The Importance of Doing Business As (DBA) Names in Merchant Services

Doing-Business-As (DBA) names seem like a small detail in merchant services, but actually, the DBA name used by a merchant is very important and should not be selected haphazardly.

The DBA name is what is used for authorization and clearing and is considered the most important factor in cardholders recognizing transactions on their accounts. The name should also be consistent with the Merchant Category Code (MCC.)

Typically, the DBA name and customer service number are used as the billing descriptor. This is the way transactions appear on a cardholder’s statement. Billing descriptors are set by the payment processor and are usually 20-25 characters in length.

Types of billing descriptors:

Soft Descriptor:
This appears on the cardholder’s statement immediately at the time the transaction is initiated (based on the authorization.) If you subscribe to notifications from your card company, this, for example, would be the descriptor that appears in the notification when your card is first run at a restaurant or at a gas station for initial authorization.

Hard Descriptor:
This is the permanent descriptor that appears once the transaction is settled (the merchant batches out and the transaction is cleared with the card association.) In our restaurant example, this would be the way the complete transaction with tip appears on your statement.

Static Descriptor:
The same descriptor is used for all transaction types.

Dynamic Descriptor:
This can be used by merchants to customize the descriptor given the type of transaction. This is commonly used for merchants that sell various types of products and services, and want to offer a more specific description based on what was sold.

Why is it important that we get these right?
If a cardholder doesn’t recognize a transaction, they are more likely to charge it back, resulting in unnecessary costs and headaches for the merchant.

It’s common for ISOs and agents to run a test transaction when setting up a new merchant services account. This is a great time for payments professionals to check whether the descriptors assigned by the acquirer/processor are appropriate for the business.

Overcoming Merchant Attrition

If you’re spending more time on new sales rather than supporting existing merchants, you might just be on a hamster wheel to nowhere.

With typical attrition rates hovering around 20%, that number can be almost impossible to overcome, even by the very best merchant services sales force.

What can you do about it?

The easiest and best place to start is choosing a processing partner that addresses these support areas well:

  • Access to right-fit products & solutions for the types of merchants you serve. What are the pain points your merchants experience, and who has the solutions that best address them?
  • Access to a self-service reporting platform that is easy to use and accurate.
  • Transparency delivered, not just talked about. If there’s an issue that affects merchants, do they own it or do they use the complexity of payments to hide behind it? When you want to dig deeper into the data for your merchants, do you have that information available?
  • Customer service requests like refunds and cancellations are handled fairly and quickly.


Reviewing merchant attrition should be an ongoing activity. What are their reasons for leaving? Do you see any trends? How can you address them?

The old adage is true ~ if you’re not growing, you’re dying. But don’t focus so much on bringing new business through the front door that you fail to see the back door swinging wide open.

Formal Education Options for Payments Professionals

How can we educate ourselves when the payments landscape is so complex?  This is the most common question we get from fellow payments professionals.  

We’ve compiled information from three organizations that offer formal education options below. 

“Glenbrook is an independent payments strategy consulting and research firm. We bring to our clients a unique
combination of our specialized skills in payments, many years of hands-on experience in the field, and our
network of professional relationships.”

Glenbrook provides both consulting and educational services to the payments industry. Glenbrook is an
impressive group, led by payments C-suite and payments executive that work on ecosystem wide, high impact
consulting projects which makes them well situated to offer comprehensive, unbiased educational
programming. Glenbrook has a passion for educating payments professionals and offers a variety of ways to

– Glenbrook is the leading author in payments: If you’re looking for the equivalent of a payments
encyclopedia that spells out how various payment systems work, how they’ve evolved, how users
interact with them, and how innovations are changing them, Glenbrook has created it for
you. Payment Systems in the U.S. and a companion book titled, Global Payments, are available on
Amazon or in bulk through Glenbrook.
– Glenbrook also offers a variety of interactive workshops, virtually and in-person. The Glenbrook
Payments Boot Camp® is their classic and most well-known workshop, designed for both payments
newbies and industry veterans. During the Boot Camp, attendees gain a deeper understanding of the
payments industry, foundational concepts applicable to global payment systems, system economics,
important industry trends and developments, as well as ways to identify and manage key risks in
payments. Other Payments Insights Workshops are designed to be deep-dives into hot industry topics
like Digital Currencies and Embedded Commerce. Both the Payments Boot Camp® and the Payments
Insights Workshops can be booked by the general public, or private sessions can be arranged with a
customized agenda. Over 30,000 payments professionals have participated in Glenbrook workshops
since their inception. 
Insight Webinars are one-hour on-demand learning modules that allow for asynchronous learning and
cover a broad array of payments concepts from industry basics to trending industry topics.
Glenbrook also has some free ways for us to stay current on the latest payments news and trends:
• ‘Payments News’: A curated daily news feed
• ‘Payments On Fire’: A podcast with 185 episodes and counting!
• ‘Payments Views’: A payments blog
• You’ll want to bookmark Glenbrook’s Key Payments Terminology resource that defines common
acronyms and terms used in payments systems.

What makes these free resources even unique, noteworthy, and valuable? Despite ongoing requests,
Glenbrook refuses to generate any revenue from the above bulleted content. They do not accept any paid
placements or receive payments for interviews. This ensures that their content remains educational and ties
into their mission to make the industry better.

Glenbrook is active on both LinkedIn and Twitter. Follow their page, engage, and keep the conversation going!
They tend to share fun ‘A Day in the Life of a Payments Professional Stories where they showcase observations
and trends from their daily life, including recent posts on #retailCBDC and payments trends in #Ethiopia.


If you’re a payments professional specializing in risk, underwriting, or compliance, you need to know about

“Merchant Acquirers’ Committee (MAC) is an association of payments professionals and organizations
dedicated to protecting the integrity of the payment ecosystem through ongoing education, communication,
and collaboration among its members.”

MAC’s community is made up of risk, underwriting, compliance, and law enforcement professionals. MAC
predominantly focuses on the acquiring side of payments.

If you’re interested in becoming involved with MAC, the best first step is to become a member. There are
different categories depending on the type of organization.
MAC membership gives you access to the very core of what it stands for—community. You’ll notice that as a
theme across the MAC offerings and when you think about risk and compliance, information-sharing is key to
success for these groups.

The main event for MAC is the annual Level Up conference held each spring in Las Vegas. There is a
registration fee to attend, which is discounted for members. You can expect presentations on timely topics
from the card brands, sessions focused on current events and hot topics, a keynote, networking, and
collaborative roundtable discussion. Expect education that is applied and practical, using real scenarios and without very much fluff.

Each Fall, MAC holds 3 regional events that have a different focus each year. These are one-day seminars
packed with educational sessions, a collaborative roundtable, followed by a networking event.
MAC also offers monthly webinars free to members and non-members. ETA CPP credits are available.
Information- and knowledge-sharing are key to success for professionals in this field, and MAC Alerts are an
important way to facilitate that sharing in the MAC community. There are forums broken up into different
categories where members can share trends, ask for help for their unique situation, or network for job

And perhaps most exciting for those seeking educational opportunities from MAC is their upcoming Spring
2023 release of M@Cademy. This program will allow professionals to learn on their own schedule through
online modules featuring entry-level risk, compliance, and underwriting topics. The goal is to provide a
consistent baseline for new professionals. It will be a pay-per-course format, and a community led by a
moderator is available for interaction. It will also feature the “MAC Pack,” an encyclopedia of terms commonly

“The purpose of Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) is to influence, monitor and shape the payments
industry by providing leadership through education, advocacy, and the exchange of information.“
ETA’s membership includes independent sales organizations (ISOs), payment networks, financial institutions,
processors, technologies, ISVs and hardware suppliers. ETA has a focus on education as well as policy
ETA offers a variety of formats for learning:
ETAU Online Courses
Appropriate for new and experienced payments professionals on specific topics, available 24x7x365. These are
web-based courses that allow users to learn at their own pace.
ETA also offers live and on-demand webinars that focus on current topics and trends in payments.
Transaction Trends
This is the official publication of the ETA. Articles are available online and there’s also a podcast.
Certified Payment Professional Program
The ETA has its own certification program as a standard for professional performance in the payments
industry. Individuals must have a certain amount of industry experience as well as pass the CPP exam.
TRANSACT is the ETA’s annual event where attendees can expect to network with fellow professionals across
the entire payments ecosystem as well as learn about current trends and innovations that are shaping the

How to Boost the Bottom Line of Your ISO

As you do year-end reviews and projections for the upcoming year, remember this and you’ll be 99% ahead of the rest:

Savings go to the bottom line just as easily as sales do.

Most ISOs are so hyper-focused on their sales engine that they neglect the operations back office.  Spend a little time optimizing the back office and reap significant rewards in the new year.

Start with looking at how you can automate these functions:
✔️ Applications
✔️ Boarding
✔️ Deployment
✔️ Updates and tracking of updates like banking, demographics
✔️ Commission payouts for agents

Now your employees are free to do the things that make your business shine. Let automation handle everything that can be automated.

Then make sure you have these in place:
✔️ Margin reviews
✔️ Attrition reviews (how and why are you losing accounts and how do you stop the bleeding?)
✔️ Cost reviews. Find dead costs like fees on closed or inactive accounts. What operational costs can you optimize?
✔️ Customer acquisition reviews. What channels are working best and can be replicated? Which are duds and need to be cut?
✔️ Operational efficiency reviews. How effectively are you completing the tasks in my above list?

Now you’re not losing money on merchant services activities that add zero value.

If you’re an ISO and struggling with where to start, this is the secret sauce of Secure Bancard.  We built our Pioneer platform for the kind of operational efficiency that’s listed above.

What’s the impact?
👉1/4 of the overhead of our competitors
👉10x the service

We’d love to dive in and show you how we’re able to share this efficiency with our sales partners. 🙌

Visa Dispute Monitoring Program

The Dispute Monitoring Program is Visa’s version of discipline and consequence for merchants who exceed the chargeback thresholds they deem as acceptable. If merchants aren’t careful, they can ultimately end up in a permanent timeout.

The threshold is calculated as the number of chargebacks and the dollar volume as a percentage of the merchant’s total sales volume.

There are different consequences for each level. At the early warning threshold, they just keep a watchful eye. At the standard level, merchants are given a grace period, but then hit with additional per-item chargeback fees. At the excessive level, the per-item fee hits immediately and Visa can exercise the right to terminate the merchant’s account, banning them completely from accepting Visa payments.

There’s a similar program to monitor the thresholds of chargebacks for the specific reason of fraud. The penalties are a harsh flat fee. After a few months in the standard program, merchants are charged $25,000 monthly while the excessive program will run $10,000 in the first few months, then $25,000, and increases from there.

Acquirers (the financial institutions that maintain a merchant’s account in order to accept credit cards) have their own thresholds. If their ratios fall above the thresholds, they can wind up in the Visa Acquirer Monitoring Program. Again, the purpose is to identify acquirers whose portfolios generate excessive disputes or fraud in an effort to help reduce dispute/fraud activity. The important distinction is that here, Visa is measuring against their thresholds for a group of merchants, whereas above they are measuring for individual merchants.

If a processor is wanting to terminate a merchant account, citing chargebacks, but it doesn’t seem logical given your activity, it could be that they are trying to clean up their portfolio as a whole, and you happen to be lumped in with some other problem children.

Knowledgeable ISOs can connect merchants with the tools and resources to reduce their chargebacks.  

If you need help connecting with these resources, please reach out to us at

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About PIN Debit Interchange

To understand debit interchange, we have to start with the Durbin Amendment. The law caps the interchange rate that can be charged on PIN debit transactions at .05% and the transaction fee at 22 cents for card-issuing banks that have $10B in assets or more. You’ll see transactions subject to the Durbin Amendment referred to as “regulated.”

Important to note: the law dictates what the card brands can charge on debit, but not what the processors can. 

Let’s revisit the two types of debit transactions:
Online debit (pin is used): This forces the transaction to be routed through the debit networks instead of credit networks.
Offline/signature debit (no pin is used): Depending on which logo is on the card, the transaction will be routed through that card brand and interchange fees assessed.

A 22 cent transaction fee is high in the world of payments processing. Now let’s consider what that effective rate looks like on a low average ticket, let’s say $5. That’s 4.4%. So capping the rate with this transaction fee helps merchants with higher ticket sizes, but not lower ones.

💡 Merchants with a low average ticket size might do better accepting offline debit and credit transactions, while others will do better with online regulated debit.

But wait, how does a merchant know whether the card they are accepting is regulated by the Durbin Amendment or not? Are they going to ask the cardholder for their card and check the issuing bank against a book of rates they have nearby? Not likely.

There are also routing rules that dictate which debit network rails the transaction will travel on. Fees vary between the networks. Routing preferences can be set by the acquirer.

So to help your merchant, you should look at a history of their processing activity and decide their smartest card acceptance strategy. Do the big guys do that?  No. 

And now you know how to be a real-life payments hero.

You can learn more about PIN debit transactions by visiting this post.

5 Fun Facts About PIN Debit

A PIN debit transaction involves a customer who pays with a debit card and enters their PIN number.  These transactions are different from credit card transactions in the way that they are billed, routed, and more. 

1.      Pin debit sales are settled differently than credit transactions because these transactions are single message (authorization and clearing/settlement data are in one message) vs. credit transactions that are dual message (clearing/settlement comes after the authorization.) The easiest way to explain it is like this: when a merchant runs a credit sale, the authorization is merely a placeholder for funds on the cardholder’s account.  When they batch out credit transactions, the issuer debits the cardholder’s account with the sale capture, and the acquirer processes a sale to fund the merchant.  Whereas with debit, the issuer debits the cardholder’s account at the time of sale (not batch) but the acquiring side does not clear until the merchant batches out. For this reason and a few others that are too detailed to explore in this post, there is always a timing difference for acquirer funding on pin debit transactions.

2.      Everyone loves the low cost of debit cards, but you really need to understand the fee structure to be sure they’re as low as you think they are. Debit fees are complicated, mostly because some are capped with the Durbin Amendment. But also because there are several networks, each with their own switch fees and annual fees, and some transactions are subject to assessments. For this reason, flat rate pricing for merchants who have a small average ticket size and process mostly debit is not a good idea. The math never works. 

3.      Debit cards have stricter dollar and time limits on when they can be disputed by cardholders vs. credit cards. The cardholder liability is capped at $50 if they notify the bank within 2 days of an unauthorized charge. After that, the cap increases to $500, and if it’s after 60 days, the cardholder is liable for 100% of unauthorized charges. This coverage for consumers comes from the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.

4.      Debit cards are regulated by a different set of laws than credit. These laws prevent merchants from requiring a minimum charge or adding a surcharge to debit transactions.

5.      You will hear debit transactions referred to as “online” and “offline.” Online transactions are deducted from the cardholder’s account immediately. Offline transactions (also referred to as signature debit) are settled like credit transactions only when they clear through settlement. When you bypass entering a pin, an online debit transaction becomes an offline one. 

Underwriting and Risk: Adversaries or Allies?

In merchant services, balance is important between underwriting and risk teams.  If left unchecked, these two teams can work against each other, making the other’s job harder than it should be.

Each of these teams has clear yet different roles:

Assess whether applicants adhere to bank, card brand, and regulatory rules. In a nutshell, they are trying weed out fraudsters, money-launderers, and businesses that would pose a financial risk to the institutions processing their payment transactions.

Monitors transactions processed after they are boarded. Are they processing transactions outside acceptable parameters? Does the activity make sense given the business type? Is the activity indicating the institution processing those transactions could be at risk, financially or otherwise?

In an ideal world, balance exists between these two teams. 

For example, if an underwriting team is heavy-handed and turning away anything that is even a tad bit risky but has the potential to be monitored and managed with a good risk program, we’re 1) not letting the risk team do their jobs and 2) turning away business we could likely take. A real morale and profit- buster.

If the underwriting team is not turning away business that they should, we are over-taxing the risk team’s resources and setting them up for failure. We can expect that we will lose most of these merchants, and we’ll probably incur financials losses.

Why bother boarding them in the first place? Again, not the kind of things risk teams usually get excited about.

Hopefully, now we can see why balance within and between these two teams is critical to both operating well. The balancing act is ongoing… this is something that should be constantly monitored and tweaked.

How to Prevent Profit Leakage on Closed Merchants

It’s bad enough to lose a merchant in your portfolio, but it’s even worse when a closed merchant is COSTING you money.

Let’s do some review and cleanup and make sure you’re not losing money on closed merchants.

👉 Compare your processing billing detail against your active merchant list. Any unmatched merchants are likely closed and you’re probably paying a per-merchant-per-month fee for these closed merchants.
👉 Compare your gateway billing against your closed merchant list to be sure you’re not paying monthly fees for merchants who are no longer processing.
👉 Compare any third-party services where you pay per merchant account — PCI services, CRM, risk monitoring, etc.
👉 Did you deploy any equipment that has ongoing costs associated that flow through to you, even if the merchant no longer processes through you?  Did you collect the equipment if it belongs to you?
👉 Are you losing money on closed merchants because you didn’t adequately reserve higher-risk accounts, and now you’re stuck paying their chargebacks and resulting fees? If so, it’s time to revisit your underwriting/reserve guidelines.

Now that you’ve completed the above and see how much  money you’ve saved, formalize a merchant closing procedure so that you can prevent these costs in the first place.

Building Win/Win Compensation Plans for Agents

Sales offices seem to believe that the more complicated they make their compensation plan, the more attractive it will be to their agents.

This isn’t the best approach for a couple of reasons:

1️⃣ If you can’t systematically, accurately, and cost-effectively calculate downline residuals, your comp plan is flawed from the start. Remember that this activity is non-revenue generating. Do you want to spend too much time figuring out what’s already taken place or out driving more sales?
2️⃣ If your agents can’t easily recalculate their own compensation with what you’ve provided them, how can you expect them to trust you? A relationship without trust 👉 flawed.

We’ve seen simple comp plans work quite well. And it’s a win for both the sales office and its agents.

Before rolling out any new comp plan, first, ask yourself these two questions:
1️⃣ Can I automate this calculation and reporting?
2️⃣ Can I provide transparent reporting to all parties involved?

The winning plan is fully automated and provides complete transparency. And most importantly, all parties feel like they are receiving fair value in return for their contribution.