Getting Your High-Risk Merchant Account: A Step-by-Step Guide

Getting Your High-Risk Merchant Account: A Step-by-Step Guide


We’ve written quite a bit over the years about our process for working with new merchant account applicants, but I thought it was time for a refresher. As most of our readers would know, at UniBul we specialize in providing credit and debit card processing services and check acceptance to high-volume, high-risk businesses, with a special emphasis on merchants that have been placed into the Terminated Merchant File (TMF), also known as MATCH list. We serve U.S.-based, as well as international businesses.


Now, our merchant review, application and set-up process can vary widely from one applicant to another, as the types of merchants we work with are located all over the world and operate in an incredibly wide array of industries and so we have to deal with different legal and regulatory environments. Yet, our overarching objective is the same — making sure that each applicant is a legitimate and well-established merchant, which understands the risks inherent in doing business in a high-risk industry and has made risk management a top priority. Of course, it can sometimes take weeks, or even months, to achieve our objective, but the length of the process is to a large degree dependent on the level of cooperation and the preparedness of the applicant. Well, the reason I’m writing this is precisely to help prepare you for the application process and make my job a bit easier. So let’s get to it.

UniBul’s Application Process


Here is what we do with each new application:

  1. To get started, we ask you to fill out this questionnaire and email it back to us, along with the following paperwork:
    • Processing statements from your existing processor for the latest six months.
    • A utility bill for the business at the address stated in your application.
    • The latest bank statement for your business.
    • Incorporation documents for your business.
    • A copy of the owner’s passport.
  2. We examine your paperwork and select several acquiring banks which are best suited to handle your transactions. Now, some of these acquiring banks may not be interested in your particular business, for some reason or other, but there is always at least one eager to work with a high-quality merchant, irrespective of the industry type. Our primary criteria when selecting an acquirer for your business are that they:
    • Have solid experience working with high-risk merchants. A mainstream acquirer will not be able to do the job, even if they say otherwise. Even in the unlikely event that you start working with such an acquirer, your account will be terminated within three to six months — it is inevitable and I’ve discussed the reasons elsewhere.
    • Are dependable and trustworthy. In high-risk, you deal with service providers — acquirers very much included — all over the world, so making certain that they can be relied on is absolutely essential. And, by the way, it would be a very bad idea to look down upon a given acquirer, just because it is located in a part of the world you know little about — we make sure our partners can get the job done, wherever they may be located.
    • Have a good reputation in the industry. We talk to people in our industry all the time and when we hear bad things about a given acquirer, we stay alert.
    • Are straightforward in their dealings with their clients. Newly set-up merchants often get into trouble because they are unable or unwilling to follow up on information requests from the acquirer. This is a huge issue and experience clearly tells us that the acquirer is often the one to blame — they can’t communicate clearly what they need or their requests are excessive. Getting a high-risk merchant account approved is hugely challenging and having it terminated a month after it was set up is, needless to say, hugely frustrating and is to be avoided at all costs.
  3. Having selected the acquirers, we get back to you with a specific proposal (or two), including discount rates, payout terms, etc.
  4. If you choose to accept one of our proposals, you sign the processing agreement and send it back to us.
  5. We then initiate the set-up process and, within a day or two, send you instructions to guide you through it. If you need technical help, we will assist you.
  6. Once you are connected to our payment processing system, you are ready to start accepting payment cards.


Once you start using your account, we will closely monitor your transaction activity during the first few weeks or months of processing payments, until we are satisfied that you can manage it in accordance with the terms of your agreement, at which point we will leave it on autopilot. It is very likely that, during that initial period, you will be asked to provide documentation about specific transactions, so make sure you keep it well organized.

The Takeaway


So the high-risk merchant account application process can be a protracted and convoluted affair, but your assistance can help simplify it considerably. Typically, all of the documents you will be asked to provide are things you should have readily available anyway, but it is inevitable that you’ll also be asked for a piece of paperwork that will require some additional effort to produce and in the case of very high-risk applicants, there will be multiple such requests. This is just part of the process, so you should follow up on each one of them until you get your merchant account approved and set up. From that point on, you have to make sure that you use the service in accordance with the terms and conditions of your contract and you will be fine.


Image credit: Flickr / Images_of_Money.

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