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ISO Merchant Agents – Best Companies to Resell For

What is an ISO Merchant Agent?

An ISO (Independent Sales Organization) is a person or a group of persons that are contracted by a credit card processor or acquiring bank to sell financial services to merchants that want to process credit cards or need working capital. ISO Agents act like “middle men”, connecting businesses to merchant account providers. There are two types of ISO’s in the credit card processing industry: Registered (essentially a merchant sales agent) and Unregistered (more like an independent company).

Many professionals stay as unregistered ISO for the following reasons: 1) A lengthy, thorough, and expensive application process. 2) Both personal and professional history are closely scrutinized.

These characteristics are expected from an ISO Merchant Agent:

– Credit card industry knowledge.

– Excellent communication skills.

– Sales and cold calling experience.

The Best Companies for a Successful ISO Merchant Agent

Besides the obvious financial benefits, there are many factors an ISO should consider before joining any merchant account provider.

Access to the High Risk Market:

Most financial institution are selective about the businesses to which they provide merchant accounts. To reduce risk, some merchant account processors limit approval to merchants in its geographical area, those with a physical retail storefront, or those that have been in business for 2 years or more. Not accepting High Risk Merchants (more prone to to charge-backs and credit card fraud), could leave a gaping hole in an ISO’s ability to provide services. The best companies for ISO Agents are those that allow Independent sales organizations to attract and sign merchants from a wide range of profitable markets with ease.

Fast Merchant Account Approvals:

Same day, 24hrs. and 48hrs. approvals are essential in this competitive environment. Hassle free termination policies are also important in the event that a merchant decides to cancel services.

Marketing Support:

ISO Agents needs a high degree of marketing and sales support to engage merchants in a compelling way. The list of marketing materials include well designed color brochures, business cards, an optimized website, etc.

Tech Support:

Your merchants need working credit card terminals (retail stores) and functional software (online businesses). They have to be trained by a knowledgeable technical staff who can also assist them in case of system failures.

To Wrap up:

Successful ISO Merchant Agents are those who resell for smart and honest merchant account providers. Trust is a key factor in any business relation but it is especially important in the credit card processing industry. Merchants have many options to choose from when it comes to opening a merchant account. ISO agents need to build and sustain a special bond with the clients in order to be successful in the long run. But all your personal efforts are meaningless if the merchant account provider you are reselling for doesn’t perform his part of the deal: delivering high quality merchant processing services in a consistent manner. There are many good companies to partner with so take your time, do your research, and ask the hard questions on your first meeting. Good luck!

Merchant Processing – A Primer

Merchant service providers (or payment processors) facilitate the processing of consumer electronic payments. It generally involves the use of credit cards but can also apply to debit cards and direct debits to a payer’s bank account.

Merchant service providers process transactions where the card is physically present or on line. The differences between the two occur in the beginning of the sales transactions. The back end processes for physical and on-line credit card sales are the same.

The merchant service process involves several steps and transaction parties. It begins when a consumer presents a card for payment.

Brick and Mortar Stores

  • The purchaser presents the physical card to the merchant;
  • The card is swiped at the register;
  • If a debit card is used, a purchaser inputs the pin number;
  • If a credit card is used, the purchaser signs the receipt;
  • Data from the magnetic strip on the card (along with the pin number, if applicable) are transmitted to a merchant service provider for validation.

On-line Stores

  • The purchaser inputs the required verification information into an on-line shopping cart and then through to a gateway;
  • Because no card is present, the purchaser needs to input the data found on the magnetic strip (account number, name, address, etc.);
  • The gateway transmits the data to a merchant service provider’s validation system.

Merchant Services Provider

  • The merchant services provider verifies that the card is not on a lost, stolen or cancelled list; and that the amount of the transaction does not put the card over the credit limit.
  • Merchant service providers maintain extensive databases of fraudulent cards.
  • They also maintain an intricate system for identifying risky transactions.
  • Merchant service providers first “authorize” a transaction and then “settle” the transaction. The authorization process determines that the card is valid and has enough credit available. The settlement process actually charges the card holder’s account.

Approval Process

For a credit or debit card, validation data is included in the magnetic strip. This includes card number, country code, name, and telephone number and expiration date. The address may be included on the strip as well.

For on-line or phone transactions, the merchant uses a gateway to process the transactions. The gateway allows consumers to input enough data to validate card ownership, i.e. it effectively takes the place of the magnetic strip and card reader. In both types of transactions, the payment processor needs to check that the purchaser has a right to use the card.

“Chargebacks” is the industry term for reversing a prior payment if there is evidence that the card was used fraudulently or if the merchant failed to deliver the agreed-upon goods or services. There are certain validation rules that prevent merchants from accepting fraudulent cards; and merchants may choose to enhance security and further limit fraudulent activity.

Once the card is approved by the payment processor, the transaction is approved.

Merchant Acquiring Bank

A merchant service provider works with a merchant acquiring bank to facilitate the transfer of funds to and from the various issuing banks. The acquiring bank will collect charges from all of their merchants and send those charges to the issuing banks. Funds collected from issuing banks are sent back to the merchant’s banks. This exchange of funds happens daily.

Processing Fees and Deposits

Determining fees can be complex. Fees are assessed by the merchant service providers, the merchant acquiring banks and the banks that issue cards. Fees include a fixed amount per transaction; plus a discount %; plus a monthly fixed amount for gateway and statement charges. Fees can increase based on other factors, such as risk inherent in certain types of cards (e.g., corporate cards); or if the card is part of a points program. Fees generally run between 2 ½% and 3 ½%.

Visa, MasterCard and Discover receipts are usually deposited together. Fees are normally collected and billed to a merchant once a month. Fees may also be deducted before the transaction amount is deposited into the merchant’s bank account, but this is less common.

Deposits are made to a merchant’s bank account 1 to business 3 days following the transaction. Merchant acquiring banks may also hold back a reserve from the deposit to the merchant’s bank account. If a merchant is paid in advance and goes out of business before providing a service; or if they go out of business and cannot make good on a return, the bank is liable to the consumer. The reserve protects the bank from this possibility.

American Express

With respect to American Express, they operate are their own closed system. American Express functions as issuing bank, payment processor and merchant acquiring bank. American Express has had the reputation of providing the best service and protection to users and merchants; but they also charge the highest fees.

Visa, MasterCard and Discover all use the same clearing process run by third party banks and service providers.

Direct Debits

Payment processors can also process “direct debits” charging the purchaser’s bank account and depositing the funds into the seller’s bank account. This transaction method is less common. Direct debits are used primarily for subscription based services; and are usually done when the purchaser is unlikely to cancel the service, e.g., a utility bill. Fees to the merchant are usually lower, often running at 1% or less.

As mentioned earlier, direct debits are not very common in the U.S. These types of transactions, i.e. direct deductions from a purchasers bank account, are more commonly done with debit cards or recurring ACH payments. This somewhat obviates the need for a direct debit process.

Chargebacks

As mentioned earlier, the bank issuing the card will reverse a prior charge if there is evidence that the card was used fraudulently or if the merchant failed to deliver the agreed-upon goods or services. The chargeback will be sent to the merchant acquiring bank and then to the merchant. The merchant will have a certain amount of time to challenge the chargeback by proving that the purchaser did, in fact, order and receive the goods or services. The merchant acquiring bank will determine if the merchant has proven their case.

The chargeback rate that is considered acceptable is less than 1%. Over 1% and the merchant will risk a reserve holdback by the merchant acquiring bank and / or cancellation by MasterCard or Visa.

Merchant Account Offshore to Protect High Risk Processing

Could your business survive in the market if your merchant account was suddenly canceled? What are your backup plans to protect your business against losing high risk processing capabilities?

Diversification of high risk processing is a simple strategy that can help you safeguard your business interests. Businesses in high risk processing categories must establish multiple accounts, including a merchant account offshore, to protect their business operations against fraud or charge-backs. Establishing a merchant account offshore in several jurisdictions is vital for assuring the continuing viability of your business.

There are many instances of businesses losing payment processing accounts. Money that is urgently required for running the business is being held by the processing bank. The bank will hold the money up to 180 days, as a protective measure against any possible charge-backs. The money will be kept in protection even if the merchant has never had a charge-back in the past dealings.

Without a back up with a merchant account offshore, companies may have no option left but to close their business.

Single High Risk Processing Account is Dangerous to Merchants

Companies with good payment processing reputation may think that a bank will keep on processing their payments as long as their business account is in a good standing. The merchant is surprised and dismayed when the bank suddenly decides to stop high risk processing.

The most common reason for cancellation of a merchant processing account is when the account is not managed properly by the merchant. The merchant may have an unusually high number of charge-backs, refunds or consumer dissatisfaction instance. These things force the bank to either cancel the account straightaway or put high risk processing restrictions or reserves on the merchant account. The ability to quickly switch the payment processing to a merchant account offshore is crucial for a business’ continued functioning.

Even in the cases when the merchant has no charge-backs, his account may be canceled by the bank. For instance, if a merchant experiences rapid growth in processing volumes he might be notified that his account is going to be canceled by the bank.

Even companies that are not in high risk processing category face this problem at times. For instance, common sense indicates that banks would be happy with fast growth as it brings them more business. But in reality, the opposite is true. Businesses that show fast growth can easily find themselves getting classified as high risk processing account simply because they are expanding too fast. High volumes of processing can often lead to account cancellation or imposition of large reserves.

Businesses frequently get very little warning when their high risk processing account is about to be canceled. If a merchant is lucky, the bank will offer him 30 day notice before account cancellation. More commonly, a merchant realizes that his account has been canceled when the settlements stop happening on time. The reality behind this is that the bank is trying to keep as much money as possible from the merchant in anticipation of closing the account.

Another common instance is when the bank suddenly changes the underwriting policies and stops accepting high risk processing merchant types. A bank might be sold or merged with another financial institution leading to change in policies. Merchants can be put on notice that processing for their account will stop within 30 days.

Sometimes entire industries are outlawed by the government of a particular country and without a merchant account offshore, a business can go bust.

Merchant Account Offshore Ensure Business Continuity

Merchants sometimes wonder why they should establish a merchant account offshore when they can get another account in the same country? The answer is as simple as the old adage “Do not put all your eggs in one basket.”

With the changing political and economic conditions the world over, a merchant account offshore diversifies the high risk payment processing. A merchant account offshore is your ace in the hole to make sure that your business is protected all the time.