First Data Merchant Services are used by many banks and other merchant account providers. This is almost wholly down to their excellent suite of products and options for both face-to-face and online card payments. Although they do not provide the merchant account itself, they can provide everything but.
A heavily customer-focussed organisation, their website gives a lot of information for businesses new to accepting card payments and those who are looking for a change of providers. They also offer a bulletin board for customers, highlighting things such as current fraud trends and advice.
First Data, in its current iteration, has quite a complex history. Originally set up as First Data Resources in 1971, it was a small company designed to provide card data services for MABA (Mid-America Bankcard Association). Between 1980 and1983, the company was bought in full by American Express and subsequently spun off in 1992 as a separate concern.
They then merged with First Financial Management Corp in 1995, a merger which included Western Union. It was the infrastructure of Western Union that put First Data on track to becoming one of the world’s largest payment processors.
By 1998 the company had expanded beyond the US into international markets and from 2001-2005 underwent aggressive expansion with a series of mergers and acquisitions. They armed themselves with award-winning software and large customer bases, then in 2006 spun off Western Union as a separate company.
Shortly after, in 2007, they became the target of one of history’s largest leveraged buyouts. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts took the company private and appointed the tech king, Michael Capellas, as CEO. Capella’s credits included Chairman of HP, CEO of MCI and CEO of Compaq.
First Data continues to expand through acquisition, reaching into new regions and markets. Frank Bisignano recently took over as CEO and has now run the company for just over a year.
What’s on Offer?
The standard face-to-face options are, of course, available with mobile, portable and fixed-position terminals. Value added services such as Tax Free Shopping and Cashback are also available for retail outlets. All terminals and payment methods are PCI DSS compliant and tuition is offered on how to keep your business PCI DSS compliant. Virtual and smartphone terminals to handle mail/telephone order and mobile payments are available as well.
First Data have a wealth of e-commerce options and go into great detail on their site as to how businesses can integrate their solutions. The standard way to do this is to let First Data host a payment page, however they have an integrated option and go into this in further detail. Some of this can be quite technical and is aimed at developers, often mentioning things like Application Programming Interface (API).
In layman’s terms an API is like a bridge over a fast flowing river, connecting 2 very different towns. If not for this bridge, the two towns would be unable to trade information or goods. When you put the bridge in place, however, they are able to do this. An API is the software version of this analogy, a bridge between two very different software applications which allows them to interact and trade information. By using this you can integrate their service into your website and take payments without the customer ever leaving your site or knowing about First Data.
They offer ‘tokenisation’ of card details as well, which is handy for customers who sign up to an e-commerce site and activate ‘one click ordering’. The card details are stored securely and encrypted in First Data’s Data Vault and replaced by a ‘token’. This token is activated when the customer logs in and allows them to order securely with card details previously stored. This means if someone were to hack your website it would be difficult to retrieve any usable card information as technically it is not stored on your site.
Fist data offer support online via chat during business hours and a telephone support line for UK based issues is available.
First Data give some information based on an e-commerce platform but it is limited and many fields are described as variable dependent on volume. Their payment gateway service starts from £15 per month for SMEs with a variable set up fee and 500 transactions per month included. Other than this all their options are highly customisable.
Their reporting software, ClientLine, typically starts at £5 per month and their Business Track online portal to check your statements is free. They offer most of the security features free of charge as well.
First Data offers one of the most comprehensive and secure e-commerce payment service options available. They offer support and advice to business owners and developers. The face to face option has been refined by their experience with Western Union, but seems to be aimed more towards the SME end of the market.
Even for a large e-commerce business First Data offers global reach, Dynamic Currency Conversion and, above all, advanced security options. They are most relevant for a purely online business or a smaller business with a need for face-to-face transactions and a desire to spread online.
This is definitely an option worth considering, if for no other reason than the excellent security and support on offer, which is becoming an increasing concern for online retailers.
Disclaimer: All prices quoted in this article are true at the time of publication.