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Dwolla is a white-label service for integrating your business with the ACH network. With Dwolla, your business can self-host a platform for sending, receiving, and facilitating bank transfers. Dwolla boasts comprehensive security measures and assistance with integrating your business’s software onto its platform. Pricing is quote-based.
White labeling—producing a product that other companies rebrand to make it appear as their own—is nothing new in the world of business. Stripe makes a white-label payment processing solution for large tech companies like Lyft and Kickstarter. Fundera client The Whiskey Ice Co. produces white-label ice ball makers for major spirits brands including Jack Daniel’s and Grey Goose.
Now there is Dwolla, a tech startup founded in 2008 that provides a white-label solution for sending and receiving money via ACH (Automated Clearing House) payments. Dwolla is an interesting business in that it is extremely high tech and allows businesses to receive payments without having to open a merchant account or work with a payment processor (or pay a pesky transaction fee).
In this review, we’re going to break down what Dwolla does and the value it provides to help you determine if it could be a worthwhile solution for your business’s payment needs. Let’s get to it.
To understand what Dwolla does, it helps to understand what ACH payments are. In short, ACH payments are electronic payments between banks. Accepting ACH deposits at your business essentially means that you’re enabling customers to electronically transfer funds from their bank account into your business bank account. Put even more simply, ACH payments are an alternative to paying with cash, credit, debit, or checks.
ACH is a U.S. financial network that manages and oversees these types of payments. According to the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), the ACH network moves $43 trillion each year. Examples of ACH payments include paying friends via Venmo, purchasing an item using PayPal, paying your utility bill online, or your employer depositing wages directly into your bank account.
What Dwolla is selling is the ability for your business to integrate with the ACH network. Dwolla’s developer tools allow merchants to make a white-label payment solution for their business. Use cases include real estate investors who want a way to electronically receive rent payments from tenants, utility providers, wealth management businesses, and reimbursement services.
The benefit of using ACH payments over credit transactions is that they typically come with a lower processing fee, given that you don’t have to pay the credit card network a percentage. ACH payments are also easier to accept because bank account numbers change far less frequently than credit card numbers. Furthermore, once you have a customer’s bank account information, you can arrange for ACH transfers to be automated, making ACH a great option for recurring payments (like rent and utilities).
That’s the basics on Dwolla and ACH payments. To better understand what makes Dwolla’s service unique, let’s delve a bit deeper into its capabilities.
Dwolla makes it possible to send, receive, and facilitate ACH payments. Facilitating payments means offering a platform where users can send ACH payments to one another without you having to do anything. As we already mentioned, Dwolla is designed to be a white-label service, meaning you can add the Dwolla software to your platform and customize it to match your business’s branding.
On its website, Dwolla offers an array of documentation that explains how you can integrate your software with the Dwolla API (application programming interface). Dwolla also offers a sandbox (programming testing environment) so you can test to see how your software will work with Dwolla before integrating it. For those without programming experience, Dwolla provides one-on-one assistance with integrating your platform into its software.
Once you are all set up with Dwolla, you can enjoy a range of features, including:
When you set up a business account with Dwolla and receive verification (more on this momentarily), you will be able to hold funds in your Dwolla account received from payments, much like a digital wallet. You can use funds held in your account to make other payments, or transfer them to a business bank account or a personal savings account. You can even use your Dwolla account to transfer funds from one bank account to another.
Unlike credit transactions, customers who wish to pay you via Dwolla must verify their account. This adds an extra layer of security for you. Dwolla also has a bank account balance check feature, allowing the merchant to view the balance in a customer’s bank account before requesting funds—thereby mitigating the risk of a NSF (non-sufficient funds) transaction.
For customers and merchants alike, Dwolla offers two verification processes: instant account verification and micro-deposits. Instant verification requires customers to log into their bank account from the Dwolla platform, while micro-deposits send a tiny sum to the customer’s bank account to verify their banking information.
Note that you can still send and receive money with Dwolla without verifying your account. Unverified accounts only require you to provide your full name and email address, but you are limited to $5,000 in transfers per week. Unverified users cannot hold a balance in their digital wallet, and can only send and receive funds from a verified user.
Verified users have the option of selecting a business account or a personal account. As a business owner, you would obviously want to select the business account option. Business accounts can send and receive funds with a limit of up to $10,000 per week, while a personal account can only send and receive up to $5,000 each week.
Dwolla business account holders have the ability to arrange for payments from customers to be transferred from their bank account to the merchant’s Dwolla account on a specific date. In addition, merchants can arrange for these scheduled payments to be recurring. This is ideal for collecting rent or subscription fees.
Dwolla also has a metered billing option, allowing Dwolla to charge a different amount for each scheduled payment based on customer usage—perfect for utility billing.
Dwolla does not specify third-party products it integrates with on its website. However, it does promote two in-house products that can extend the functionality of your platform: Plaid and Sift Science. Plaid allows users to instantly link and verify their bank accounts within the Dwolla platform, rather than being redirected. Plaid will also tokenize and store their data, meaning the merchant doesn’t have to store financial information within their own platform (thereby avoiding PCI compliance).
Sift Science is a fraud monitoring system that uses machine learning and data on past transactions to determine the likelihood of new transactions being fraudulent. Dwolla does not provide specific pricing information on either of these add-ons.
Dwolla offers a couple of security measures for both you and your customers. Dwolla.js is a few lines of code within the Dwolla API that ensures sensitive bank account information never passes through your servers (again, avoiding PCI compliance).
Dwolla also encrypts all information being sent over its network, protecting you and your customers from having your information stolen.
Dwolla promises all customers a “dedicated support team with a private chat channel behind the scenes.“ Dwolla also has a helpline and email address. In terms of availability, Dwolla does not say it offers 24/7 support, leading us to believe you must contact Dwolla during normal business hours in order to receive help.
Of course, Dwolla also has a help center on its website with guides on how to use Dwolla as well as FAQs. There is also a developer portal and blog. We already mentioned that Dwolla offers integration help to new customers. Just keep in mind that integration can take up to 60 days.
Dwolla pricing is quote-based. On their website, Dwolla advertises three pricing options: Free, Predictable, and Custom. The free plan allows you to build your integration in the Dwolla sandbox. However, to actually use the integration you’ll have to sign up for either the Predictable or Custom plan. Dwolla says the Predictable plan comes with “volume discounts and pricing you can depend on.” We interpret that as meaning you will have a consistent month-to-month and per-transaction cost.
The custom plan is for businesses that want to “pay-as-you-grow with a low monthly subscription and per transaction pricing.” Dwolla says it will work with your business to determine a rate that makes sense. To figure out which plan is best for you, Dwolla suggests speaking with a sales representative who can make a recommendation based on your customer base, growth projection, and sales volume.
Given what we have learned about Dwolla, here are what we see as the benefits of using it as a payment solution for your business:
Although we can’t say for sure what Dwolla charges in per-transaction fees, we have seen customers say they pay as little as 0.5%. Again, all pricing is quote-based, so this could vary from customer to customer. Regardless, we’re confident that you’ll pay less in per-transaction fees with Dwolla than you would with a payment processor, simply because you won’t have to pay the credit card network every time you process a payment. Over the long haul, this could lead to quite a bit of savings.
Lots of payment processors actually offer ACH payments as an additional part of their service. What makes Dwolla unique is that it allows you to incorporate their ACH payment technology into your platform in such a way that it looks as if it is your own. For customers, this makes your brand appear more reputable. It also allows you to customize the payment experience in a way that makes sense for your business, which improves the user experience offered by your brand.
There are drawbacks to using Dwolla. We’ll list them here:
Dwolla does not offer credit card transactions at this time (although they may in the future). Compared to other payment service providers that offer credit and ACH payments, this is obviously a drawback. Therefore, before signing up for Dwolla, make sure you understand how your customers prefer to pay. You may lose a lot of customers if you take away their preferred payment method. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from using Dwolla along with a payment processor.
Another drawback with ACH payments is that they only work for domestic transactions. Therefore, if you do business with customers outside the United States, they won’t be able to pay you via the ACH network. This could be a major drawback, especially for ecommerce businesses.
Here is how Dwolla ranks on major review websites:
Business owners who use Dwolla report having a difficult time figuring out how to integrate with the API. They also say customer service can be lacking, and it can take a significant amount of time for them to respond to your inquiries.
Once the system is up and running, most reviewers reported being pleased with the service. They say Dwolla delivers on what it promises its software will do, and that they offer affordable pricing to boot.
If you’re looking for more than just ACH payments, consider these alternatives:
Stripe, the aforementioned white label payment processor, also offers ACH payments. The price you’ll pay to perform ACH payments with Stripe is 0.8% per transaction (capped at $5). Of course, you can also process credit card transactions at a rate of 2.7% + $0.30 for in-person payments and 2.9% + $0.30 for online payments. Plus, there are lots of additional features with Stripe—the option to build an embeddable checkout page, an invoicing platform, and a fraud prevention system—to name a few. Stripe is also a pay-as-you-go payment processor, meaning you can cancel your service at any time for no additional fee.
Another payment processor that also offers ACH payments is PayPal. You won’t get a white label service with PayPal like you would with Dwolla, and PayPal will charge you a 1% per-transaction fee to use its ACH services. Of course, using PayPal also gives you access to a range of additional services, including a payment gateway, financing options, and even a debit card. Payment processing fees on credit card transactions are 2.7% for in-person payments and 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions.
Dwolla is an interesting option if you operate a business where it makes sense to accept payment via bank transfer. Using Dwolla, your business can have a low-cost method for receiving payments that can also be customized to enhance your business’s branding. Of course, you can’t accept other forms of payment with Dwolla, but for what it does offer, Dwolla is an impressive service.