“What is Square?”
That was the right question to the answer read by Jeopardy host Alex Trebek during an episode that aired this week. Contestant “Beth” hit a Daily Double and waged $2,000 to try and take the lead over “David” and “Joe.”
— Nick D 👨👧 (@ndimichino) September 17, 2020
Square employees reacted on twitter by pointing out that the quoted transaction cost was a little out of date, but mostly took the honorable mention in stride.
We've made it! https://t.co/MZoZofrsno
— Jackie Reses (@jackiereses) September 18, 2020
Square Inc’s stock jumped 7 percent on Wednesday, thanks to upbeat earnings reported Tuesday.
The Jack Dorsey-led company recorded a loss of $32 million for the third quarter, compared to $52 million in the comparable period last year, and beat analysts’ revenue estimates of $430 million, with a 32 percent jump in revenue totaling $439 million.
Square processed $13.2 billion worth of transactions through its point of sale devices, up 39 percent since last year and the company’s lending business, Square Capital grew 70 percent annually, extending $208 million through 35,000 loans. With this, it has originated over $1 billion in two years.
Square Capital loans are made by Celtic Bank and loan offers are presented using the Total Cost of Capital method, where cost is disclosed as a precise dollar amount so that potential borrowers will know exactly how much they will have to pay. By enforcing a fixed 18 month term, Square differentiates its loan product from a merchant cash advance or a purchase of future sales.
Square CFO Sarah Friar told CNBC that there is still a lot of room for growth in the Square ecosystem with existing merchants, even as the company extends credit to businesses that do not use Square for payments. Friar also said that the company is “executing on all cylinders” to beat estimates for revenue and growth.
It’s not about replacing banks, it’s about making financial services more accessible, said Square CEO Jack Dorsey in regards to what his company and others in the fintech space are doing. During his fireside chat-style address at Money2020, he bemoaned chipped card transactions for being so slow while defending their decision to go public when they did.
“It took us a long time to get [transaction times] down to under five seconds,” Dorsey said. Their goal is to get it down to 3 seconds, which is 7 seconds faster than today’s industry average. The payments CEO who is also the CEO of twitter, appeared to empathize with consumers on long wait times with chipped cards. People aren’t happy,” he said. “It’s really, really, really slow.” While more security is good, he argued that it has to be complemented by a frictionless experience for consumers.
Square Capital, their lending division, was hardly mentioned during his time on stage, which seemed more a consequence of his time allotment than its relative importance. The company funded $189 million to their small business customers in the second quarter. “Our goal is to make sure we’re helping our sellers grow,” Dorsey said. “As they grow, we grow.”
When asked if the timing of their IPO last November was the right choice, Dorsey said that going public should be viewed as an enabler, not the goal. “It’s an investment vehicle,” he argued while standing by their decision. Notably, compared to OnDeck and Lending Club, Square is the only one of the bunch to be currently trading above its IPO price. The stock recently closed at $11.15, up 24% from their $9 IPO on November 19, 2015.
Square is making a jump across the pond to sell its service in the UK.
The payments company incorporated Squareup Europe Ltd in London early last month.
The six year old company started by Twitter chief Jack Dorsey plans to provide payment services in Britain which it began testing last month, Reuters reported.
With a presence in the US, Canada, Japan and Australia, the company provides payment solutions to merchants through its mobile point of sale device on iPhones and iPads.
In the US, Square made the natural transition to offering loans to its customers. In Q2, Square reported a loss of $97 million but raised projections for 2016 revenues from $600 – $620 million to $615 – $635 million. With low customer acquisition costs, Square is well positioned to become an easy choice for merchants who already use the product. The company made 23,000 advances for $153 million in the first quarter before moving on to ditch the MCA program for business loans.
Prior to daily fixed payment business loans, there was the traditional merchant cash advance (MCA). The MCA, being the only option, required merchants to tie their need for working capital to that of their merchant accounts, either directly or indirectly, through the use of either split-funding or a lockbox account.
DIRECT OR INDIRECT?
Split-funding is a direct method that requires the merchant to convert their merchant account over to a chosen Independent Sales Organization (ISO), you could also refer to the ISO as a Merchant Service Provider (MSP). The MCA company contracts with an ISO/MSP who then manages the flow of the merchant’s daily credit card processing volume. A percentage is withheld and forwarded to the buyer of those receivables.
The lockbox is an indirect method to manage the flow of funds. Rather than withhold funds from the ISO/MSP, a separate FDIC insured account is established on the side for all credit card processing receipts to settle into initially, with a percentage of that volume going to the buyer and the remaining amount “swept” into the merchant’s operating account.
Nevertheless, whether directly or indirectly, the merchant account of the business owner was the foundation of the MCA approval and facilitation. Because many MCA companies also offer alternative business loans today with fixed payments, a lot of the new broker entrants do not believe that learning about the field of merchant processing is as important today as it was years ago. However, I disagree with this notion, as the purpose of our industry is the long term relationship with the client, and in many ways the traditional MCA product provides more “benefits and value” to the merchant over time than today’s business loan. Just as new broker entrants get to know all about the MCA, they should also get to know all about merchant processing.
OVER TIME, CAN THE MCA BE THE BETTER CHOICE?
The alternative business loan requires no merchant account conversion as it doesn’t tie the merchant account to the facilitation of the working capital transaction. With these loans, a percentage of gross revenues are approved with fixed terms up to 36 months on daily or weekly payments. The main benefit of this product over the MCA is the awareness of payment frequency and quantity upfront, thus, enabling the merchant to better allocate their cash flow.
However, while the traditional merchant cash advance requires the tie-in of the merchant account, there’s no fixed terms nor fixed payments as it correlates with the merchant’s sales cycle, where they deliver more during busy times, less during slow times.
When selling the merchant the long term aspects of the MCA, why not seek to get their MCA funded using the split-funding method rather than a lockbox? Doing so would provide an additional revenue stream within your client portfolio. To properly seek out this opportunity and be able to consult, convince and convert the merchant over to your MCA firm’s ISO/MSP Partner, you want to fully understand what merchant processing is all about.
WHAT IS MERCHANT PROCESSING?
A merchant account is an unsecured line of credit provided to a business from a registered ISO/MSP. The credit line enables the business to benefit from accepting Visa and MasterCard (V/MC) along with other major bankcards from their customer base, to experience the benefits of acceptance which includes better fraud management, higher average tickets, customer loyalty due to convenience, and more. V/MC are just registered card brands that manage a group of banks called “member banks”, which are banks apart of a listing of V/MC bank associations. The member banks pay V/MC dues and assessments to market their brands. You have different types of member banks, you have the Issuing Banks and then you have the ISO/MSP along with the Sponsoring Banks.
The Issuing Banks issue credit cards with credit limits to consumers after they meet credit criteria. On the processing side, you have the registered ISO/MSP and Sponsor Banks, which approve a merchant for a merchant account and process payments through a front-end authorization network, then settles them through a back-end network.
During the processing of a credit card transaction, there’s a couple of different fees that are charged. Interchange is one of the fees charged, which is how the Issuing Banks are paid. These are wholesale prices for every type of card that a merchant could potentially run at the point of sale, with new interchange pricing charts released in April and October of every year. The ISO/MSPs are paid when they mark-up interchange as well as through fees such as an annual fee, statement fee and batch fee.
WHY IS MERCHANT PROCESSING A UNSECURED LINE OF CREDIT?
The merchant account is indeed an unsecured line of credit, because when a merchant’s customer runs an order on their credit card for $500, the merchant would rather have that entire $500 upfront rather than waiting for the customer to pay off their credit card balance in full, which could potentially take years. As a result, the ISO/MSP deposits the amount in their bank account within 48 hours rather than having the merchant wait until their customer pays their credit card balance in full.
Now, if the merchant’s customer initiates a chargeback of the $500 transaction and the merchant loses the case, the $500 would have to be refunded by the merchant plus the costs of the chargeback which includes a chargeback fee and retrieval fee. If the ISO/MSP goes to get the $500 from the merchant and there’s no money in their account (let’s say the merchant has gone out of business), then the ISO/MSP who underwrote the merchant account is on the hook for the charge.
WHY SHOULD YOU SELL MERCHANT PROCESSING?
When using split funding for a merchant cash advance deal, if you switch over their processing to an ISO/MSP that your MCA firm currently split funds with, you are looking at collecting the long term residuals from the processing and the compensation from future merchant cash advance renewals. In addition, split funding is much more efficient than using a lockbox, as a lockbox usually adds 1-2 business days to the settlement process for everyone involved. Withsplit funding, the merchant can continue to receive their processing deposits as normal.
There are different types of payment processing technologies depending on what the merchant needs, if they need a stand-alone solution then that’s available in the form of a landline terminal, wireless terminal, computer software or virtual terminal. If the merchant needs a comprehensive solution then that’s also available in the form of point-of-sale systems or operational management technologies, both of which integrate merchant processing into the system and other operational aspects such as accounting, payroll, human resources, etc.
Why not just have the merchant switch over their processing to an ISO/MSP that your MCA firm currently split funds with, and collect recurring merchant processing residuals along with recurring income from merchant cash advance renewals? After all, recurring income is the lifeblood of our business.
The Transact ’15 conference opened to a record crowd and there was no shortage of merchant cash advance players in attendance. Those facts were to be expected. And if you walked in and poked your head around, you might not have noticed anything to be different. Payment processors touted the latest mobile technology and at every turn security systems were being offered to prevent catastrophic breaches of cardholder data.
Everything looked normal… except the merchant cash advance companies.
Back to the fundamentals
Early on Wednesday, April 1st, CAN Capital kicked off a product announcement by raffling off free Apple watches. CAN’s new product is called TrakLoan, a revolutionary new loan program that allows merchants to repay via a split percentage of their credit card sales instead of fixed ACH.
The described advantage of TrackLoan is that there is no fixed term and that merchants only pay back at the pace that they generate card sales. Wait, Where have I heard of this before?
After slapping myself across the face a few times to make sure I hadn’t teleported to the year 2005, the rip in the space time continuum grew more apparent at the after parties.
Card processors Integrity Payment Systems, North American Bancard and Priority Payment systems are still among the hottest names in town for splits. The veteran MCA ISOs and funders are still boarding hoards of merchant accounts with them every month and are therefore building multi-million dollar residual portfolios in the process. It makes one wonder why so many people have turned their back on split-deals for the ACH methodology.
Years ago, merchant cash advance was a sideshow value-add that could be used to acquire what really mattered and what was reliably profitable, merchant accounts. Not everyone has forgotten that however.
Over at Strategic Funding Source, Vice President Hellen McQuain is heading up a new merchant services division. In The Business Strategist, an SFS periodical, McQuain speaks the native tongue of the payments industry: EMV, PCI, NFC, etc.. Few, if any, of today’s new entrants in merchant cash advance could identify what those acronyms stand for, let alone explain the current climate of adoption.
So, is it time to get back to the basics?
Over the last six months, I have heard more gripes from funders about how to align a broker’s interest with theirs, other than by offering the opportunity to syndicate of course. The question comes down to, how can you get a broker to care about the outcome of a deal?
The answer should be obvious. Pay half the commission upfront and the other half as part of an ongoing performance residual. That gives the broker a stake in the outcome without having to syndicate. This is not a novel idea. This was how the entire industry operated from 2005 to 2011.
Might brokers resist such a compensation plan today in an upfront-only world? Maybe. But the greatest resistance I sense from funders, especially new ones, is that automated residual payments are too complicated for their current accounting systems.
That of course begs another question. How can this possibly be? Despite the rapid growth in technology, there is an entire segment of the industry that is ill-equipped to handle transactions that were commonplace and scalable five years ago.
While today’s systems are impressive, there are times when it seems like yesterday’s advanced technology was lost in a great flood, along with all the scientific texts documenting how to build the powerful machines.
To add to this, some of today’s edgy ideas are not new. A monthly payment loan for example is not an innovative idea. Weekly payments might acquire the merchant that wouldn’t do daily payments. And monthly payments might get the merchant that wouldn’t do weekly payments. These stretched out programs might make you popular with merchant cash advance brokers that are used to selling daily payment products, but they’re in no way new. It’s a return to the basics.
In 2015 we may apparently be going full circle.
I’ll be at Transact ’15 this week in San Francisco. It used to be the only national show that the entirety of the merchant cash advance industry attended. That’s not necessarily the case anymore but it’s still a must-attend event for funders.
Click here for my photo blog of last year’s Transact conference.
To view the events I’ll be at this year, check out our schedule.
I will of course be keeping a live blog of the conference on the website and collecting photos, news, and interviews for use in the next issue of deBanked magazine. If you’d like to arrange a meeting, email me at email@example.com.
See you in Cali!
— Jason Oxman (@joxman) March 27, 2015
Stacking is on everyone’s minds in the merchant cash advance (MCA) industry but that war is little more than smoke compared to the fire burning in our own backyard. One of the major topics of debate at Transact 14 has been Operation Choke Point, a federal campaign against banks and payment processors to kill off the payday lending industry and protect consumer bank accounts. Caught in the mix are law abiding financial institutions, some of which if affected, could potentially disrupt the merchant cash advance and alternative lending industries. Both have become heavily dependent on ACH processing. Could their strength become their Achilles heel?
Indeed, there was a rumor circulating around the conference that a popular ACH processor in the MCA industry is no longer accepting new funding companies. I know the name but was not able to confirm it as fact. There is a two-fold threat on the horizon:
1. The probability that ACH processors in this industry are also processing payments for payday lenders or other high risk businesses.
2. The likelihood that a bank or ACH processor would take preemptive action and terminate relationships with merchant cash advance companies and alternative business lenders, not because it’s illegal but as a way to make their books squeaky clean.
The sentiment at the conference however was that MCA providers and alternative business lenders had little need to worry. While Operation Choke Point specifies online lenders, they are narrowly defined as businesses making loans to consumers. MCA and their counterparts do not fall under that scope, even if they themselves lend exclusively online.
Is regulation coming?
There seems to be both a call for and paranoia about regulation, especially in the context of stacking merchant cash advances and daily repayment business loans. On the popular online forum DailyFunder, several opponents of stacking are under the impression that regulators will be busting down doors any day now to put an end to businesses utilizing multiple sources of expensive capital simultaneously. Many insiders who have had their merchants stacked on view the issue as both a legal and a moral one. Opponents get worked up about it for many reasons. They believe any one or multiple of the following:
- The merchant can’t sell something which has already been contractually sold to another party.
- That the merchant ends up borrowing and selling their future revenues at their own peril, endangering their cash flow and their business.
- That the stackers endanger the first lender or funder’s ability to collect.
- That the merchant taking on stacks won’t be eligible for additional funds with the first company, hurting the retention rate.
Stacking is not illegal, but it may be tortious interference. That allegation is the one that gets thrown around the most, but it’s important to recognize that actual damages are an integral part of any such case. If I stack on your merchant and the deal performs as expected for you, then what damages would you have suffered? But if I stack on your deal and it defaults 3 weeks later, you might be able to allege that I was the cause of it.
Insiders on DailyFunder’s forum that wonder how they might be able to get stacking to stop, only need to follow the example of what a few select funders are already doing, going on the offensive. The first thing one west coast MCA company does when they have a merchant default is find out if there was a stack that came on top of them. If they find out who it was, they send the offending funder a bill for the outstanding balance. That may sound cheesy, but given their industry prowess and litigious nature, they said that some stackers quietly mail them a check, rather than risk things escalating to the next level. The threats only hold weight of course if you’re actually prepared to bring the case to court.
I’ve spoken with dozens of proponents for stacking, many of sound character, high intelligence, and business acumen. They buck the stereotype of stackers as sleazy wall street guys with pinky rings. Few of these proponents believe that future revenue is a precise asset. It’s been said that, “future revenues are unknowable and possibly infinite. A business should be able to sell infinite amounts of these future revenues if there are investors out there that will buy them.” The general consensus on this side of the aisle is that a 2nd position stack, or “seconds” are here to stay. There’s a sense of calm and conviction, as if seconds were a boring subject of little contention. Many are okay with thirds “if the math works” but discomfort sets in on fourths, fifths and beyond. If they believe it’ll be a good investment, they’ll do the deal. They scoff at the notion that they’d willingly chance putting a merchant out of business since that would jeopardize their own investment.
To date, I’ve seen no data to support that stacking causes merchants to go out of business. I would not be surprised if there was a correlation between defaults and stacks, but that would not imply causation. A business that is on its way towards bankruptcy regardless may be able to obtain a few stacks in the process as a last ditch effort to stave it off. When the business finally fails, it may appear to look like the stacks caused it, even if they didn’t.
For those that don’t want to play cat and mouse with threats and lawsuits, there’s a growing call for regulation, both self-regulation and federal. That call feeds off the paranoia that regulators are knocking at the industry’s door already anyway.
In regards to self-regulation, insiders have been looking to the North American Merchant Advance Association (NAMAA) to create rules and become an enforcer. It’s no secret that their members are opponents of stacking, but as a powerful body of industry leaders, they’re up against a threat of their own, antitrust laws. Creating rules and enforcing them could be construed as anti-competitive. In truth, a lot of the MCA industry’s growth over the last 2 years can be attributed to stacking. A private association of the largest players actively working to establish rules to squash the fast growing segment of new entrants could indeed be perceived as anti-competitive.
But that doesn’t mean NAMAA is powerless to promote their views. Following in the footsteps of the Electronic Transactions Association, they could create a set of best practices, host workshops, and offer courses and sessions to train newcomers on these best practices. Such benefits and opportunities are a standard in the payments industry, but nothing like it is available in MCA or alternative business lending.
But is it too late for self regulation?
With all the government enforcement occurring in the rest of the financial sphere, fears of imminent federal involvement in MCA and alternative business lending are not unfounded… or are they?
In the wake of the financial crisis, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was formed to protect consumers in financial markets. The CFPB was instrumental in Operation Choke Point and they would be the most likely federal agency to field complaints about stacking. Unlike the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency which has jurisdiction over banks, the CFPB’s oversight extends to non-bank financial institutions. They’re the wild card agency that has financial companies across the nation on their heels.
I had the opportunity to speak with a former lead attorney of the CFPB off the record today about the definition of consumer. Could a small business be construed as a consumer? The short answer was no. The long answer was that there is no specific definition of consumer at the CFPB but it was meant to represent individuals. Although businesses at the end of the day are run by individuals, I got a pretty confident response that the CFPB would not have jurisdiction over a business lending money to a business, even if it was a very small 1 or 2 man operation. If they were acting in a commercial capacity, then they’re no longer consumers.
The other side of her argument was that it would take up too much resources to take on a case where the victim class was basically outside of their scope. The CFPB already has enough on their plate.
Is the government busy?
I also spoke with a few lobbyists and payments industry attorneys off the record and the unilateral response was that MCA and alternative business lending were not on any agenda, nor does the government have the resources to juggle something that is basically…insignificant in their eyes.
In the grand scheme of financial issues, a few billion year in small business-to-business financing transactions isn’t worth anyone’s breath. “A business acting in a business capacity was unhappy with a business contract they entered into? Take it up in civil court,” I imagine a regulator might say.
Regulators aren’t completely in the dark about MCA. Just a month or two ago, several industry captains and myself included were contacted by the Federal Reserve as part of a research mission to basically find out what this industry even was. The feds appear to have stumbled upon the MCA industry as part of their research into peer-to-peer lending. Who would’ve thought a 16 year old industry could be so stealthy?
If the big PR machines like Kabbage, Lending Club, and OnDeck Capital didn’t exist, I’m inclined to believe no one in the government would’ve heard of MCA for at least another 10 years. In 2014, they’re just now discovering it.
My gut tells me we’re a long way from any kind of regulatory enforcement. In a session I attended at Transact 14 today, a former member of the Department of Justice and a current member of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency both offered examples of cases that took 3-8 years before there was an enforcement action. In each scenario, they alerted the parties there was a problem and they were given time to correct it. They had to show progress along the way and eventually when no such progress was made after years of warnings, they acted.
In the conversation of regulation, alternative business lending and MCA are relatively tiny. Lending Club does more in loan volume each year than the entire MCA industry combined. So long as there’s no fraud involved, small business-to-business financing transactions are not likely to make it on the agenda for federal regulators for a long time. That doesn’t mean it won’t be there some day in the future.
I think it was Brian Mooney, the CEO of Bank America Merchant Services that said in the Transact 14 roundtable discussion that if something feels wrong in your gut, don’t do it. Debra Rossi, the head of Wells Fargo Merchant Services added that you can’t tell a regulator, “I didn’t know.” Keep those suggestions in the front of your mind.
For the foreseeable future it’s on us as an industry to find a resolution to stacking. There’s no such thing as the cash advance police. On one side is tort law. On the other is creating best practices and actively educating newcomers. That’s where the blood boiling debates need to turn to. After all, there’s already a large crowd that yawns over seconds, a group that wholeheartedly believes a stack is just as legitimate as a first position deal.
Instead of waiting for a referee to call foul on somebody, I think 2014 is the year to realize that you might be stuck in the room with the person you hate. Could you bring yourself to tolerate them for years to come?
We should consider that the greatest threat to the industry may not come from within, but from outside. More than 50% of MCA/alternative business lending transactions are repaid via ACH. Government action on ACH providers or the banks that sponsor them could end up hitting this industry as collateral damage.
One metric that banks and regulators consider is the return rate of ACHs, namely the percentage of ACHs rejected for insufficient funds or rejected because the transactions weren’t authorized. Daily fixed debits run the risk of rejects and boost the return rate. Could the frequency of your rejects eventually scare the processor into terminating the relationship? With the pressure they’re getting from the Department of Justice, there’s always the possibility.
Data security is another sleeping giant to consider. Do you keep merchant data safe? Are you protected from hackers?
Know your merchant. The push towards automated underwriting seems dead set on eliminating humans from the analysis. But what if the algorithm misses something and loans get approved to facilitate a money laundering scheme? Or what if it approves a known terrorist?
If you’re paranoid you’re doing something wrong, then maybe you are doing something wrong even if there’s no current law against it. Follow your gut, create value, and work together. Who knows, maybe one day there will be an ETA-like organization for MCA and alternative business lending. Now is a good time to be proactive.
After years of debating over the law to cap debit card interchange fees and its eventual enactment, a federal court has struck it down. The 21 cent cap is gone but not because it was deemed unfair to banks but because the court thinks the cap should be even lower.
I wrote about the law several times over the last couple years. In the beginning, it was unclear as to what a debit card fee cap really meant, as I myself even explained it incorrectly the first time or two. The majority of folks believed the cap applied to the end user, the merchant, which helped to encourage small businesses,journalists, and even consumers to rally around it.
But when the law actually went into place, not much really changed because it didn’t have much to do with small businesses at all. The debit card reform law capped the amount of interchange fees that an acquiring bank pays a card issuing bank. The merchant wasn’t even involved although the acquirer can pass their new savings on to the merchant, but they don’t have to.
Many acquirers did pass some of the savings on but merchants went and did the opposite of what they promised. Their call to have their swipe fees lowered initially was so that they could lower their retail prices and and pass the savings on to consumers. Consumers believed this logic and supported small businesses to get this law implemented. A study by the Electronic Payments Coalition however, found that 67% of small businesses kept their prices the same or raised them.
There was clearly a lot of misinformation around this law and now it’s been struck down.
Two big misconceptions:
merchants will pay a maximum 21 cent debit swipe fee: Wrong
small businesses will turn their debit card fee savings into lower prices for consumers: wrong
My previous articles about debit card reform:
- The Debit Interchange Fee Battle Continues 2/7/12
- Law to Reduce Debit Card Fees to Retailers has Opposite Effect 12/12/11
- Where’s the Debit Discount? 12/11/11
- Don’t Make Us Pay is Back at it Again 10/21/11
- Revenge for the Durbin Amendment 10/3/11
- Don’t Make Us Pay Goes Quiet 7/11/11
- 15,000 Exempt From the Debit Card Interchange Fee Standards 7/14/11
- And the Misinformation Continues 7/12/11
- Blackjack! 21 Cent Debit Card Interchange Fee Plus 5 Basis Points 6/30/11
- Debit Card Feed Reform to be Finalized June 29 6/28/11
- Save My Debit Card Video Finalists 5/9/11
- Debit Card Reform is Gaining Steam in Canada 4/18/11
- Interchange Regulation and Reduction 4/16/11
- Wells Fargo, Chase, SunTrust Cancel Debit Rewards Program 3/28/11
- https://debanked.com/2011/08/6497526-the-merchant-processing-resource-is-not-hiring/ 3/23/11
- A Few Good Senators Try to Stop the Madness 3/17/11
- Say Goodbye to Debit Cards 3/11/11
- Congressman Steve Israel Replies to Us 2/22/11
- Debit Card Costs May Be Put on the Consumer 2/18/11
- Electronic Payments Industry Changing Forever 12/17/10