Friday, January 13 2023
In this industry, you will often hear the words “merchant sales agents,” “Member Service Providers,” and “Independent Sales Organizations” used in a similar context, as if all three of these things are the same. The truth is that these terms actually refer to distinct roles in the credit card processing business. If this seems confusing to you, don't worry; all of these terms will be explained in this article, as well as their relationships to the credit card associations. We will also go over how you might go about becoming a merchant services ISO or an MSP.
After we've sorted all of that out, we'll go over what the advantages and disadvantages are of working in the industry as each of these roles. Getting an idea ahead of time of what each of these entails will hopefully save you from making a lot of mistakes early on in your business ventures.
What Every Term Means - First of all, let's get everything perfectly clear by defining the terms that we've mentioned so far:
ISO (Independent Sales Organization) – This is basically the credit card processor, the company that serves as the middle man between the credit card companies and the merchant. It will often provide terminals to the merchants, as well as tech support, training, and customer service. Another common term for this is “merchant service company.”
MSP (Member Service Provider) – ISO is a term often used by Visa, and so MSP is basically MasterCard's version of this. They both mean roughly the same thing. However, to make things a little more obscure, MasterCard also uses the term ISO, but it means something different. Basically, in their case, an ISO offers services that are not processing and transaction services, like customer service and lead generation. For our purposes, though, don't worry too much about these subtle distinctions. They are basically the same thing. For the sake of simplicity, let's just assume that we're including MSPs when we use the term “ISO” from now on.
Sales Agent – This role is completely different from the above mentioned roles. A merchant services agent is a third party that sells the services of merchant services ISOs and MSPs. Since merchant services companies often like to concentrate on processing credit cards and offering POS solutions, they will contract sales agents to find merchants to work with. A sales agent doesn't have to pay the high association fees like an merchant services ISO does, but he can't do business in his own name and have a merchant services ISO program with an ISO or MSP company.
What is the Relationship Between an ISO / MSP / Sales Agent and the Processing Banks? - You probably realize that merchant services ISOs are not banks, and that these organizations need banks to ultimately perform the transactions. Every merchant services ISO will need a sponsoring bank, one who is a member of Visa and MasterCard's respective associations. In practice, these banks will usually not take on small merchant service companies, and actually most merchant services ISOs use larger ISOs as intermediaries between them and the banks.
A merchant services ISO program can also have several sponsor banks. Though this can be extra costly, it also gives merchant services ISOs the advantage of being able to take on different kinds of merchants. For example, some banks might be averse to what they see as “high-risk” businesses, while others are not (though these usually charge higher fees).
By the way, these sponsoring banks don't really need merchant services ISOs at the end of the day. They could cut out the middle men and sell directly to merchants if they wished, but most of these companies prefer to focus their energies on processing transactions and don't want to bother with customer service and other issues.
If you're curious about what acquiring bank a given ISO uses, simply check out their website. They are actually required to make this information public, and it will usually be apparent in the footer of the page.
Now, how about sales agents? Well, agents are indeed registered with the credit card associations, but of course it is much less complex and expensive than it is for ISOs. Sales agents are basically contractors and the ISOs that they work with usually take care of the heavy lifting when it comes to paperwork.
How Do ISOs Go About Registering With Visa and MasterCard? - If you're an ISO, you'll have to swim through a rough sea of bureaucracy before your business can start processing credit cards. First, you need to find a bank that is a member of the credit card associations—usually both, but sometimes one—and you need to show the bank that you know what you're doing.
The banks will have to put you through a vetting process before the Associations are comfortable taking you on. You will usually have to submit all kinds of information on your business, and what type of business you are running, whether it is a “high risk” business, and what sort of services you provide to customers can all be a factor.
Usually, the bank and credit card companies will want to see:
After all of that is squared, you'd be required to pay $5,000 for each of the credit card associations. This is a yearly fee, by the way, and your application gets reevaluated every year as well. By contrast, an agent pays a bit of pocket change—maybe $50 once a year—to stay in business.
Should You Be an ISO or a Sales Agent? Which is Better? - Now, you might be curious about what path to take when it comes to your merchant services business. Should you become an ISO for merchant services, or take the safer and cheaper route and become a merchant services agent? Really, it comes down to your revenue. Do you have the sufficient merchant volume to be able to afford all of the crazy fees that ISOs have to pay? Then maybe it would be worth the trouble for you. If not, you should probably stick to the path of a sales agent, at least until you have more capital.
Becoming an ISO might seem really expensive and complicated to you right now, so you might be wondering why you would even want to become one. Well, basically you have the potential to make way more money. As a merchant services ISO, you are working directly with the processing banks (or at least with a larger ISO that is working with the banks), so you get a very low price in terms of transaction costs because there are less middle men between you and the bank. Your profit margins are higher than that of a merchant services sales agent. Merchant services sales agents get less of a share and they also have higher fees to deal with. It's like the difference between wholesale and retail, to give a somewhat awkward analogy.
However, not everything is rainbows and sunshine when it comes to being a merchant services ISO. There is a lot of responsibility and a lot of bank fees to dodge, things that sales agents don't really worry about. For example, you would need to watch out for so-called minimum processing fees. Basically, these are fees that the bank will charge you if you don't make a certain amount of transaction fees. Even worse, some banks will increase these fees year after year, and you will lose your residuals if you can't keep up. In fact, you might even have to pay a penalty out of your own pocket!
In order to avoid these minimum fees, you need to have a substantial portfolio of merchants. The minimum threshold that you are required to meet may be thousands of dollars, and since you're making pennies per transaction, you're going to need a huge volume of transactions. This is why it's not very wise to become an ISO if you have no experience in the business and no clients yet. It is just too risky.
As mentioned, the bank can also decide to increase the minimum every year, so that you're constantly trying to catch-up. This can be bad news for you because you can lose everything that you worked for. It's hard to escape having minimum fees of some kind, but steer clear from the kind of agreement that increases it every year if you can.
There are also some companies that will require you to sign up a certain minimum amount of new merchants per month, or you could lose all of your residuals. Don't sign up for such a deal, either, or you could see all of your income disappear quickly through no real fault of your own.
What We Have Learned - What's the best way to get started, then? Well, like anything else, that really depends on you and where you are with your business. If you're starting from square one, it's advisable to avoid the risks of becoming an ISO, and to simply stick to being a sales agent until you have decent enough income. There's something to be said about gaining experience and learning the business as well. No matter what you do, make sure to read every single contract before you sign anything so that you can avoid being taken for a ride. Don't jump into anything until you are ready. If you're not confident enough to negotiate with sponsor banks, then don't become an ISO just yet and spend some time as a sales agent building up your portfolio. Take things slow and you will avoid costly mistakes.
ISO Agent Partnership
Become a payment service provider today and take your business to the next level. If you are a sales-oriented individual with vast experience in the world of payment processing or you are a driven and motivated professional looking for a new challenge, the North ISO agent program might be a great fit for you. With the highest paying commission structure in the industry, superior products, and sales support, our program will see to it that you are rewarded for your efforts.
For anyone with a sales background or a passion for the payments industry, North is the ideal partnership. There are dozens of reasons to become a sales partner with North, but don’t just take our word for it. Here are some of the top reasons that we were given when we asked our ISO agent participants why they chose us and why they continue to work with our highly lucrative program.
Sales Partner Portal
With our industry leading partner portal, you’ll have access to online enrollment, training sessions, marketing materials, and you’ll always be ahead of the game with the latest news and promotions.
Stay up-to-date on merchant issues and their resolutions via automated emails and text messages that include a detailed ticket number describing what the merchant’s concern was and how it was resolved.
Registered DBA (White Label)
With our program, you’ll be able to market under your own brand, without paying costly fees! Your brand will be seen on the partner portal, marketing communications, merchant statements, and more.
Free Equipment for Your Merchants
Selling businesses on a new processing plan is much easier when you are able to effortlessly jump over the hurdle of the cost of the equipment. With this program, you can offer your clients free equipment that they will need for their processing provider change. This lowers the barrier to switching and creates a higher conversion rate for you.
Lifetime Passive Income
You will recieve 50–70% of residual income based on the pay structure you select. You will share income on every available revenue stream. With North, you get a True Interchange Revenue Split. Unlike other ISO agent programs, there is no basis points off the top for BIN sponsorship or for what they call hidden losses. Our sales partners earn more residual income with our 50/50 partner program than you would with our competition who claim to offer a higher percentage because thier interchange cost (buy rate) is higher.
$20K Performance Bonus
We offer a performance-based fast start bonus that is payable for anyone that onboards more than the standard threshold of clients in the first 4 months. This program is designed to reward those experienced sales members that join our team and quickly learn how to sell this product. The bonus can reach up to $20,000, making it one of the most lucrative and competitive in the industry.
Profitability Based Bonuses
We will look at how much profit is generated on the account after they have been processing for one month and you earn 14 times of the total profit. Example: If we retain $100 in residuals in that month, the bonus would be 14 x $100 or $1,400. You would have already been paid $600, so we would pay you an additional $800 on that account. This bonus is capped at a max of $10,000 per merchant per location. With our dual pricing program it is easier than ever to earn huge bonuses with a 14x profitability bonus. This dual pricing model enables you to maximize your bonus at $10,000 on almost every merchant processing over $90k.
Dual Pricing Program
When you are selling merchant services, one of the best assets of any partner program is more rewards and incentive programs that save your client money. The Edge dual pricing program is one of the hottest new commodities in credit card processing, as it is designed to save the client thousands of dollars in credit card processing cost, instead passing on the fee to the consumer in a way that isn’t damaging to their own conversion rate and revenue. We offer this program to our clients and make it easy to understand and present for our sales partners.
With some sales jobs, you don’t even have the option for medical coverage. With the North ISO agent program, you’ll have the resources that you need to provide healthcare coverage to you and your family at an affordable rate. We take care of our own, and when you are in our program you will have access to these benefits.
Registered DBA Program
Grow Your Merchant Services ISO with White-Label Payment Solutions
As an independent sales organization (ISO), you can upgrade your business by providing merchant processing services under your own brand. You may dismiss the idea at first, probably thinking that you don’t have the infrastructure or expertise to set up your own payment processing company. However, with white label payment processing, all you really need is a good ISO partner.
How a White Label ISO Program Works
To offer payment processing services under your own brand, your ISO partner will provide you with an online application page that doesn’t identify their company. This “white label” solution is ready for your brand and includes your logo, colors, and contact information, so your merchants only identify the payment solutions with your company. It eliminates any confusion among your merchant customers about who their service provider and primary contact should be. Your brand is the only thing the merchant will see on your website, merchant portal, and marketing materials.
Your payments ISO partner becomes a silent partner, providing technology, payments functionality, and services. This puts you in more control, allowing you to deliver seamless, consistent customer experiences in all interactions – and enhance your brand’s reputation. With this white label payment solution, you won’t need to overcome negative perceptions a prospect may have about the company your working with. This is because you are creating a unique customer experience. Better still, you don't have to fall in line with another company's existing customer experience.
Once you start providing white label payment services, you will also find that you build stronger, longer lasting relationships with your merchants. They'll begin to view you as a payments expert and an expert in the other solutions you provide. You may even find you are able to grow your customer base, as merchants in every vertical or niche can benefit from accepting payments, enabling you to market to more types of businesses.
Remember: white label payment processing enables you to earn huge residual income.
Our White Label Program Will Save You Thousands in Fees
Put your brand on merchant statements and applications — build your brand with your sub-agents and merchants. Full white label payment solution with your logo and branding on applications, statements, online enrollment, merchant and partner portals.
We at North have an awesome white label solution. There is no huge package of documents for you to fill out, no approval process by Visa and Mastercard and the sponsor banks, and best of all no annual dues. Here are some details on the “White Label ISO” program:
What do we brand?
What we need: