Ask the Expert: Credit Card Processing and Checkout Optimization

What is the difference between a merchant account provider and a payment aggregator like PayPal? They both process credit card payments, right?

Both business types do process credit and debit card payments, but, like many things, the devil is in the details. A payment aggregator typically allows you to set up your account quickly and doesn’t require a lot of history. This is a great way for new associations or nonprofits to begin accepting electronic payments. The challenges that you can run into with these accounts is that a payment aggregator, such as PayPal, is using one master account for all of their clients. This creates some challenges if you are a growing association or your dues renewal payments spike in a particular month. Since the account is set up so quickly, the payment aggregator will not review your website or the seasonality of your account and so you can run into trouble for going over limits that you did not know existed. Another downside of using an aggregator is that most of the resources are online, and it is challenging to get ahold of a live person if you need any assistance. This can be a frustrating and time-consuming process when you are trying to find your funds. Having the ability to talk to real people with any questions, or if an issue arises, is very important when dealing with your association’s money.

If you own your own merchant account, then it is a lot more tailored to your particular association. The provider typically reviews your website, the types of payments you will be processing, and if you offer international payments, for example. This allows the account to be set up correctly from the beginning and helps you easily manage large processing spikes for dues and conferences. As you continue to take more payments online, it is important to work with a provider that sets up the account quickly but also one that understands your association, grows with you, and offers new technology so you can accept mobile payments, minimize your PCI requirements, and also help you navigate the rules around storing credit card numbers. Owning your own merchant account affords you more control. It pays to work with a team that understands the unique needs of associations.

Is there any way to improve member engagement and collect more payments?

Our research shows that 92% of our nonprofit-based payment processing is driven through the integration our customers have with their AMS or technology partner. For most of us, this is not news; however, it highlights the importance of revitalizing your checkout process.

In the ecommerce world, optimizing checkout is part of a merchant’s ongoing work because any improvement can deliver measurable results that delivers more revenue. In the association space, the trend is to make do with the current process your AMS vendor offers. So it is important to find out their plans for improving your checkout process.

Optimizing your checkout and measuring payment/cart abandonment is an important part of understanding the ways you can improve your own checkout process. You should periodically review the association’s online checkout flow to ensure that the member is only required to complete the minimum number of form fields to finalize a purchase. If you have a long payment form to complete, it can dissuade new members from joining, individuals from signing up for events, and donors from completing a payment, especially on their phones.

Take time with your AMS provider to review your online checkout process and discover ways to improve the member experience, including moving towards a more mobile-responsive design and lowering the PCI liability the association faces each year. Here are a few strategies we recommend:

  • Use hosted fields to minimize your PCI liability
  • Reduce the number of form fields on the checkout page
  • Offer a one-click checkout option

In addition, storing credit card payment methods is no longer relegated to just dues payments. Storing a credit card token securely can open up the possibility of offering members an easier way to checkout on your site and encourage more repeat purchases. Isn’t it time to review your checkout process?

Sherry Reisman is associations manager at Affinipay for Associations (, where she helps associations provide a simple, secure and streamlined way to accept payments for membership dues, event registrations, donations and more. As a seasoned association professional herself, she understands associations’ needs and can be reached at [email protected] or (512) 872-6169.

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