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Can’t Make Heads or Tails of Your Credit Card Processing Statements? You’re Not Alone

Posted September 24, 2013 by John Schott

Sitting in front of me are merchant statements from five different utilities. As I comb through the hodgepodge of fees, I am flabbergasted by the confusing statements. No two are alike, not even close.

In most cases, the fee names aren’t even similar. The number and names of these fees are endless: batch header, PCI, FANF, cross border, access, assessment, breach plus, NABU, usage, data transmission, zero amount, and literally hundreds of others.

The disparity between each statement makes it nearly impossible for merchants to understand the precise services they will receive as well as the appropriate service costs.

This uncertainty reminds me of the last time my wife and I shopped for a mattress. Since mattress manufacturers don’t use consistent industry terms, it was impossible for us to comparison shop or read reviews. We felt completely in the dark about the $2,500 purchase we were about to make. Other than the price tag and lying on the mattress at the store for five minutes, we had no other way to assess this critical purchase (and the potential for a good night’s sleep).

Even with some price haggling, we really had no gauge to confirm that we purchased wisely. Was the price fair or a rip-off? Did we get a quality product at a reasonable price? A few nights would reveal if we were consumer-savvy or not. But credit card processing fees aren’t so easy to figure out either. And why do these companies make credit card processing services and pricing so difficult to understand?

The short answer is that it’s the nature of the beast. The industry itself is a hodgepodge of back-end networks that lack consistency. Even network consolidation through acquisition by larger companies doesn’t change things either. The technological underpinnings remain the same; meaning that even if payments are processed by the same company, the behind-the-scenes processes can be very different.

The primary problem stems from lack of incentives to change current processes and methodologies within the industry. Like buying a mattress, when a utility can’t make an apples-to-apples comparison (so that they clearly understand the related fees and services), there is an opportunity for the vendor to make more money and possibly provide less services. In the case of credit card processing, “confusion” pays.

What can you do about it?

A good starting point is to work with a trusted company. It should be one with motivations atypical of the processing vendor norm. Take TWI, for instance. We are a full-service payment processor today, but we didn’t start as a payment processor at all. We were founded as a software firm, delivering successful billing and payment solutions for utilities and governments but not actually processing ourselves. As a result, we interfaced with hundreds of credit card processors as we developed our billing and payment solutions. Though it was a frustrating experience, it was invaluable because we gleaned tremendous insight as to how confused customers feel about processing fees and services.

From this insight we found the best ways to marry technology and processing services that produced the comfort utilities were looking for. The outcome of our work and interactions with processors is a clear, definitive and comprehensive set of credit card processing services, designed exclusively for utilities and governments. It takes the guesswork out of knowing whether services and pricing are fair and transparent. Frustration and confusion are gone for our customers and ourselves. Unlike traditional processors that focus on benefitting from confusion without investing the time and effort to ensure that customers understand the process and charges, TWI makes education and awareness part of our central objective.

Ensure that you work with a payment processor that specializes in utility companies’ unique challenges and that the providers are transparent in their offerings and help you understand the best pricing strategies for your service needs. Do so and you will surely receive better service and reduced costs. You shouldn’t expect anything less.

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