What is a payment processor: 3 important terms to know
As a busy merchant, you likely take credit card payments from your customers on a daily basis, but you probably don't think much about it. You may not even know exactly what a payment processor does, which can be a problem if an issue arises with your payments solution. In this article, we’ll look at three terms you need to know about payments. Let’s begin by answering this question, “What is a payment processor?”
Acquirer vs. processor
The terms “acquirer” and “payment processor” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different functions. An acquirer is the financial institution that processes credit and/or debit card transactions, while a payment processor is a company that communicates with the issuing banks. After the customer has swiped their card, received confirmation from your website, or hung up the phone, both the acquirer and the payment processor each service a unique function.
A payment processor acts as the mediator between you and the financial institutions involved in payment transactions. Processors authorize transactions and ensure you get paid on time by facilitating the transfer of funds from your customers' accounts to your own. Customer transactions at a physical retail location or online are authorized by referencing a number of different factors like customer available funds, billing address verification, or via EMV. A payment processor can help recommend payment solutions that work best for your business, such as the most useful credit card processingterminal.
The acquirer is most often the merchant or retailers bank. The acquirer is responsible for taking the approved transaction (that was approved by the payment processor) and settling the transactions. Approved transactions are cleared through the interchange and once processed, are deposited into the retailers account.
Introduced in 2004, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of requirements designed to ensure all companies that process, store, and/or transmit card information maintain a secure environment. Any merchant that accepts card payments must comply with PCI mandates. Failure to comply leaves a merchant vulnerable to a data breach and the ensuing negative fallout including fines, fees, and lost business. PCI compliance is complex, especially PCI compliance for small business. To help, many payment processors offer some type of compliance assistance to their merchants. This can range from check-lists to hands-on help, breach coverage, and more. Because PCI mandates are updated regularly, it’s a good idea to partner with an experienced processor that offers a complete PCI compliance assistance program.
By now you have probably heard about EMV or chip cards. EMV terminals have become more commonplace since the fraud chargeback liability shift occurred in October 2015. The liability shift placed new responsibilities on merchants for card-present fraud. Basically, if your business processes a chip card without an EMV-enabled terminal, you could be held responsible for any fraud that results. Before the liability shift, merchants could expect the credit card companies to take responsibility for card-present fraud– not anymore. EMV compliant terminals can help to protect the retailer from being held accountable for fraudulent card present transactions. Upgrading to an EMV-enabled terminal is a smart move to help prevent card-present fraud. It’s important to note, however, that EMV does not protect against a breach. So be sure to ask your payment processor about available solutions to prevent sensitive card data from being stolen.
Payments aren’t as simple as they seem, but knowing a few terms can go a long way. So can partnering with the right payment processor. A trustworthy and experienced processor will keep you informed about all things related to merchant services, and be available to answer questions and assist with industry changes like the shift to EMV.