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How to Become a Merchant Service Provider

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Merchant services providers (MSP) connect banks and retailers and make the customer shopping experience run effortlessly. MSPs, also called acquirers or issuers, enable business owners to accept credit cards and debit cards as legal forms of tender. First, they accept applications from vendors, process applications based on credit history and business viability, and approve the business owner’s application. They next provide them with POS terminals and handheld equipment to process payments.

Clarify your goals in a business plan. List the services that you'll provide as a merchant service provider, such as processing payments, tracking usage statistics and issuing payments to merchants.

Incorporate your business. There's an extensive vetting process to become a merchant service provider--your business will be judged by limited information about you. Incorporating provides a more professional impression. Hire a lawyer to help you file your letters of incorporation and complete the process.

Complete the application requirements for Visa. Visa’s minimum standard includes basic background, financial and operational reviews. Any Third Party Agent that stores, processes or transmits Visa account numbers must comply with the PCI Data Security Standard or have a target date to comply with the standard.

Register with Visa and MasterCard. Attend the Agent Registration Program and complete the due diligence review, which is your opportunity to prove you understand the policies and responsibilities of using Visa services. Pay a $5,000 initial fee for each. Annual fees are $2,500.

Submit the Executive Summary of your business plan. Download the Attestation of Compliance (AOC) form from the PCI Security Standards Council website. Complete and submit it, along with your summary, by email to [email protected].

Submit the application to be included in the PCI Data Security Standard. First, complete the testing to validate your knowledge of the compliance rules for processing and issuing credit cards, and managing a member account with MasterCard and Visa.

Request a consultation with a representative from the Discover Network. The Discover Network gives you access to Discover, Diners Club and several other internationally accepted credit cards. The rates and terms of working with Discover are confidential, and can only be discussed after you sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Negotiate a deal with a payment terminal manufacturer. Visa, MasterCard and Discover all provide lists of manufacturers in their resources section for Acquirers. Order a small number of handheld and tabletop terminals for demonstrations for potential customers.

Establish your presence online. Hire a Web designer to build your website. Explain the application process and your terms of conditions of service. Detail the services you offer.

Advertise in business journals, business-to-business magazines and newspapers throughout the country to attract business owners who need to accept credit cards. Ask the graphic designer who designed your website to recommend a copywriter to create ad copy for you that generates leads.

  • Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing; Bill Pirtle, Rosemary Csizmadia, Dan Coughlin; 2010

Sam Williams has been a marketing specialist and ad writer since 1995. He has been published in magazines such as "Reaching Out" and "Spa Search." He served in various sales and marketing positions with major corporations such as American Express, Home Depot and Wells Fargo. Williams studied English at Morehouse College.