Source: Bill of Rights
Heartland Payment Systems Calls For Merchant Bill of Rights
Heartland Payment Systems has announced it is launching a major initiative to help owners of small and mid-sized businesses manage the cost and complexity of credit and debit card acceptance. “The Merchant Bill of Rights” is proposed as an industry standard to inform and educate business owners about card processing costs and drive savings for small and mid-sized businesses.
In an environment where card usage by consumers is growing, security issues such as identity theft and identity fraud are commonplace, and card processing has become mission-critical, The Merchant Bill of Rights provides owners of small and mid-sized businesses with the same competitive edge major retailers with sophisticated internal purchasing organizations enjoy.
The centerpiece of this initiative is http://www.MerchantBillOfRights.com, an interactive website which will serve as an information clearinghouse. Here, business owners can learn about the mechanics of card processing, receive industry tips, share best practices, ask questions and stay abreast of industry news.
“For many small and mid-sized business owners, credit and debit card processing costs are one of the most significant expense items on their income statements,” notes Robert O. Carr, chairman and CEO of Heartland Payment Systems. “Yet, most business owners and entrepreneurs do not fully understand the factors that drive card processing costs or how to manage them. Today, with the launch of The Merchant Bill of Rights and http://www.MerchantBillOfRights.com, Heartland Payment Systems empowers business owners to learn how card acceptance works and take an active role in controlling these growing costs.”
The Merchant Bill of Rights calls for:
1. The right to know the fee for every transaction – and who’s charging it. Today, card processing services can be the third highest expense many small and mid-sized businesses incur, following right behind labor and product costs. Yet, many merchants are confused by the complexity of interchange rates, markups and other related fees. Likewise, because fee structures are rarely clearly disclosed, most merchants are unaware of the many different entities profiting from each transaction. All businesspeople have the right to know exactly who is getting paid – and the total amount.
2. The right to know the markup on Visa/MasterCard fee increases. Visa and MasterCard adjust rate categories 1-2 times each year, usually in April and sometimes in October. When rates go up, many merchant acquirers (contracted by the merchant to handle its card transactions) and their agents seize the opportunity to inflate them even more – and then blame the increase on Visa/MasterCard. Small and mid-sized merchants have the right to know the markups added to rate increases.
3. The right to know all Visa/MasterCard fee reductions. Annual fee adjustments by Visa/MasterCard may also include reductions in some card transaction categories as well as incentives for certain categories of merchants and card types. Yet, small and mid-sized merchants often do not receive them. In 2003, for example, Visa/MasterCard settled the Wal-Mart class action suit which called for hundreds of millions of dollars of fee reductions. While all large merchants received their share, most small and mid-sized businesses did not because of a loophole in the settlement agreement that allowed merchant acquirers and their middlemen to keep the reductions. Small and mid-sized merchants have the right to know about these incentives and fee reductions.
4. The right to know all transaction middlemen. Card processing is a fairly simple process that requires four entities at most: a bank, Visa/MasterCard, a telephone or Internet connection, and a processor. In some cases, however, as many as 12 additional, but different, entities get involved … each taking a cut from every transaction. While the transaction process does not change, middlemen only increase costs for the merchant. Small businesspeople have the right to know how many middlemen are receiving a portion of the cash automatically deducted from their checking account.
5. The right to know all surcharges and bill-backs. Visa/MasterCard charge as many as 110 different interchange rates depending on the type of card used and how it’s used. While the rates for different transactions and cards vary, they are set by Visa or MasterCard and cannot be changed by a merchant acquirer. However, many merchant acquirers or their middlemen significantly inflate these set fees with surcharges. These fees – often called “bill-backs” or “enhancements” – frequently are deducted the month following the actual transaction without disclosure, making them difficult, if not impossible, to monitor, reconcile and track. Small and mid-sized merchants have the same rights as big merchants – to know what markups are going to their merchant acquirer and their middlemen.
6. The right to a dedicated local service representative. Without the backing of a sophisticated purchasing organization, small and mid-sized businesses rely on their merchant acquirers for initial and ongoing training, deposit tracking and reconciliation and on-site technical support. Yet, after the initial sale, instead of helping their customers successfully manage the complexities of card processing and build successful programs, many merchant acquirers never visit them again. Small and mid-sized merchants have the right to a dedicated local service representative.
7. The right to encrypted card numbers and secure transactions. Hundreds of thousands of attempted system hacks are foiled every day by large card transaction processors. Yet, not all merchant acquirers guarantee encrypted card numbers and secure transactions. Many have not made the financial investment required to completely protect their systems. This puts every merchant – especially small and mid-sized ones who don’t have internal safeguards – as well as the millions of consumers who use credit and debit cards at risk. Small and mid-sized merchants have the right to encrypted card numbers and secure transactions.
8. The right to real-time fraud and transaction monitoring. Credit and debit card fraud costs American business billions of dollars every year. As such, real-time fraud and transaction monitoring are critical to a merchant’s business success. Unlike large merchants who have entire departments and controls devoted to detecting and preventing fraud, most small and mid-sized businesses rely on their merchant acquirers to provide the tools they need to do this required monitoring. Yet, many merchant acquirers don’t offer these tools and resources, leaving their clients exposed and vulnerable. Small and mid-sized businesses have the right to the same real-time fraud and transaction monitoring systems of larger companies.
9. The right to reasonable equipment costs. Availability of card processing equipment has become widespread – with warehouse clubs, consumer electronics stores and online auctions routinely providing this equipment at very reasonable costs. Yet, many merchant acquirers sell the concept of multi-year leasing, locking business owners into costly, non-cancellable long-term commitments. Small and mid-sized merchants have the right to reasonable equipment costs – and reasonable financing if they need it.
10. The right to live customer support 24/7/365. Today, card processing is mission critical for all business owners. As such, equipment failure during a busy period can be a debilitating blow to revenues, reputation and customer service. For merchants who don’t have the internal resources to immediately respond to and minimize service disruptions, a simple phone call with a support professional can often quickly resolve an issue. Similarly, emergency access that connects only to an automated phone line can turn a speedy resolution into a disaster. Small and mid-sized businesses have the right to effective, live customer support 24/7/365.
Rob Finley, Senior Vice President of the California Restaurant Association says, “We applaud Heartland Payment Systems in its effort to promote The Merchant Bill of Rights. Since its founding in 1997, Heartland has been a tireless advocate for small and mid-sized business owners. Today, its activism on behalf of our members has been taken to a new level, and The Merchant Bill of Rights gives our members – and merchants everywhere – the right to fair and equitable treatment.”
Carr concludes, “By promoting fair credit and debit card processing practices, The Merchant Bill of Rights will be a driving force for industry change. Its singular objective is to establish a level playing field where owners of small and mid-sized businesses have access to the same card processing resources and cost structures as large national retailers. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the card processing industry, our partners and merchants to standardize best practices and promote acceptance and adoption of The Merchant Bill of Rights.”
The Merchant Bill of Rights was established in 2006 to promote fairness and transparency in credit and debit card processing. The Merchant Bill of Rights provides small and mid-sized business owners with the same competitive edge major retailers with sophisticated internal purchasing organizations enjoy. For more information about The Merchant Bill of Rights, visit http://www.MerchantBillOfRights.com.
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Michael J Rutherford
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