Merchant acquiring is an integral part of card payment transactions processing. Acquirers enable merchants to accept card payments by acting as a link between merchants, issuers, and payment networks—providing authorization, clearing and settlement, dispute management, and information services to merchants. The merchant acquiring industry is dominated by a few large players across the globe, with the top ten acquirers in the world handling nearly 50% 1 of the global cards transaction volume in 2010.


Merchant acquirers enable merchants to process credit and debit card payments and help in increasing sales by accepting the most popular cards to attract customers to their businesses. Typically, a card payment transaction involves two sides: the first between the cardholder and the bank that issued their card; and the second between the merchant and the acquiring bank.

The acquiring side of the industry typically involves interaction among various stakeholders including merchants, acquirers, processors, independent sales organization (ISO), and payment networks. Each of the stakeholders has an incentive to play its specific role in completing the payment transaction:

  • Merchant: A merchant accepts payment from the cardholder by swiping the user’s card at its terminal, increasing the chance of a sale by accepting popular cards used by cardholders. For example, retailers such as Walmart who accept these cards have higher chances of sale compared to local retailers without card processing capability
  • Acquiring Bank: The acquiring bank provides payment processing services to the merchant, enabling him to accept payments from cardholders. The bank levies a merchant service charge (MSC) on every transaction at the merchant’s point of sale (POS) terminal to generate revenue. The MSC is usually 2% of the transaction amount and contains an interchange fee, the fee paid to card network associations such as Visa and MasterCard, and the acquirer fee
  • Independent Sales Organizations (ISOs): The ISOs solicit merchant accounts on behalf of acquirers and charge a service-based fee from the acquirers. ISOs also manage risky merchant accounts with a higher possibility of credit fraud, for which they charge a higher fee. Examples include: Cornerstone Credit Services LLC, and Bankcard Systems of Newport
  • Third-Party Processors: Third-party processors provide transaction processing services to acquirers as they possess economies of scale and advanced technological systems for cost effective processing. Processors charge a service based or fixed fee from acquiring banks based on the type of pricing contract. Examples of third-party processors include: Global Payments Inc. and First Data.
  • Payment Card Network Provider (Card Association): Card associations, such as Visa and MasterCard, act as the link between the issuer bank and the acquiring bank. The payment card network validates the availability of credit or funds with the issuing bank and communicates the same to the acquiring bank. The payment card network provider charges a fee for each transaction processed through its branded card by the card issuer/acquiring bank.