BB&T Merchant Services Review
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- Date Established
- Winston-Salem, NC
- Next-day funding available
- Free business checking account
- eCheck processing offered
- Interchange-plus pricing available
- No pricing disclosures online
- A three-year contract with an automatic renewal clause
- An early termination fee of $195-$295
- Tiered pricing offered
- Expensive for low-volume merchants
When launching your own business, a natural first step is to open a business bank account. It’s what makes everything feel more official. However, at some point, you’ll discover that you also need a separate, mysterious thing called a merchant account if you want to accept credit card payments from your customers.
A merchant account — sounds kind of bank-ish, right? I may have just invented that word, but let’s say “bank-ish” means something you’d sign up for at a bank. In fact, many banks do have Merchant Service Provider (MSP) subsidiaries or partners that can hook you up with a merchant account. A bank itself is not usually a direct credit card processor, however. Behind the scenes, the bank is typically using one of several major processors to facilitate credit and debit transactions — Fiserv (formerly First Data), TSYS (now part of Global Payments), Worldpay, or Elavon, to name just a few.
BB&T Merchant Services is an MSP subsidiary of a relatively large bank called BB&T (Branch Banking & Trust Company), which is based in North Carolina and operates out of the southern and eastern regions of the US.
It’s been around since 1872, which helps explain the old-timey-sounding name. Branch Banking & Trust Company is the acquiring bank for all merchant accounts established via its BB&T Merchant Services subsidiary. As such, BB&T Merchant Services boasts the largest completely bank-owned merchant portfolio in the US while also relying on large processors (such as TSYS/Global Payments) for some of its infrastructure for processing.
In December 2019, the entire BB&T banking organization merged with SunTrust, creating a new business entity named Truist. According to the press release announcing the merger, it will take at least two years to rebrand both former companies and their divisions to the Truist brand. At the time of this writing, the BB&T Merchant Services name is still in use, including on the company website. For this reason, we’ll continue to refer to the company as BB&T Merchant Services to avoid any possible confusion. However, you should be aware that at some point, the company will probably be rebranded as ‘Truist Merchant Services.’
If I’ve already lost you with all this talk of acquirers, processors, and subsidiaries, not to worry. What I’d really like you to know about merchant accounts is that banks aren’t the only entities that sell them. You’ll notice that none of our highest-rated merchant account providers are banks. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that using your bank as your merchant account provider is the option many business owners end up with by default. This is likely the exact situation with many of BB&T’s small business customers. Unless they’d already done their research, they wouldn’t know about the myriad of other options out there.
Banks do present the advantage of keeping all of your funds flowing in and out of one place, often supplying your merchant account in addition to your checking account, SMB loans, and other financial services. By bundling services with BB&T, you also “may qualify” for a free business checking account as a perk for signing up for a new merchant account. On top of that, you’ll receive next-day funding if your merchant account deposits go directly to your BB&T business checking account.
Unfortunately, these benefits lose their luster when you start exploring the contract terms and fees with BB&T. You could easily be locked into a long-term agreement with an early termination fee of $200-$300 and placed on an undesirable tiered pricing plan to boot. These are common traps merchants fall into when already in the mode of accepting whatever default services their bank offers. Please see our article, Should You Open A Merchant Account With Your Bank? for a more in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of this option.
So what is the final verdict on BB&T Merchant Services? Well, we do have a whole section for that at the end of the review, but you’ve probably already noticed the score of 3 out of 5 stars. BB&T Merchant Services is a very average provider in an industry where the average isn’t very attractive to small business owners. The company could be recommendable to some businesses, but only with lots of caveats and under quite specific circumstances. Read on to learn more!
Table of Contents
Products & Services
Let’s begin with a little background on how the BB&T website is arranged. Rather than having its own website, BB&T Merchant Services is currently a sub-section of a sub-section of the main BB&T webpage. If you make it to the “Commercial” tab, then select the “Commercial Services” menu, then locate “Merchant Services” from the list, you’ve finally arrived. Clearly, most BB&T merchant accounts come from existing BB&T banking customers, not from aggressive website marketing to the outside world. Note that within the next year or two, this information will migrate to the Truist website, where it will probably be just as difficult to find as it is now.
You won’t find a whole lot of detail on the site, but there’s a little bit of helpful information to be gleaned from the sparse marketing-speak. I’ll cover the basics here, and let you peruse BB&T’s pages at your leisure if you’re interested in signing up with them.
- Merchant Accounts: BB&T Merchant Services is the MSP that sets up your merchant account, and BB&T-proper owns that account. You must be located within a state where BB&T has local branches to obtain an account with them. I get the impression that TSYS/Global Payments is the favored partner for processing infrastructure these days, but it’s not uncommon for some MSPs to use multiple back-end processors.
- Next-Day Funding: Link your BB&T business bank account with your merchant account and receive next-day funding. Here is BB&T’s example from the FAQ: “If you batch out transactions on Monday, they will show in your account on Tuesday at 12:00 AM ET and be available for withdrawal on Wednesday morning.” Be sure to check with BB&T about specific timing, though. Besides the fact that we don’t know if this example scenario is still current, “next day” is already very open to interpretation in the world of merchant accounts. Timing for payouts to non-BB&T checking accounts is not disclosed.
- Payment Gateway & Virtual Terminal: As far as we can tell, BB&T is (or at least was) an Authorize.Net gateway reseller. However, BB&T hasn’t provided a lot of information. Unfortunately, you won’t get any discounts on Authorize.Net’s regular fees by bundling its gateway with your BB&T merchant account.
- Countertop Credit Card Terminals: BB&T mentions the Ingenico iCT220 and the Verifone VX520 on its website but doesn’t provide any further details. Both of these terminals are capable of processing EMV and NFC-based payment methods, making them excellent choices for any retail business. Terminals can be purchased outright or paid via six monthly installments. There are also some complaints against the company regarding terminal leases, which we strongly recommend against. It’s possible that these are old complaints and that BB&T no longer offers leases, but keep an eye out for this issue when obtaining your processing equipment.
- Tablet POS: The cloud-based POS BB&T has promoted in the past is unnamed. I was previously told over the phone that the company offers a proprietary, Android-based system called Merge POS. However, these days, the website advertises that it’s also iPad compatible, so I cannot say for certain that it’s the same system or a new one. BB&T likely resells or is at least compatible with other industry-standard third-party POS systems.
- Mobile Payments: If you are a mobile merchant, BB&T can set you up with a pricing plan and card reader (see more info in the Fees & Rates section of this review). Again, we have no names, but we can at least be sure it’s an up-to-date system that supports chip card and contactless payments.
- ACH & eCheck Processing: ACH payments should be handled through your payment gateway (e.g., Authorize.Net), but ask about additional fees. You can also process traditional paper checks as echecks using a standalone paper check scanner.
- Gift & Loyalty Cards: This is referenced in a few places, and the resource center links to Valutec for this service. At one point, “integrated loyalty programs on select solutions” is thrown out there, presumably to pique your curiosity about what those “select solutions” might be.
- Reporting & Analytics: The online portal for accessing transaction data and reports is called Merchant Connection. BB&T also partners with Insights by Womply for broader analytics functions, such as monitoring competitor data and online reputation management. I am not able to find any information about “Merchant Connection,” so either it’s a proprietary solution or BB&T got the name of the product wrong on its website (which, honestly, happens a lot more than you might think with these mid-tier processors).
- PCI Compliance: BB&T partners with Trustwave to help ensure your system meets data protection requirements. Watch for a fee for this as well as a non-compliance fee if your account becomes non-compliant for any reason.
Several other features are given the most-passing-of-passing mentions (shopping cart integration, QuickBooks syncing, fraud protection, recurring billing, interactive voice response (IVR) payments, and more). I do not see anything particularly exciting or unique, and the lack of name disclosures makes me raise an eyebrow.
The highlighted service is probably next-day funding — if you hook up your BB&T business checking account to your merchant account. Still, this is a big bank that partners with a big processor and many “Value-Added Resellers,” which means BB&T can probably get you what you need in the way of products and services for your merchant account. The real question is the cost, which we’ll cover next.
Fees & Rates
BB&T provides no specifics about rates or fees on its main website. In a previous update of this review, I grabbed a few quick pricing details for smaller, startup-type businesses over the phone. Things tend to get awkward really fast in these calls when you’re not a merchant, but I did my best. Thus, the plans below are just a couple of incomplete reference examples. According to the rep, both plan types are processed through TSYS (now Global Payments).
- Processing Rate: 2.79% + $0.10 per transaction (inquire about the keyed-in rate, which could be higher)
- Setup Fee: $100
- Card Reader: $59 for the plug-in model, $89 for the Bluetooth-connected model
- Mastercard Annual Fee: $15
- Monthly Minimum Fee: $25 per month
When compared to providers that specialize in low-volume mobile processing, this is definitely on the expensive side. The $100 setup fee is particularly punitive, especially considering you’re probably already banking with BB&T if you’re considering this plan. I don’t like to see a monthly minimum with low-volume plans either, and this could especially hurt seasonal merchants.
Retail Simple Startup Plan
These are monthly subscription plans for more permanent business locations. I was quoted a sliding scale of flat monthly fees (between $39 and $150) based on my transaction volume, up to $5,000 per month. It sounded like you’d probably bounce around between pricing levels, depending on your volume in a given month. The plans were presented as “simple” for merchants, but it sounded “simple” in a way that keeps merchants in the dark on what they could be saving if they took the time to understand the more “complicated” options (i.e., interchange-plus pricing) out there!
- Merge Android POS: 2.49% per transaction + $59.00 per month
- Authorize.Net Gateway: $24.99 per month + $0.06 per transaction (when added to the Retail Startup Plan)
We didn’t get around to discussing other potential fees (such as PCI compliance fees or statement fees), nor incidentals (such as chargeback fees). Meanwhile, I confirmed with a rep that interchange-plus pricing is, in fact, offered at higher volumes. I’d only seen small glimmers of this possibility, and that was within merchant complaints about possible padding of interchange rates. What I can tell you is that the BB&T merchant guide includes a discussion of tiered pricing, along with a sample statement in the tiered format. I would not recommend settling for this opaque pricing structure, whether you ultimately choose BB&T Merchant Services or a competing provider.
Overall, I was unimpressed with the pricing I was quoted. I can only hope the outlook is better for higher-volume merchants. This is a rare case in which it would be nice if the information online is truly as outdated as it seems!
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Unless you’re on the Mobile Plan with BB&T (and I wouldn’t recommend that), expect a three-year contract with automatic one-year renewals, plus an early termination fee (ETF) of $195-$295 as the default account setup. We’ve seen this in feedback from merchants as well as from BB&T itself. For example, below are excerpts from an online promotion from right before the EMV liability shift in 2015. If you were already processing at least $100K per year, switching your merchant account to BB&T scored you a free EMV card terminal. The following conditions were in the footnote:
Three-year contract term required. Early termination of this agreement by Merchant within one year from the date of original account signing by all parties will result in a termination fee of $295 per terminated merchant account. Early termination of this agreement at any time during the second or third year from the date of signing or within any successive one year renewal term will result in a termination fee of $195 per terminated merchant account.
I’m sure you can see right through the math BB&T has done here. Most, if not all, of the cost of a “free” terminal can be recouped in processing fees and other monthly or annual charges over the course of the long-term contract. If you leave early (even within one of your renewal terms), the cancellation fee will cover the remaining cost. These offers are not uncommon in the processing industry, and the reason is not that merchants are getting an amazing deal.
As of 2020, BB&T seems to have dropped this misleading offer. While the company still promotes a “Merchant Assurance” program on its website, it no longer mentions “free” processing equipment, long-term contracts, or early termination fees. In fact, it doesn’t make any specific offers at all. That doesn’t mean that these kinds of offers have gone away — it merely means that BB&T is no longer actively advertising them. You can and should expect that any offer from BB&T will come with a standard three-year contract, an automatic renewal clause, and an early termination fee (ETF). However, these terms are subject to negotiation, so you should, at the very least, ask for a written waiver of the ETF. While this won’t give you a true month-to-month contract, it does give you the flexibility to switch to a different provider without having to pay an expensive penalty.
“Free” equipment offers haven’t gone away, either. Providers such as BB&T know that most small retail businesses only need one terminal, so loaning one out to a merchant while their merchant account remains active can be an effective enticement to get them to agree to a long-term contract. In most cases, you’ll have to choose between buying your equipment outright (but not having a long-term commitment) or saving money on a terminal (but having to stay with the company for at least three years). We usually recommend that you forego the “free” terminal and avoid a long-term commitment. We’ve noted in the course of reviewing many merchant complaints that problems — especially gradually increasing fees and rates – tend to start happening after you’ve been with the company for six months to a year, but before you can get out of your contract without penalty. An even better option is to sign up with a provider that offers true month-to-month billing to all their customers — without having to ask for it.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
I have a swirling mixture of thoughts about BB&T’s transparency. On the one hand, there are no hard pricing figures disclosed on its website, nor any clear statements about how pricing is handled. This approach used to be industry-standard, but we’ve come to expect much better from top merchant account providers.
The only published, concrete pricing information I could find for BB&T was a simplistic sample statement that left out some important monthly and annual fees. Adding to the problem, the whole merchant services portion of the BB&T website is horrifically vague. I consider this a transparency issue.
While BB&T seemed pretty open about pricing details over the phone, I had to press a bit sometimes to get all the fees. This is pretty normal and not terribly alarming — the important thing is what eventually comes to you in writing. What I did like, though, was that calling the sales number connected me to the direct lines of eight different internal sales reps working out of the corporate headquarters. Local BB&T branches also employ sales reps who can meet with you to open and service your account. Except for the value-added resellers (VARs) working with larger clients to set up advanced systems, the entire sales team is internal. This helps keep issues such as a lack of sales oversight and poor training — rampant in the merchant services industry — to a minimum.
On another positive note, I located a few online ads for BB&T, which were more transparent than we typically see in this industry. The ads included footnotes with terms and conditions — even crappy conditions, such as early termination fees and long-term contracts! (Which is…good?) The footnote print was even normal-sized:
Unfortunately, I never got a response when I reached out as a reviewer to ask some clarifying questions about BB&T’s pricing, products, and its outdated website. I find if I can talk to someone at the company, especially when the website is outdated, the situation is often not as bad as first impressions would indicate. The jury is still out for now. It’s also unclear whether sales practices under the new Truist brand will be an improvement or if it will continue to be “business as usual.”
Customer Service & Technical Support
BB&T Merchant Services references its “trained in-house customer service and support teams” a couple of times. Customer support hours are listed on most of the Merchant Services pages as Monday-Friday, 8:30 AM-midnight, and Saturday, 10:30 AM-midnight. When I reached out via the merchant support email address, the auto-response told me the hours I could reach someone over the phone were only weekdays from 8:30 AM-9:00 PM. The General FAQ also lists this second set of hours. This frustrating inconsistency is a major reason to despise the BB&T website.
Technical support is covered 24/7/365, but you will be transferred to third-party support (e.g., your processor or equipment provider) after hours. That might be midnight, but it might also be 9:00 PM, who can say? Live chat during business hours is also an option, and it worked quite well when I tried it.
The online resource center is so outdated that it’s almost laughable. You won’t find dedicated social media accounts for the merchant services division, and BB&T Merchant Services is not even listed as one of the company’s subsidiaries. How well does BB&T Merchant Services operate when you call? Happily, I reached a live operator in North Carolina quite easily during business hours, after being shunted through a detailed automated menu. I appreciated the separate options for equipment and software training, PCI certification, chargeback management, ordering supplies, and other issues. I have to admit that BB&T certainly gives the initial impression of competence in this area, but we’d like to hear directly from merchants on this matter.
Please let us know in the Comments section below if you have had any direct experience with BB&T’s merchant support.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
BB&T Merchant Services does not have its own separate BBB profile. Complaints against the organization are instead filed against its parent company, Branch Banking & Trust. With the recent merger of BB&T and SunTrust, the complaint picture is further complicated, as all complaints against both companies are now consolidated under the Truist profile. That profile currently shows a whopping 810 complaints filed within the last three years, with 545 of those complaints filed within the last twelve months. These numbers will probably be even higher by the time you read this, as new complaints seem to come in every day. However, very few of these complaints (and none of the more recent ones) relate to BB&T’s Merchant Services division. As such, the company’s BBB profile is not a useful source of information about specific issues that merchants are experiencing. We also don’t place much stock in BB&T’s A+ rating, given the high number of complaints.
If you dig deep enough, you will find many of the standard complaints that are most often filed against merchant service providers: held funds, fees that were undisclosed at signing, poor customer service, and others. A couple of merchants have cited subtle or hidden fee increases over time, which is quite disturbing. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that I don’t see an indication of any widespread, systemic problems that occur over and over. The most common complaint I read was about the early termination fee, either lamenting its existence or that it wasn’t disclosed during the sales process.
Do watch out for non-cancellable equipment leases with BB&T. Complaints about this issue are falling further into the past, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep up your guard.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
If negative reviews specifically about the merchant services subsidiary of BB&T are hard to find, positive reviews are that much harder. You can find plenty of love for BB&T checking and savings accounts at sites such as WalletHub, but there’s not much fanfare about merchant accounts. To be fair, “merchant accounts” and “fanfare” don’t typically go hand-and-hand anyway.
If you think BB&T Merchant Services has gathered any online testimonials for its website…well… I’ve just caught you skimming this review! I’ll say it again in case you missed it: The merchant services section of the BB&T site is totally lame, intentionally vague, and a disgrace to the company.
Too harsh? I’ll be pleased to be proven wrong! Do you have a positive experience with BB&T Merchant Services to share? The Comments section of this review awaits.
Here’s what we like about BB&T Merchant Services: the internal sales team, the relatively responsive customer service, and the next-day funding if you link your BB&T business checking account. Our dislikes? The unhelpful website, no publicly available pricing, and poor default contract terms and fees come to mind. The allegations of interchange rate padding or subtle rate-creep are also concerning, but I need to see wider-spread evidence of this before calling it a systemic problem. Overall, complaints about BB&T Merchant Services are sparse.
It comes down to this: There is no pressing reason to go with BB&T Merchant Services for credit card processing if you don’t already bank with BB&T. If you’re already a client of BB&T, a merchant account through them could be a viable option, but only if you secure a plan that is much better than the default setup. There’s nothing inherently wrong with going to your bank to sign up for a merchant account, especially if you’ve enjoyed great service in the past and just love your local branch.
Just make sure you come ultra-prepared.
Merchant services are a whole different ballgame with different rules. Plus, it often involves a separate department or even a separate company altogether. Know what the top providers in the industry offer, and don’t settle for less. For starters, steer clear of any tiered pricing, long-term contracts, or early termination fees. Interchange-plus pricing is allegedly possible with BB&T, and that’s your most transparent pricing option. You also have the power to negotiate a waiver of the early termination fee.
If you’re a low-volume merchant that does mostly mobile card processing, I can’t close this review without advising you that there are plenty of better options than BB&T. Square comes to mind, as it offers great value and competitive pricing. Also, many processors provide quick funding, regardless of where your funds are ultimately deposited. Not to mention, the pricing for BB&T’s mobile plan is pretty cringe-worthy. Don’t get sucked into it just because BB&T is your beloved bank.
We should also point out that the recent merger between BB&T and SunTrust to create Truist is unlikely to lead to a noticeable improvement in the company’s merchant services division. Mergers like this inevitably cost a lot of money to implement, and companies tend to pass those costs onto their customers wherever and whenever they can. If you’ve been with BB&T for a long time and now find yourself working with Truist, you should expect your costs to go up, not down.
For all these reasons, we can’t justify awarding BB&T Merchant Services more than 3 out of 5 stars. It’s on par with other so-so processors in the industry and thus completely average, with glimmers of potential under the right circumstances.
What’s your experience with BB&T been like? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
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