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Wells Fargo Merchant Services Review
Merchant Maverick's Rating: (3.5 out of 5)
Last Updated: November 25th, 2013
In addition to its regular banking wing, Wells Fargo (WF) has a credit card processing division as well. (If you're reading this review, then you probably already knew that.) Unlike some big banks offering merchant services, Wells Fargo doesn’t have a separate company set up for this purpose (compared to businesses like Chase’s Chase Paymentech). They just have a division called Wells Fargo Merchant Services.
Wells Fargo Merchant Services (WFMS) shares the main Wells Fargo website. Unfortunately, I found the site difficult to navigate and generally lacking important information. The whole thing feels like an afterthought, which doesn’t tend to instill confidence. They don’t even have clear descriptions of their products and services, and all of the content is riddled with footnotes. When I’m checking out sales writing, I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a David Foster Wallace novel – but that’s just me.
They also fail to explain that when you sign up for a merchant account through Wells Fargo, you're signing up for an account with First Data. First Data acts as the payment processor for Wells Fargo, and Wells Fargo acts as the acquiring bank. It all sounds pretty confusing, but if you read this article you'll understand it a bit better.
Putting that aside, the most important thing for you to remember is that Wells Fargo and First Data go hand in hand. So chances are you'll at some point have to deal with both companies during the lifespan of your contract. This means that many of the issues we addressed in the out First Data review may also crop up here.
I suggest you read the complaints section below. That's where you'll find the most important info about Wells Fargo – like the fact that they charge a $500 early termination fee, or that they have a tendency to push terminal leases and enhanced billback billing, all of which add up to a not-so-great experience for you. If you plan on getting an account through WF, then I highly recommend you consult us first. We’ll be able to make sure you get the best contract terms possible for your business.
One positive aspect to the Wells Fargo merchant account is that if you bank with them, then you can get your money deposited into your account the next day, rather than the usual 48 hours or more that it takes for most other providers. I also like that they don’t heavily rely on independent sales representatives, which – in theory – should mean that their salesforce is more carefully vetted has a higher level of training.
Unfortunately, I can only give Wells Fargo Merchant Services 3.5 out of 5 stars for now. They really need to make a better effort to build their reputation as a processor and offer competitive contract terms and rates for businesses of all sizes if they want to improve.
Please read the whole review for more information on WFMS. You should also check out our comparison chart to see the best merchant service providers around!
Wells Fargo has been around since 1862, but their merchant services through First Data started around 1971.
Headquartered in San Francisco, California, with several branches throughout the US.
Products and Services:
You’ll find just the basics at Wells Fargo Merchant Services, with nothing that really sets them apart from the pack. WFMS doesn't aim to be a one-stop shop for all things related to merchant services. If you're looking for a bunch of value-added services, look elsewhere. Here's a list of the products and services that they do offer:
- Merchant accounts
- Check processing
- Terminal sales/leases: Before you even think about leasing a terminal, read this article!
- Payment gateway/virtual terminal: A virtual terminal allows you to processes payments from any web browser. Basically all processors provide a virtual terminal.
- Gift/loyalty card programs: WFMS gift and loyalty card services are pretty run of the mill. Minimum orders for “standard” cards (from predesigned template) start at 100 units. For custom cards, you’ll have to get at least 500. Check out the brochure for more information. Again, many processors these days offer this service.
- Online reporting: Offers real-time information about your processing activity.
- Recurring payments: Allows you to store billing information and initiate billing at set intervals.
Fees and Rates:
Unfortunately, Wells Fargo makes absolutely no disclosures of rates or fees in their corporate advertising or internet resources. No information of rate structures (such as interchange-plus or tiered models) appears anywhere. This isn’t exactly unusual - but it’s not ideal, either. While your discount rate will depend on a large number of factors, I really like to see some disclosure of monthly fees (PCI compliance fee, statement fee, etc.) alongside information about how rates are determined, including information on interchange-plus plans.
WFMS does offer a few brief notes on pricing in their FAQ, but basically just to say, “It depends.” They also claim to offer “relationship pricing,” but only give a vague definition of what this means:
A full-service relationship with Wells Fargo translates into relationship pricing that benefits your business. Our Wells Fargo Business Services® Packages are designed specifically for your business banking needs and can save you hundreds of dollars on frequently used financial products and banking services.
Basically they imply that if you use multiple Wells Fargo services, they can give you a discount (sort of like the cable/phone/internet companies do). They don’t make any specific claims, however.
Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:
With Wells Fargo Merchant Services, you’ll get the industry standard for contract length and early termination fees. This include a three-year agreement that auto-renews for one-year periods after it expires, alongside a $500 early termination fee. The exception to this is for businesses who do one million dollars per year or more. For merchants processing at that volume, the fee is $500 plus “six times the highest amount of Revenue in any single calendar month during the current or prior term.”
Please, do not accept this. The industry standard isn’t good enough. Many service providers don’t have any cancellation fees, making them ostensibly month-to-month providers.
As with many providers, Wells Fargo will “buy out” an existing contract to get your business. This means they will pay all or a portion of a cancellation fee from your current provider, up to $500. To qualify for this, you’ll have to be doing $100K annually in card processing (excluding pin-based debit) and meet a few other stipulations.
Sales and Advertising Transparency:
Wells Fargo doesn't offer much advertising or sales copy on their website. No fees or rates are mentioned, and virtually no information on the costs of processing exist on the WFMS site. While this isn’t great for transparency, it’s better than making a bunch of empty or misleading promise using flashy sales gimmicks.
They do use at least one sales gimmick, which I mentioned in the “Contract Length and Early Termination Fee” section above. They say “Sign up for Merchant Services, get up to $500.” This is misleading, though. What they really mean is that they will pay for up to $500 of your costs incurred while switching from your current processor to WFMS. This includes two things:
Qualifying switching expenses include early contract and lease termination costs and non-Wells Fargo reprogramming costs required by WFMS.
Also, you’ll have to be processing at least $100,000 annually in Visa/Mastercard/Discover transactions, not including pin-based debit to qualify.
So not exactly the same thing as “Sign up for Merchant Services, get up to $500,” right?
On the good news side of things, they offer some useful information in their New Merchant Processing Guide. I also like their Cost Management Strategies Guide, although they kind of bury these resources and many others in their incredibly unbecoming website design.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
Existing customers get 24/7 service and support, which is what I like to see. The quality of that support, on the other hand, is questionable, based on remarks from our readers and from merchants on other complaints sites.
I gave their customer service a brief whirl and it was okay for me, although definitely a little cold. But as a reviewer, it's difficult for me to ascertain the quality of customer service when it comes to complex, account-specific issues. But that's where you come in! Have you worked with Wells Fargo? Feel free to leave us your review. Don't forget to read the the user review and comment policy.
Since Wells Fargo Merchant Services doesn't have it's own BBB profile separate from Wells Fargo bank, we don't have that data to go on in this case. Many other complaints sites also seem to put all of the complaints for Wells Fargo under one main heading. Only 11 complaints come up when you search for "Wells Fargo Merchant" on Ripoff Reports, which is a very low number for a company of this size. We also have to remember, though, that First Data might be absorbing some of the complaints load as well, since they are the actual processor here.
Of the complaint available, these were the most common issues:
- Expensive terminal lease contracts through First Data Global Leasing: Some merchants have complained about not being aware that they were signing into a 4-year terminal lease. The whole "not being aware" part can be chalked up to the merchant not fully understanding how leasing works. I personally think terminal leasing is unnecessary to begin with. If you're a small merchant, and you only need a few terminals, then why not just buy them? They don't cost much these days. Leases make sense for bigger organizations that need many terminals, and don't have the upfront capital to invest in buying them.
- Withholding of funds/termination of accounts: This can happen for a number of reasons. Chargebacks and/or suspicious charges can easily raise a red flag that will either get you suspended or shut down. Both First Data and Wells Fargo have been known to be a bit trigger happy when it comes to holding funds or terminating accounts. You're going to want to learn how to avoid holds and minimize chargebacks if you plan on signing up with WFMS.
- Enhanced Billback: Wells Fargo and First Data are also known for using a billing technique called enhanced billback, which isn't the most transparent billing method, to say the least.
- High Cancellation Fee: If you want to cancel before your contract is up (3-years), then Wells Fargo will charge you a $500 cancellation fee. That's pretty steep considering there are plenty of other providers that don't charge a fee at all.
- Poor Customer Service: I really wouldn't expect much from such a large bureaucratic organization like Wells Fargo. While a big processor doesn't always have bad customer service, it does seem to be a strong trend based on my experience. A good account rep can help you avoid this pitfall. Get in touch with us and we can help you find a good rep to deal with.
- Increasing of Fees After Sign-Up: Although Wells Fargo has a right to increase fees, it's still a hard thing to swallow for any merchant. And judging by the number of complaints I've read about this matter, it seems WFMS likes to raise its rates frequently.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
While I wasn’t able to find any testimonials for Wells Fargo on their site, I did find a few on YouTube. Overall, I would have liked to see more effort put forth by WFMS to prove that their service are worthwhile to prospective clients.
If you’d like a little more endorsement than that, try to ask your sales rep for references, specifically for businesses that operate in your same industry. They should give you information for merchants who they have personally signed up.
Also, I hope some merchants who have good things to say will post their reviews at the bottom of this page. I know that people are more likely to complain that to praise, but we're always really excited to hear positive experiences!
Overall, I’m not really impressed by the offerings at Wells Fargo Merchant Services. Sure, they’ve got the resources of a big player in the processing game, but those resources don’t seem to translate to a better experience for merchants. After browsing their standard contract, reading dozen of complaints and reviews, as well as contact their sales department, I’m left feeling disappointed by high rates and fees along with bad leasing agreements. While I’m sure WFMS could potentially set you up with a good agreement, fair rates and quality service, it seems this is often not the case.
In an industry as competitive as payment processing, no business, no matter how large, should be resting on their laurels. Wells Fargo seems to be doing just that. I’m sure they get a lot of business from name recognition alone, but that’s not enough to earn a good review from us. I do like that they seem to avoid independent sales agents, though, and I also like the next-day funding for Wells Fargo banking merchants. Unfortunately, that was only enough to get them to 3.5 out of 5 stars.
If you want to deal with a big, stable bank as your payment processor, try out Chase Paymentech. They have better contract terms and a better reputation for fairness. Otherwise, check out our processor comparison chart to see the best rated merchant service providers in the industry.