The Illusion of a Good Deal

There’s no question that a lot people have a hard time wading through the confusing and overwhelming maze of data present on statements that they receive from their credit card processors. There’s a popular mental image that processors are merely robbing their customers, hitting them with a never-ending string of charges like convenience fees, access fees, risk fees, assessment fees, downgrades and the heavy-handed interchange.

"They do take advantage," said Robert Day, assistant vice president, Commercial Interchange, Third Fifth Processing Solutions at the recent NACM teleconference, "The Illusion of a Good Deal." "Interchange is where your focus needs to be. The issuing side of the house is where the money is made…they’re the ones that are driving the interchange."

Day warned that interchange, the fee collected by the acquirer from the merchant for every Visa and MasterCard transaction, can represent as much as 92% of a transaction’s costs. On commercial cards, the rate of interchange can be affected by the amount of detail a business can collect on the purchaser, such as zip code, location and tax ID as well as line item detail of the purchase, to lower the risk of the transaction being disputed. With lower risk comes a lower interchange rate, which can save anywhere from tens to hundreds of dollars on large ticket sales.

"Really, the key is getting the correct information and putting the information in correctly," said Day.

But even if a merchant does this, it could be moot.

Beyond the tangled mesh of fees upon fees, the problem for most businesses is that the account with their processor or gateway does not match their business’ needs or practices. Having an account that is set up incorrectly, which typically happens because of lack of experience or knowledge from the merchant or an Independent Sales Organization (ISO), like a local bank that re-sells the credit card processing, translates into wasted money and time. ISOs outnumber processors over 100-to-1 and are very common partners for business accounts, but their limited knowledge could mean that it would be nearly impossible for businesses to achieve lower interchange rates.

Day also warned that processors will simply try to take advantage of businesses. A common practice is that a processor will offer an attractive base rate, which will appear boldly on page one of a merchant’s statement, if the merchant will agree that the processor doesn’t have to disclose the rate they charge for downgrades. In this type of agreement, the processor will deliberately leave out the column for transaction volume on the statement so that the percentage charged on downgrades can’t be figured out. Day explained that if credit professionals see that this one column is absent, it might be time to take another look at the relationship with that processor.

"It doesn’t matter what discount rate is shown on page one," said Day. "Page one is there to humor you. Throw it away unless it aligns itself with page two. Otherwise, it just doesn’t matter."

Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer

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