(April 2021 Update)
If your UK based business is looking to start taking card payments or wanting to switch from your current payment processor you’re faced with a confusing array of over 50 payment service providers (PSPs) of varying types, quality and transparency.
Whilst some companies can straddle multiple categories we will split out the popular payment processing companies into their main categories below to make it easier to compare like with like.
The payment processing ecosystem can be a bit confusing with merchant service providers, MSPs, merchant accounts, payment service providers and PSP terms being used interchangeably to describe companies specialising in just one or multiple stages of the card payment process. It can get pretty confusing so hopefully this article will help illustrate the payment processing landscape.
Merchant acquirers, also known as acquiring banks, provide businesses with their merchant account and maintain the necessary card scehme membership relationships (Card Scheme Memberships) with Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and the other card schemes (also known as card networks).
For most small businesses in the UK applying directly to merchant acquirers will be too complex and likely to result in rejection. Then again, if you’re a large retailer with a serious number of card payments to process each month, going directly to an acquiring bank could be the simplest and most cost-effective option.
|American Express||Elavon||Secure Trading FS (Online only)|
|Bank of Ireland (Evo Payments)||First Data / Fiserv||Truevo|
|Borgun||Lloyds Bank Cardnet||Wirecard|
Purchased by FIS for $43 Billion in 2019, Worldpay is the UK’s leading merchant account provider and it’s also one of the biggest names in global payments, processing 400 card transactions around the world every second. If you’re looking for the best features and security from a payment provider with a strong global presence, Worldpay should be one of the first names on your list of considerations – precisely why it’s the first provider we’re looking at in this guide.
Worldpay also works with UnionPay and Alipay in Asian markets, which means you can target its booming consumer populations and the growing number of Asian tourists spending money in the UK every year.
All major credit and debit cards are accepted and PayPal is also supported by Worldpay’s gateway, covering more than 116 currencies around the world. You can also set up recurring payments for subscription-based services and manage transactions with its online reporting tool.
In another mega deal of 2019, First Data was acquired by Fiserv in all-stock deal with an equity value of $22 billion. As well as working with several ISOs, Fiserv provide card payment services directly to business via their Clover hardware and ecommerce solutions. Subsideries include Clover Network and Bluepay.
Barclaycard has been providing merchant accounts for more than 50 years now and it remains one of the UK’s top providers, despite competition increasing substantially over the past decade. Operating under the Barclays group, Barclaycard offers extensive payment services but you have to work pretty hard to get an account with them.
Similar to other high street banks offering merchant services, Barclays is very selective about the businesses it provides payment services for. It’ll want to look through your company history and assess your business model before offering any kind of contract. These will be long-term contracts, too, with steep cancellation fees that aren’t particular SME-friendly.
That said, if you get through the application process and you’re comfortable with your contract, Barclaycard will offer some of the best merchant account services you’ll find in the UK.
As part of Lloyds Banking Group, Lloyds Bank Cardnet comes with the usual issues associated with a merchant account provided by a high-street bank: a lengthy application process, long-term contracts and high-termination fees.
Global Payments works with HSBC to provide merchant account services for roughly 20% of all transactions in the UK. Subsidiaries include Realex Payments, Heartland Payment Systems, Active Network, eWay
Merchant Service Providers (also known as MSPs, ISOs or Independent Sales Organisations) recruit merchants on behalf of an acquiring bank and takes a % of the merchant transaction fees as payment for their sales and customer service work. The benefit for merchants is that it can be easier to sign up to an ISO than a merchant acquirer who tend to have more in-depth and cumbersome approval procedures focused on larger businesses.
They may also be able to secure the cheapest rates for merchants than going to the merchant acquirer directly due to the volume of business they bring them. Whether these cheaper rates get passed on to their customers is down to the individual company and how they structure their fees. Here’s a breakdown of the Merchant Service Providers working with each acquirer in the UK.
|ISOs / MSPs >|
|AIB||Card Cutters||Card Saver||Bluebird Global||Fidelity Payment||Bleep|
|Barclaycard||AgentCash||TakePayments||Payment+||Universal Transaction Processing|
|Borgun||Glorydale Merchant Services|
|Elavon||Active Payments||BritPay||eMerchantPay||Intelligent Merchant Services||Retail Merchant Services|
|Global Payments||Retail Merchant Services||Annecto|
|EVO Payments||Card Saver||Handepay||Pago Payments|
|First Data / Fiserv||First Payment MS||NetPay||Paymentsense||United Merchant Services|
|Valitor||Chip & PIN Solutions|
Some details of the larger ISOs are shown below.
Paymentsense, an ISO of First Date Europe LTD, has been growing its market share over the last few years through a large (and some would say persistent) sales team who are given a certain about of flexibility to buy businesses out of their existing contracts.
The firm’s online reputation is mixed employees are open about how bad some customers are treated on employment boards. It’s generally praised for its locked-in rate guarantee but there continue to be complaints about lengthy contracts.
Handepay, an ISO of Evo Payments International, positions itself as an ISO that cuts out the complication and “unnecessary” fees that typically come with payment processing. It promises no setup fee, no authorisation fees, no minimum monthly service charge. Their online reputation is pretty good with contract renewals & cancellations one of the largest sources of complaints.
TakePayments, an ISO of Barclaycard, also promise to provide card payments without additional fees but they goes the extra step of offering 12-month contracts and no fees if you decide to leave once your contract is up.
There are cases of expensive cancellations and contract problems reported but not in the same volume most ISOs tend to be surrounded by. Meanwhile, its biggest problem appears to be a somewhat unresponsive and underwhelming customer support system when things go wrong.
Card Cutters, an ISO of AIB, specialises in card payments for smaller businesses and have received better feedback than most ISO’s since they were established in 2009.
They offer a range of services aimed at small to medium businesses, including card machine rental and online payment solutions.
A payment facilitator or PayFac simplifies payment processing for smaller businesses that are just starting out and/or don’t want to sign a monthly contract.
A Payfac essential recruits businesses on behalf of an acquiring bank and deals with all the customer service and hardware requirements. They pool transactions from thousands of merchants together so they are processed by the acquiring bank in one huge shared merchant account.
The fixed transaction fees charged by a payment facilitator is normally around 1.65% – 1.75% and up to 2.5% for ‘card not present’ transactions. These relatively high rates will really only make commercial sense for businesses with relatively low card turnover (less than £5K per month) and/or low average transaction values. Their main business comes from small businesses using their cheap card readers.
Square, which uses First Data as its acquirer, allows businesses to accept range of cards and digital wallets including Visa, V Pay, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express, Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.
Its minimal card reader is a common sight amongst cafes, hairdressers, mobile food vans and a plethora of other small businesses across the UK. Its retail and hospitality POS system is also taking market share from more established EPOS providers.
After Paypal purchased iZettle for $2.2 billion in 2018 and stopped promoting its own Paypal Here reader, Zettle has stepped up its fierce competition with Square and Sumup.
Their device is nearly always promoted with a discount as they wrestle for market share in lucrative small business sector where high fixed transaction costs pull in some extremely healthly profit margins.
SumUp, which uses First Data as its acquirer, are holding their own in the card reader wars with their Air and 3G card readers.
As with the other PayFacs above they remain focused on businesses with relatively low card volume who want simple pricing and no contractual tie-ins. They also offer online payment and pay by link options.
If you are looking to have more control over the checkout experience then it may be worth getting a specialised payment gateway rather than using the bundled in online payment solution offered by your merchant service provider. It may be more complicated to set up but it is likely to save you fees and give you more control over design and conversion rates. A couple to consider are:
Cardstream specialises in online payments, positioning itself as “the only independent white label payment gateway provider”. The white label element means you can fully customise your payment pages, forms and bills with your company’s branding. Much like Evo Snap, this customizability means you have some extra development and integration work but Cardstream sample code and a module infrastructure to make this process easier.
On the payment side of things, Cardstream has a huge partnership network of payment processors including Visa, MasterCard, JCB and all the names you would expect, plus support for PayPal, Apple Pay and other online/mobile solutions. It also works with every acquirer in the UK.
Ayden is not just a payment gateway as they offer provides comprehensive payment solutions for international businesses but they are well respected for their payment gateway solutions.
The likes of Uber, Netflix, Spotify and a whole bunch of the biggest online platforms in our lives use Ayden to process payments so you know you’re in good hands.
Full service payment processors and ISOs offer online payment solutions as part of their packages but you look into providers more specialised in ecommerce platforms and online payment systems. They generally offer fixed fees per transaction (making them poor value for high high-volume merchants) but they don’t require any real coding knowledge to implement like payment gateways do.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one ecommerce solution you can use to set up your online store, process payments and manage your online business, Shopify is pretty hard to beat.
It might not be the best or cheapest payment processing option given you’re forced to use it due to the relatively pricey Shopify Pay you are required to use but the ease of use and UX may make up for this.
Amazon Pay isn’t an ecommerce platform for merchants in the same way as Shopify or Klarna but it integrates with all the major platforms and a whole bunch more.
You can add Amazon Pay to almost any ecommerce platform and make use of one of the most trusted names in online shopping so your customers can process their payment extremely quickly.
Klarna may not have invented the Buy Now Pay later concept but it is dominating it within ecommerce. Online retailers get paid as normal but consumers can get spread payments over several weeks and months.
Klarna says their Pay Later functionality increases the size of shopping baskets by 20% and increases their value by 15% thanks to removing the friction of paying right away.
Whilst some of the payment processors above will enable UK business to accept foreign currency and operate abroad, the following companies are also worth checking out if you do have a multinational business (they are probably not the best choice for if you business is only focused on UK customers). They are experienced in enabling customers to take payments in multiple locations and currencies.
Allied Wallet is a US company that offers fully customisable international payment solutions. Designed for small and mid-sized businesses, their system integrates into every major shopping cart software available.
Paysafe (formally know as Netbanx) provides comprehensive merchant account and payment gateway services for international brands.
It specialises in multi-currency payments while accepting all major international credit and debit cards. With support for more than 100 currencies, there aren’t many merchant account providers that can help you sell to as many markets as Paysafe.
Monek calls itself a “global payments platform” that accepts all methods and a wide range of currencies so you can sell in-store, online and over the phone – all by using the same platform. It boasts an impressive range of payment features, strong security and an intelligent fraud prevention system.
If your business is associated with a high-risk industry, then your chances of securing a merchant account or card payment solution become substantially more difficult. There are a number of reasons you might be classed as a high-risk merchant:
There are various other reasons you could be deemed a high-risk merchant but they all result from banks suspecting your account will demand more time and resources less risky venture. In this case, you’ll need to seek out a specialist high-risk merchant account and here are some of the companies that provide them (you can get more information in our guide to high risk merchant accounts and providers)
Paydoo delivers both standard and high-risk merchant accounts to European and North American businesses. The software used is intended for non face-to-face payments, and the company claims to facilitate payments in 180 different countries.
Established in 2001, Instabill is located in Plymouth and focus on high-risk merchant accounts. It also provides overseas accounts, which may benefit those who deal in the US in particular.
GSPay (Global & Secure Pay)
GSPay charges around 4% to 10% depending on the industry, but it heavily promotes the global nature of its service, supporting “almost any credit card brand” from across the world.
Verotel focuses on serving high-risk, e-commerce transactions, in particular those who trade in digital goods and viewer subscriptions. The company has recently relocated away from San Francisco to Amsterdam, allowing it to capture more of the European market.
ccNetPay offer MOTO transaction processing for many different types of cards (upon request). The provider also supports real-time reporting and accepts payments from over 150 currencies. If you need a virtual terminal, ccNetPay can provide that too.
Zombaio offers payment solutions for accounts holding US dollars or Euros, payments from one of the 35 other supported currencies will then be automatically exchanged. The provider also advertises a fast onboarding process, along with strong fraud screening.
PayWorld’s customers range from start-ups to established, global businesses, with accounts that cover low and high risk industries and enterprises. PayWorld’s service provides free fraud scrubbing on every transaction and claims to have a fast approval process.
According to customers, Total Processing is “always looking for better ways to do things, innovate and help people achieve their goals” — which when you’ve been deemed ‘high risk’ by other account providers can be reassuring to know! Its thorough fraud protection approach includes email, device ID, IP and BIN hotlists, to easily ban particular payment sources.
CutPay has a humble amount of Trustpilot reviews but they are generally positive, with an average rating of 4/5. CutPay accepts payments from the four main types of debit and credit cards, along with a fast sign up process, low prices and invaluable 24/7 technical support.
CCBill doesn’t have the best online reviews (only 2.9 on Trustpilot), but the provider claims to offer an easy set-up, no credit check, advance fraud protection and 10 different payment page languages.
When you’re comparing merchant account and card processing services, it’s hard to know whether you’re getting the best deal as so many of their prices opaque. The reason why many do not publish their rates as they depend on many factors related to the volume of sales, the average transaction size, type of business, contract length and current targets they are trying to meet which may encourage reduced rates.
The best payment processor for you will be heavily be influenced by:
What is your average card turnover per month? What is your average transaction size? How long has your business been around? What sort of financial state is it in? Is it categorised as high-risk, moderate-risk or low-risk?
The answers to these questions will have a large influence on which payment processor is best for you.
Which type of card transactions will you be making? Face-to-face, over the phone, by post and/or online? There are providers who specialise in just online merchant accounts, but there are also those who can provide merchant accounts for all types of transactions
The services offered by most merchant account providers are not limited to just merchant accounts; they can also give you a full range of payment processing solutions, including card terminals, a virtual terminal or a payment gateway. That being said, you don’t have to choose the same provider for your merchant account and your payment processing service and it is often worth researching the different services of multiple providers. Some providers excel in some areas whilst are weaker or more expensive in others so it can often be beneficial to select a specialist for each element required – just make sure they all integrate easily.
Once you shortlist a few companies you need to speak to them in order to find the following if it is not obvious from their website:
You may also find it useful to read our guide: What is a merchant account?
Here are some tips on how to choose the best payment services for your business:
Know what you need (and don’t): Aside from choosing payment services that provide everything you need, you want to make sure you’re not paying for anything you don’t need.
Do your research: Always do your research on payment service companies before dealing with them.
Be wary of third-party sales teams: Be wary of third-party sales teams and try to speak to companies directly.
Compare quotes: Get quotes from multiple providers and carefully compare them.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate: You’re well within your rights to negotiate with these companies – especially if you’ve been given a better price elsewhere.
Know your contract: Make sure you read and understand everything in your contract before signing anything. Get a lawyer to review things for you, if necessary.
The merchant account services and payment processing industry has a bad reputation for hidden costs, dodgy contracts and all kinds of headaches. In many cases, this is justified but so many issues with these companies would be avoided if contracts were fully understood before merchants sign them.
Yes, contracts are made overly complex to catch people out but you have to be sceptical about the terms of any contract before you sign on the dotted line – especially in this industry.
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