You know Wells Fargo as the mega-bank that offers both consumer and small business services to almost 70 million customers across the United States.
But what do you know about Wells Fargo Merchant Services? As a small business owner and merchant, you might have stumbled across the newer merchant services division of Wells Fargo.
If you’re considering using Wells Fargo Merchant Services as your business’s credit card processor, here’s what you need to know.
Wells Fargo Merchant Services is a credit card payment processing service, and one of the top 10 largest merchant account providers in the United States.
We’ll get into the details of Wells Fargo Merchant Services and what separates them from the pack, but first, let’s run through how this whole system works.
New to the world of merchant accounts and merchant services?
It’s a complicated space, and one worth knowing well before you venture into it.
(If you already get the gist of merchant accounts, feel free to skip ahead to our breakdown of what Wells Fargo Merchant Services has to offer.)
A merchant account is an account that lets a business to accept credit card payments. This is a totally necessary service for small business owners who are ahead of the curve and accepting credit card payments. (About 4 out of 5 consumers use credit cards, and businesses that accept credit cards are more likely to produce higher sales and upsell customers.)
In a way, a merchant account is pretty similar to any old checking account. Just as a checking account lets you cash a check from someone else, a merchant account allows you to take a payment from a customer. But unlike a checking account, a merchant account doesn’t hold the money you accept.
Instead, a card payment gets passed through the merchant account and is deposited into your business checking account once the funds have been cleared through the merchant account. This process usually takes at most 48 hours from the time the credit card is swiped at your store-front.
Now, here’s where it gets complicated.
Most credit card issuers (besides American Express) do not directly provide merchant accounts for small businesses owners processing credit card payments. Instead, companies like Visa, MasterCard, and Discover rely on banks, independent sales organizations (ISOs), or financial service providers to supply the merchant accounts.
In order for a third-party sales organization to legally supply these merchant accounts and process credit card transactions, it must be registered as an ISO and backed by an FDIC-insured bank—also known as an “acquiring bank.”
If you set up a merchant account from an acquiring bank, the bank will treat this account like a line of credit account. That’s because your business will get paid before any actual money is collected from the customer.
Now that we’ve covered how merchant accounts work, let’s get back to Wells Fargo Merchant Services.
Remember those acquiring banks we mentioned above?
Wells Fargo is technically an acquiring bank in this whole exchange. That means that when you sign up for Wells Fargo Merchant Services, Wells Fargo won’t be your direct credit card processor.
Wells Fargo is the acquiring bank that fronts the money you’re owed from your credit card transactions, and First Data is the credit card processor that clears the customer’s transaction with their credit card issuer.
Wells Fargo doesn’t fully explain this relationship on their Wells Fargo Merchant Service website.
But what you really need to know is that when signing up for a Wells Fargo Merchant Services account, you’ll be working with both Wells Fargo Merchant Services and First Data. For example, all of the physical equipment used to process credit cards in your store is provided by First Data Global Leasing.
Wells Fargo Merchant Services offers the merchant account we described above.
A merchant account from Wells Fargo Merchant Services will make it so your business can accept credit card and debit card transactions from all four of the major credit card issuers in your physical store, online, and on mobile devices.
But remember, all the credit card processing is done through First Data.
Beyond a general merchant account, here’s a list of what else Wells Fargo Merchant Services offers:
If you visit the Wells Fargo Merchant Services website, you’ll find from a quick scan that rates and fees aren’t readily available.
You can take a look at their rates and fees section on their frequently asked questions page. But if you were to ask, “What will it cost to use Wells Fargo Merchant Services?”
The answer would be, “It varies.”
In general, rates and fees depend on the kind of business you run, your business’s processing volume, your processing method (in person, online, or by phone), the kind of card your customer uses, and simply how your merchant account is set up.
While we don’t know exactly what Wells Fargo will charge you—and you won’t know exactly until you call them up and ask for a quote—here’s a general idea of what might show up on your statement:
Unfortunately, that’s all we can really tell of rates and fees for Wells Fargo Merchant Services. If you go through their online resources, the most you’ll get on information for rates and fees is that “they vary.”
You won’t know exactly what you’ll be charged until you talk with one of their sales representatives. The rate structure you’ll get depends on the kind of business you run and how your account is set up, but if you’ve been a Wells Fargo customer in the past, you might be able to take advantage of relationship-based rates.
Now that you’ve got a general sense of what Wells Fargo Merchant Services has to offer, what are some of the factors that might make you want to use their service over another’s?
Well, here are a few perks to consider.
With Wells Fargo Merchant Services, you can accept all the major credit cards for your business.
This is definitely a plus—you wouldn’t want to be paying for a service that doesn’t let you accept the major cards found in your customers’ wallets.
But when it comes down to it, accepting all the major credit cards is pretty run-of-the-mill for merchant services.
Wells Fargo Merchant Services has a strong offering for businesses that host many of their transactions online.
You can use Wells Fargo’s own SecureSource Web Payment Account, which accepts all major credit cards, completes transactions on the same day of purchase, and offers a wide range of security protections.
But Wells Fargo also allows you to use Authorize.Net, CyberSource, SecureNet Payment Systems, PayFlow Gateway, and almost any other payment gateway. So when it comes to offering online payment processing, Wells Fargo’s flexibility is an added plus.
Whereas most credit card payment processing takes 48 hours, Wells Fargo offers the possibility of getting your payments processed the day after the purchase.
If the speed at which you get your credit card payments deposited into your business checking account is important to you, you’ll benefit from this feature. Any credit card transactions from Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express networks will come in the next day.
However, it’s important to note that the next-day funding benefit is only available to you if you have your business checking account with Wells Fargo.
As with any decision for your small business, you need to weigh the pros against the cons you face by choosing to work with Wells Fargo Merchant Services.
Here’s what’s not so great about Wells Fargo Merchant Services.
Notice that we can’t give you a clear breakdown of what you’ll face in rates and fees if you choose Wells Fargo Merchant Services?
That’s because Wells Fargo is very vague across all their informational resources on fees and rates. It’s really unclear what your rate structure will be and how that rate is determined.
While most of it’s dependent on what services you specifically choose for your business, it’s better to work with a merchant account provider that’s fully transparent with their rates and fees.
After the discount rate, interchange fees, transaction fees, and so on—these merchant accounts can really add up. You wouldn’t want to work with an account provider that isn’t totally upfront about what you’ll need to pay.
It’s crucial to know that, if you sign up for Wells Fargo Merchant Services, you’ll be working with both Wells Fargo and First Data—the credit card processor.
While this isn’t necessarily a problem, you just need to know that you’re working under two different contracts.
First Data could spike their rates, making your overall monthly statements more expensive. Or they could change their security features while Wells Fargo’s services remain the same.
When it comes down to it, you’ll be juggling two different contracts with two different companies for one service.
With Wells Fargo Merchant Services, you’ll get an industry-standard contract length and an early termination fee of $500 to go with it.
Wells Fargo offers to “buy out” your existing contract with another merchant account provider in order to win your business—paying a portion or all of your cancellation fee. (You can only qualify for this deal if you’re doing at least $100,000 in processing annually.)
They say you’ll receive up to $500 when you switch to Wells Fargo Merchant Services.
This is pretty misleading. You won’t get a check deposited into your bank account when you switch from your current provider to Wells Fargo. You’ll simply get refunded for whatever your cancellation fee was—up to $500 dollars.
And back to Wells Fargo’s own cancellation fee—$500 is quite steep.
They call $500 the “industry standard,” but many merchant account providers don’t charge an early cancellation fee—like Fattmerchant, Dharma Merchant Services, and Helcim.
Wells Fargo Merchant Services provides customer support and technical assistance through a telephone line that’s available 24/7.
You can also reach them via email, but there’s no chat function on their website.
While it’s good to have the 24/7-service, having customer support be primarily offered through the phone is an inconvenience. That means that if something is going wrong as you’re serving a customer, you’ll have to get on the line to get any assistance with the problem.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to get things done over the phone, this might work for you. But with customer support being a common complaint in Wells Fargo Merchant Services reviews, clearly their technical support is an issue.
If you’ve seen them in the news, then you know that Wells Fargo hasn’t had the best year.
In September 2016, the bank reached a $190 million settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over allegations that Wells Fargo employees had intentionally and systematically set up over 2 million unauthorized accounts in order to meet sales quotas.
To deal with this issue, Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf was forced to resign, and the bank has fired about 5,300 employees.
The majority of this issue remained on the consumer side of the bank’s products, but there’s some indication that the opening of unauthorized accounts happened on the small business side, too—possibly over 10,000 unauthorized small business accounts have been identified.
It’s not confirmed that any of those small business accounts were merchant accounts, but it’s clear that at least some of them were.
Hopefully, this issue won’t affect more merchants using their services. But with many complaints of shady sales tactics and lack of full disclosure with fees—especially the early contract termination fee—it’s clear that this problem might be an issue across all of Wells Fargo’s divisions.
As always, you should weigh the pros and cons with any service for your small business—and Wells Fargo Merchant Services is no exception.
There are a few reasons why this merchant account might be the right move for your business—namely if your business already has a bank account set up with Wells Fargo—but the service has its fair share of downsides.
Always shop your options to see if you can find a merchant account that has fewer add-on fees, and is a little more transparent with what you’re getting.
Have you had a positive or negative experience with Wells Fargo Merchant Services? Tell us about it in the comments!