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Picking a Merchant Account Provider: Key Questions to Ask and Their Answers

imac-606765_1920Looking for a merchant account? You’re not the first. And, this a huge advantage you have over others who have already gone before you. Here are some questions you should ask, and expert answers you should get.

Do You Offer Live Support?

It sounds simple enough: You want support and it’s the middle of the day. You call the 800 number and no one answers. Uh oh. Now what?

Ask about customer service options before you sign a deal with a merchant account provider. Not all merchant accounts are well-supported and some don’t offer free support. What you really want is a provider that offers 24/7 support, even if that “middle of the night” support comes from India or some third-world country. Having the ability to pick up the phone and talk to a human trumps email – every time.

When a provider doesn’t have a phone number, it could mean any number of things. Usually, however, you won’t be getting immediate support on any problem. If you never have a problem, this is great. If you do, however, it could become a nightmare.

How Long Have You Been In Business?

You want someone with a proven track record and that understands your business, specifically. You should be set up with a team of professionals that have years of experience – stay away from newbies in the merchant account space, regardless of the low prices or generous gifts they promise you.

Will I Be Able To Process Online And Offline Transactions?

Believe it or not, not all merchant account providers offer mobile and online transactions.

Static terminals are the standard in the industry. These are hardwired into your broadband connection, but are usually secured with screws and brackets to the counter. There’s not really much flexibility there. If the customer doesn’t come into your store, you can’t process transactions without keying the card in (which is considered very risky).

Wireless systems are becoming more popular, which is a good thing. You’re not bolted down, but you still can’t leave the store. So, while it’s an improvement over static systems, it’s not ideal for all customers.

Mobile terminals let you take your business anywhere you go. Readers are attached to your mobile device so you can swipe or “dip” the card into the terminal and have the customer sign for the transaction.

Your merchant account provider should also give you access to a virtual terminal. Ask for this specifically, because some banks still don’t offer it or consider it too risky, or will charge exorbitant fees for the privilege.

Are You PCI Compliant? Am I?

All merchant account providers have to be PCI compliant. This means that the provider adheres to certain safety and security protocols that protect customer data. And, many providers advertise the fact that they are PCI compliant.

Not being compliant means hefty fees and penalties, and might result in the provider having their ability to process credit and debit cards revoked. But, what many providers don’t tell you, or don’t make clear, is that their compliance doesn’t mean you will be compliant.

When you collect credit card data on a website, or in your store, you must have your system and process audited for PCI compliance. This is to ensure that you are doing everything you can to minimize and prevent fraud.

So, make sure you ask about this, and ask about approved vendors that can audit you.

Isobel Black combines IT know-how with merchant services experience to find retailing solutions. She enjoys sharing her insights online and is a regular contributor for several B2B websites.

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