Finding the “Best” Acquirer

A common and frequent question we get asked is, “who is the best credit card processor?”  I usually smile because it is like asking a frequently flyer which airline is the best.  There are travelers who have horror stories about each and every airline, at least amongst domestic carriers.  Similarly, we have not found a single best credit card processor, or merchant acquirer, that addresses every need in the marketplace.  Tier one firms typically offer similar levels of service, competitive pricing, and technology.  Few distinctions amongst acquirers can be based on their product/service functionality (online chargeback management, electronic signature capture, configurable reporting, etc.) and certification to various gateways and point-of-sale systems.  So determining the best processor really depends on a merchant’s needs.

So how do you determine your organization’s needs?  Our experience in managing acquirer RFPs (Request for Proposal) and RFIs (Request for Information…less formal and faster than a RFP) for large companies has identified the following six categories that are critical in selecting and developing the optimal acquiring relationship.  This same table can be used as an acquirer selection matrix…with rankings for each acquirer based on selection criteria.  Since we usually deal with tier one acquirers and have had past experience work with them, we do not invest as much time in vetting them.  So before issuing a RFP or RFI, a merchant should appoint a person or committee to identify the organization’s technology and treasury needs within these categories.  Next, create specific questions to uncover an acquirer’s capabilities within each of these categories. 

Key Acquirer Selection Categories

Acquirer 1

Acquirer 2

Acquirer 3

Acquirer 4

A. Technology Needs
1) POS Integration
2) Transition & Implementation Execution
B. Treasury Needs
3) Reporting
4) Relationship / Customer Service
5) Service Features & Functionality
6) Financial Considerations

Once these questions are incorporated into an RFP/RFI, the data from resulting responses, acquirer presentations, and Q&A sessions can be distilled, and selection committee rankings can be incorporated into this selection matrix. If your organization has other selection criteria, they can be easily added to this selection matrix.

Now in terms of tier one acquirers, here are the seven largest acquirers based on annual transactions processed (Nilson 2010 report).   Data from bank alliances and joint ventures is included with the respective acquirer.  For instance, data from First Data’s alliance relationships with SunTrust, Citi Merchant Services and joint ventures with PNC, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America Merchant Services is included in the First Data numbers.

  1. First Data Merchant Services
  2. Fifth Third Processing Solutions
  3. Chase Paymentech
  4. Heartland Payment Systems
  5. RBS WorldPay
  6. Elavon
  7. Global Payments

All of these acquirers are large, respectable firms and few of them should be on every merchant’s short list.

E-mail us at if you have any questions about any of these acquirers or would like insight on efficiently managing your RFP/RFI.

Anand Goel is an expert in the payments industry and founder of Optimized Payments Consulting. Optimized Payments helps companies understand, manage, and significantly reduce the cost of electronic payments.

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