The onboarding process is one increasingly rendered in bits and bytes, where, for merchant acquiring, speed matters. Streamlining the steps that must be taken in the continuum for merchants to apply and be approved makes sense — it has traditionally been among the time-consuming parts of the merchant’s journey to market to and serve their end consumers.
It’s a truism that resellers — such as independent sales organizations (ISOs), independent software vendors (ISVs), merchant service providers (MSPs) and acquirers — don’t automate their onboarding processes. Quite simply, merchants will vote with their feet. Why? These merchants expect to create accounts with ease, and perhaps they take a page from their experience with, say, Square when they sign up in minutes or hours.
Against this backdrop, the acquirer simply cannot compete effectively with paper-based or manually intensive processes that can take a day or more.
PYMNTS interviewed Cory Taylor, acting COO at digital merchant onboarding FinTech Agreement Express, on the subject. Taylor said that the onboarding process is one that must offer a duality of speed and convenience — and that duality can be summed up in a simple concept: One-click onboarding, from merchant to provider to acquirer, can boost conversion rates to the tune of 42 percent. The higher the conversion rates, the higher the likelihood is that sales will get a boost, and that the sales will be sticky, said Taylor.
However, getting there is no easy feat. With a constantly shifting regulatory landscape under their feet, Taylor told PYMNTS that stakeholders have to juggle complexity to get to a simplified onboarding process.
One Click … And Higher Sales
Speaking generally about the competitive arena in merchant acquisition, firms are competing with digitally focused resellers (especially ISVs) — including, for example, Shopify — that can have several offerings across one platform. The digitally forward companies are able to make customer churn easily because, by offering digitized application processes, it is easy for merchants to switch providers and sign up with them.
“At this point, a one-click approval should not catch anybody by surprise,” Taylor told PYMNTS. “The newer industry players that are 100 percent digitally focused have been around long enough so that everybody should know about this. The question is what are merchant acquiring companies doing [proactively] about it? The ability to survive in this industry is questionable if they do not move to this technology.”
He noted that resellers are now sending emails that may have several application forms required for businesses, spanning merchant accounts, payroll, lending and ACH services. The result is that merchants have to fill out multiple applications, and the information that needs to be provided can often be redundant.
Taylor said the merchant may find it all too tedious, abandoning the effort to sign on with the reseller or MSP, never to return. Abandonment, of course, leads to lost revenues. For the merchants, miss any details and they get a straight up decline, which drags out the time to market.
He asked, rhetorically: “How many times must a merchant enter the same piece of information?” He answered, “Not much more than one. The merchants are time-starved. They are not frivolous with offering their time … you can literally get lost in the paperwork.”
Just as the merchant wants to save time, the provider desires to put processes in place that guarantee high levels of accuracy across multiple products. Accuracy is especially pressing for providers, Taylor said, amid a regulatory backdrop that demands they know that merchants’ websites are genuine, or that they have insight into levels of beneficial ownership. Anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) are increasingly on all stakeholders’ radars.
Complexity Reigns Where Simplicity Is The Goal
Then again, the one-click approach has a lot of moving parts, especially as acronyms such as AML, KYC and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) come to bear.
“You are always worried about security,” Taylor told PYMNTS. “A lot of the homegrown software solutions are pretty good on day one because they were designed to deal with a particular use case.”
However, he said, then tomorrow comes — merchants’ needs and regulations change, and difficulties loom when resellers and providers pull together a system with a bunch of different moving parts. It’s difficult to maintain the connection to all those various providers.
“As we move across any of the concerns in data security, it is an ongoing investment, significantly larger than anybody ever predicted it to be,” Taylor said, especially as the gaze of regulators on new data must be gleaned from merchants. As they do business across borders and currencies, they must strive in their own day-to-day activities to know their customers, too. He maintained that a one-click process can help ensure that consent (in the case of GDPR) and data compliance are set from the start.
Taylor noted that the smallest companies cannot afford to have someone focused on compliance and security all the time. As a result, he said, “they probably do need us on the very first day.”
The “one-click approach” helps ensure that every touchpoint in the onboarding process is meeting compliance mandates, spurring what he said is a striving toward “a higher level of excellence than there was yesterday.”
He told PYMNTS that, in designing onboarding links and digital forms for merchants, it is important to be mindful that the more choices with which a person is presented, the longer their reaction time.
“It is critical to outline what you need them to do first,” he explained, “and then guide them through the specific actions they should do next, based on what is most important.”
Taylor said studies have shown that sending only one link instead of, say, four showed a 42 percent higher click rate — and 10 minutes seems to be a cut-off point for a merchant’s appetite to complete an online form or application before abandoning it. Simplicity and speed, when it comes to onboarding, also lets resellers offer a greater range of products to merchants, he noted.
“If you can get them more products in less time,” Taylor told PYMNTS, “then you are certainly going to have an easier time of acquiring merchants as new customers, and you can compete with the new generation of electronic providers.”
Having a selection of product offerings increases merchant interest by at least one-third, but if the application process is too long or requires too many forms to be completed, the drop-off could be as high as 79 percent.
The competition is picking up for merchant acquirers, he said, and greater processing volume is the goal in an industry where, as he put it: “The bar never goes down.”
To hear more from Agreement Express on streamlining the merchant onboarding process, register for the upcoming PYMNTS Digital Discussion here.