot in the merchant services business, people don't always use it accurately. Let's take a look at what this term actually means according to credit card companies and banks.
What is an ISO?
Basically, a merchant services ISO program is an entity (a company or a person) who is not a MasterCard or Visa member bank—also known in general as Association members—yet they have a relationship with these banks. This can mean many things. For example, they may find new customers, offer customer service to the merchants, or sell terminals to them.
What is an MSP?
An MSP (Member Service Provider) is more or less similar to a credit card processing ISO program, though this isn't always exactly the case. An MSP is more of a “middle man” usually, a company that is often not an Association member, but who provides services to members.
What Do ISOs and MSPs Do For Their Banks?
First of all, remember that neither MSPs nor merchant services ISO agents are actually banks. The MSP / ISO will contract a processing bank to do this, and each MSP / ISO must have this kind of relationship with a bank to be able to process credit cards.
Under normal circumstances, the acquiring bank will be an Association member with both Visa and Mastercard, and they usually register for both at the same time. ISOs in turn can have relationships with more than one bank. By the way, these processing banks can also engage in vertical integration and become their own ISOs. This isn't common, though, and normally they will just specialize in processing credit cards, since it takes a lot of resources to draw in leads all the time.
An ISO is required to disclose their processing bank on their brochures, website, and other material. Usually, these are somewhere inconspicuous, like the bottom of a page.
How Does an ISO / MSP Register with the Credit Card Companies?
It's not exactly easy. First, the merchant services ISO needs to find a processing bank that will serve as a sponsor. Next, the merchant services ISO has to demonstrate to the companies that they have the means to perform their duties. Afterwards, there's lots of paperwork to do. For example, a merchant services ISO program might have to provide:
- Financial statements / tax returns
- Incorporation documents
- Their business plan
- Their sales material
- A list of their sales agents
On top of all of that, the owners of the companies will also have their credit checked.
What Kind of Fees Does an ISO / MSP Have to Pay For Registration?
Once they are actually approved, the fees are $10,000 upfront. These fees are paid every year as well, as part of a review process.
What Are So-Called Sales Agents?
Many times it's helpful for merchant services ISOs to have an independent sales team, so they will hire sales agents to find interested merchants. According to MasterCard, a sales agent is someone who provides services to a member, but isn't an MSP. In other words, sales agents don't have to be Association members, since the merchant services ISO program is the one that takes care of the processing. Sales agents have to be registered, however, though the fee is quite negligible—something like $50 every year. Sales agents, though functioning somewhat independently, can't advertise as a service provider and have to use the name of their merchant services company.
What Option Works Best?
Is it enough to be a merchant services sales agent? Or should you consider becoming a merchant services ISO or MSP, even though it requires going through all that bureaucratic process? Like anything else, this really depends. How much processing volume do you have? Obviously, you get a better price per transaction as a merchant services ISO, so you'll need to make some calculations and decide for yourself whether the increased profit margin is worth the overhead costs.
Be cautious, though, when looking at proposals from processing banks. There might be some fine print in there that can come back to haunt you. Specifically, look for fees that might cut into your profit, such as minimum processing fees. Minimum processing fees are charged when transaction fees during a certain period don't reach a minimum threshold.
These minimum processing fees can sometimes be really exorbitant, so watch out for them. Sometimes they can run into tens of thousands of dollars per month, and if you can't come up with the transaction fees, you'll be paying the difference yourself.
If you don't have a large portfolio yet, this can really harm you. Let's say the minimum processing fee for you is $6,000 every month. Let's say that, like many ISO's, you make an average of between $0.07 to $0.09 for every transaction. You would basically need to make 66,600 to 85,700 transactions on a monthly basis just to reach the minimum, which is unfeasible if you are a brand new company.
Usually, your processing bank will give you a period of time to build up your clientèle, however. If you think you can manage to reach a volume that surpasses the minimum processing fees by this time, then go right ahead and become a merchant service provider. However, make sure that you calculate everything very carefully.
By the way, since you're kind of expected to increase volume over time, the whole minimum processing fee can increase as well. That's right, a bank can progressively charge you more and more. For example, they may have given you a minimum fee of $4,000 in year 1, but every year that your contract renews, they might increase it by a lot—maybe even by the original amount, so that you're paying $4,000 more every subsequent year.
You can probably see why this would be a problem. Your fees are growing linearly, but your portfolio might not be. In fact, it is unlikely that your business would be able to support that amount of growth every year, unless your company is just so great that people are abandoning their merchant service agreements just to work with you. Either way, never sign an agreement that has fine print like this. Fees that increase like this are not very sustainable and you may get ripped off in the end.
Another (Not Great) Alternative
One thing you can do is to try to find a small bank that doesn't have any minimum fees at all. The problem here, though, is that their pricing might not be as good of a deal as larger processing banks, and their service might not be as reliable.
Besides, these smaller processors often have their own version of a minimum fee requirement—instead of transactions, they require you to bring in a certain number of new clients per month. If you don't comply, then you could stand to lose your residuals. In other words, you could have worked for years to build up a portfolio of dozens of merchants, and you could be bringing in a huge volume for your bank. You might have built up to tens of thousands of dollars per month for yourself, but your bank requires you to bring in five new merchants, and you only brought in four.
What happens? You lose all of your income, just like that. Does that sound fair to you? Your processor still has all of those accounts, but you are left in the dust. It's not really “passive income” if you have to keep adding a certain arbitrary amount of merchants per month, is it?
All of this can be confusing if you are new, but you can probably draw a few conclusions from it and get an idea of your game plan. To put it simply, if I had to start in this business over again knowing what I know now, I would just pick a large ISO and become a merchant services agent for them. This would help me learn about the industry and build up some income, and I wouldn't be risking falling victim to some fine print from my processing banks, or having to pay huge fees just to stay in business. I would work with several merchant services ISOs until I had decided which one was the best fit for me long-term.
After that, I would stop working with all of the other merchant services ISOs and concentrate on the best one exclusively until my volume had increased substantially. Once I thought I could pay all of the entry fees, I would consider becoming a merchant services ISO myself. I would speak with my merchant services ISO and see if they have a sponsorship program. Either way, I would shop around and be a hard negotiator, and not settle with a sponsor until I had a fair deal that I could actually work with.
Last, I'd hire an attorney to look over the paperwork. Yes, attorneys can be expensive, but in a business like this they are worth their weight in gold. You don't want to sign something without understanding all of the ramifications. Once that was settled and the deal seemed right, only then would I sign the agreement.