Merchant e-Solutions Review
Taking $5,000 per month or less in card payments?
You’ll save with Square
- Date Established
- Atlanta, GA
- Good developer tools
- Few public complaints
- Good customer service
- No pricing disclosed online
- Early termination fee
Merchant e-Solutions Overview
Remember when sticking a little “e” on the front of words was all the rage? eCommerce! eBay! eHarmony! I vividly remember signing up for a magical service called “e-mail” in 1998. Man, I’m officially old.
The founders of Merchant e-Solutions (MeS) jumped on the e-naming bandwagon not long after I opened my first email account. In 1999, the CEO of Bank of America Merchant Services and a few of his executive-level colleagues broke off from B of A to establish this new merchant acquiring and global processing company.
Drawing on the industry experience of the founders and the developing payment technology of the early 2000s, MeS built a proprietary processing platform and payment gateway. They intended to own all the systems and operations of their payment processing business, avoiding outsourcing to third-parties.
As their name suggests, Merchant e-Solutions originally targeted eCommerce clients, while also forming partnerships with financial institutions to resell MeS merchant services. Still kind of a big deal back then, merchants could view customized reports and manage their accounts online. Currently, the MeS platform supports multiple sales channels, including mobile and in-person transactions. Taking into account clients boarded on the TSYS platform in addition to their own, MeS now processes approximately $17 billion annually in 150 currencies.
In 2012, Merchant e-Solutions was acquired by one of Latin America’s largest payment processors called Cielo. Apparently, part of the appeal for Cielo was access to MeS “industry-leading technology platform.” MeS was unwilling to tell me exactly what makes it so great when I asked!
Continuing its ties to B of A, MeS brought on another former CEO of Bank of America Merchant Services to run the company in 2014. This new CEO, Tom Bell, and the MeS team moved headquarters from Redwood City, CA to the current Atlanta location in mid-2016. The customer service call center and a small sales and operations team still resides on the West Coast in Spokane Valley, WA.
So with this company history aside, is there anything that sets Merchant e-Solutions apart from a vast sea of competing merchant acquirers? Well, it doesn’t come across as a scam, for starters. The website is clean and free of sales gimmicks. A 24-hour US-based customer service center that doesn’t automatically forward calls to a backend processor after hours is also a nice plus, and the overall complaint volume is quite low.
As far as the actual product goes, I can’t say at this point if they’re offering anything particularly special or unique. You’ve got multichannel, global processing capability, and you’ve got plenty of room to tinker with your own integrations through their developer-friendly systems. That’s nothing too terribly original these days. Unfortunately, without fully disclosed fees and rates, it’s difficult to determine the circumstances in which a merchant should eagerly sign on with Merchant e-Solutions. As you read on to decide for yourself, keep in mind the standards to which we hold our most highly-rated merchant account providers.
Table of Contents
Products & Services
Merchant Account: Cards are processed on either the TSYS platform or the proprietary MeS platform. I wasn’t able to find out when or why a new merchant account is assigned to one versus the other. A customer service representative called the MeS homegrown platform and payment gateway “Trident.” This may be an in-house nickname since there are no references to it on the website. I’d only be guessing at the meaning of the three-pronged reference, but it could simply be an homage to one of their original investors, Trident Capital.
International Processing: Although all MeS merchants must be based in the US, you can also accept payments in 150 currencies across Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Canada, as well as settle payments in at least 18 currencies. You’ll probably need a developer’s assistance to set this all up, although there is apparently a “single integration” for domestic and international payments. You also may still need separate accounts for other countries and currencies. It looks like they partner with Adyen, a high-profile international processor, for some aspects of global processing. Explore the international section of the developer pages here.
Payment Gateway: Any TSYS-compatible gateway should work for Merchant e-Solutions account, or you can use MeS’ in-house gateway. Many common gateways are also compatible with the MeS processing platform, and some clients have built and integrated their own gateways. Basically, this part of your set-up is very flexible.
eCommerce: Again, there is plenty of flexibility in this category. You can integrate your eCommerce website with the in-house MeS payment gateway using the API that MeS provides, as well as add a third-party shopping cart and other common eCommerce features. Check out MeS’s detailed developer resources here. In addition, several eCommerce partners are linked in the app center section.
Point-of-Sale: MeS offers a few standard EMV-ready terminals. While the card-present transaction section of the website mentions that “Integrated check readers, printers and PIN pads available,” there are no obvious references to reselling full POS systems. The equipment they do offer was difficult to locate on the website, and the information may be out of date. Let’s assume for now that if your equipment works with TSYS, you can use it with a Merchant e-Solutions account. Customer service told me that equipment is only sold or rented to merchants, not leased, which is good.
Mobile Payments: The MeS Mobile App is available for Android and Apple devices. The app can also be used to simply run the MeS virtual terminal. Hardware options include a IDTech Shuttle audio jack card reader, the MagTek iDynamo and the Woosim Porti-SC30. None are chip-capable, although a customer service rep indicated that a new mobile solution is on the horizon. In the meantime, I’m left with the impression that there probably aren’t many very low volume, mobile merchants running around swiping cards on MeS accounts anyway.
“All-In-One” Reporting Platform: This is mentioned a lot on the website, and I think it refers to having all your domestic and global transaction data from each sales channel together in once place. One would certainly hope that’s the case!
Fees & Rates
No rate and fee information is disclosed on the Merchant e-Solutions website, so at least this section of the review will be quick. I squeezed a tiny bit of info out of customer service rep and a sales rep. They each confirmed that both tiered pricing and interchange-plus pricing plans are offered. The sales rep also mentioned a monthly fee of $5-10, which covers basic services of the account, and a $9.95 PCI fee. She said their “lowest” monthly minimum fee was $5, which isn’t all that helpful to know, except it means that A) there is one, and B) it could be much higher that $5. That PCI fee I was quoted is likely on their lower end as well.
The complaint section of the MeS BBB profile includes a company rebuttal identifying two monthly fee refunds of $30 each paid to a merchant. This sounds about right considering what I’d discovered on my own, and is pretty standard for the industry. Without processing rate details, however, there’s no way to determine if that’s even a good deal. Still, we have a basic idea of how account pricing might be set up with MeS if you go directly to the source. Be aware that you may be a layer or two removed from MeS if you are signing up via one of their many resellers, and that pricing will vary accordingly.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
According to a merchant agreement available here, the standard contract with Merchant e-Solutions is three years with an automatic one-year renewal. I was unable to confirm if month-to-month plans are available. As a prospective low volume client, I was offered a one-year term, so we at least know there’s room for negotiation. I’d encourage you to find a merchant account provider with a month-to-month setup if at all possible.
Another stipulation of this default merchant agreement is a minimum early termination fee (ETF) of $300. Section 29 of this merchant agreement offered by a separate payment gateway that resells MeS accounts also references a three-year term and a $300 ETF. This ETF, of course, could be higher if liquidated damages are assessed. For MeS, this means your ETF could be the average processing fees you’ve paid over the past six months, multiplied by the number of months left in the contract. This is outlined in section 3 of the first merchant agreement I linked above.
This all begs the question: Are these less-than-ideal terms and fees what most MeS merchants sign up for, or are they negotiating a better deal? Based on complaints and company rebuttals, we know at least some clients are signed up for three-year contracts and have faced well over $300 in cancellation fees. As always, be on your guard and read your contract carefully before you sign. Pay particular attention to the potential for liquidated damages, since the legalese can be tricky on that matter.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
The MeS website is generally a bit sparse and vague for my taste, but at least it avoids all sales gimmicks and tantalizing “free” offers. That’s always an encouraging sign. On the other hand, the main thing we want to see on a merchant acquirer’s website concerning transparency is clearly disclosed pricing. We have several preferred providers who do this, and we’ve come to expect it from the best. Unfortunately, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than one or two dollar signs on the Merchant e-Solutions site.
While the standard justification for omitting this information is that rates are customized for each client, I still would like to see some basic information displayed. In the absence of concrete numbers, how about an FAQ explaining the different pricing models and telling us which are offered by your company? How about throwing up a list of common fees and which ones you charge? Hey, I can dream.
I also like to talk to the sales department of a merchant acquirer when writing a review, even just to give them a chance to sell me on what makes their company great. But this was one of those cases where they just wouldn’t talk to me. I thought they’d initially agreed, but then maybe they hadn’t after all, but then they definitely did again, and then…well, they ultimately left me hanging without a word until weeks later after I had already completed the review. (Hopefully I can get some information out of them from them for our next MeS review update.) Sure, I’m a reviewer, not a merchant, but it was very frustrating. Let’s hope they don’t make a habit of leading on merchants like that!
When I did approach the company as a potential client, I didn’t get very far either. Maybe my processing volume was too low, or maybe I asked too many questions about contract lengths and early termination fees. Whatever my sin was, the email chain died after one message.
My conclusion is that Merchant e-Solutions is probably not intentionally deceptive overall, but that they’re also far from an open book. Their online presence is geared toward finding partners, ISOs, agents, and value-added resellers. Your experience as a merchant will vary depending on which of these companies approaches you with a deal.
Customer Service & Technical Support
A toll-free customer helpline is covered 24/7 by the MeS facility in Spokane Valley, WA. Every customer service rep I spoke with was quite friendly and knowledgeable, leaving me with the impression that basic support questions are routinely answered with ease around the clock.
More difficult questions may be directed to other departments which are also covered in Spokane Valley during normal business hours for all US time zones. I’m told the first IT department employee reports at 6 am PST/9 am EST, for example. Whatever the hour, assistance with products and services not directly provided by MeS may be transferred to tech support lines for the third-party companies. The MeS website also includes and email ticketing system for support.
When dialing the sales number, however, I was never able to get a sales rep on the phone directly. On each try I was instructed by the automated system to leave a message, and that I would receive a response within 24 hours. Although I didn’t receive that call back from a sales rep until much later, they knew I was a reviewer by that point. I’m willing to cut them some slack on that one, especially since it was during the holiday season.
Overall, I got a good vibe from the Washington office. It’s been in place since the beginning, and they seem to know what they’re doing. With the move of the headquarters across the country only recently, however, you may encounter more employees still learning the ropes at the newer Atlanta office.
Perhaps with a strong call center in Washington State, MeS hasn’t felt the need to provide much additional support online. While the developer section of the website is fairly robust, I was largely underwhelmed by the FAQ contents. MeS posted several articles and terminal quick-reference guides in 2014, but then apparently abandoned the effort, leaving many sections weak or under construction.
The company is also not heavily into social media. There’s no Facebook page to speak of, the Twitter account is a ghost town, and YouTube features a mere four videos. LinkedIn, on the other hand, saw some action once the headquarters moved to Atlanta. To be fair, LinkedIn is also the only social media account linked on the MeS site. That’s better than a bunch of default social media buttons leading nowhere, in my book.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
The Better Business Bureau includes two profiles for Merchant e-Solutions. An Atlanta-based file was opened and accredited in June 2016, and sports an A+ rating with zero complaints. The Spokane Valley file was opened in 2001 and accredited in 2013. This file also scores an A+ rating, while displaying two negative reviews and only three registered complaints in the past three years. While MeS indicated concessions made to the merchants for each of the complaints, none show a satisfied response from the merchant.
In the reviews section of the Spokane Valley BBB page, two merchants lament being stuck in a three-year contract. But the most common threads among complaints, both at the BBB and elsewhere, are automatic renewals and early termination fees that were apparently undisclosed at the time of signing. Difficulty reconciling and then closing accounts is also a reported issue.
In response to the allegations, MeS consistently refers back to the terms of the contract. They point out that auto-renewals and early termination fees were clearly stipulated, before offering a retroactive waiver. While it’s possible a Merchant e-Solutions sales rep or independent agent was deceptive or simply did a poor job disclosing terms in these cases, I’d be a lot more concerned if the complaint number was higher. As it stands, the complaint volume is very low for a company this size.
I should briefly mention another complaint thread on Yelp that alleges unexplained Amex charges by MeS. Customers claim fraud is at work, but a rep at MeS assured me this is merely a function of how Amex charges are often reported to customers while eCommerce transactions are in authorization limbo. While the transaction is still pending, the customer sees a payment made to Merchant e-Solutions, instead of the name of the actual retailer. A couple of Yelp reviewers also explain that, in the end, it was just a matter of weird reporting during the pre-authorization period.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
For a company of this age with a large merchant and partnership portfolio, you’d expect a few client testimonials posted to the website. There are none I can spot. Here is a NetSuite representative speaking on the MeS youtube channel in 2014 about their partnership. He doesn’t give a lot of detail about MeS, except to say that the integration works well and that they can reconcile multichannel payments in one place. NetSuite is a cloud-computing company that was recently purchased by Oracle.
Other than the video testimonial, one merchant writing a review on the BBB page says Merchant e-Solutions went out of their way to keep processing running smoothly as they updated their files with the IRS. That’s about all I can come up with, so if you have experience with Merchant e-Solutions products and services, please post a comment.
Because Merchant e-Solutions took so long getting back to me (only to leave me hanging me in the end), I’ve actually had a good solid month for this company to leave its final impression on me. Points in its favor include the lack of online sales gimmicks, a low complaint volume, flexibility for developers, and the 24-hour customer service based up in the Pacific Northwest that worked fairly well in my experience.
For a company with self-proclaimed industry-leading tech solutions, however, I wanted to know more about what those solutions actually look like. They apparently developed their own processing platform and gateway when they started out nearly two decades ago. Who uses it now and why, and how has it evolved over time? I wanted to know, in their eyes, why a merchant should choose Merchant e-Solutions over other companies with similar offerings. I just wasn’t left with any strong impression one way or another in this regard. Meanwhile, the main strikes against Merchant e-Solutions are its lack of disclosed pricing and the very real possibility you could be slapped with a long-term contract and high early termination fee.
I feel that, for the most part, Merchant e-Solutions is content to keep its nose to the grindstone and remain behind the scenes, letting resellers do the work of offering Merchant e-Solutions accounts under white-label brands. Their social media presence is very minimal, advertising is sparse, and there no merchant testimonials on their website. My own attempts at gathering information directly were pretty futile overall.
In determining a rating for Merchant e-Solutions, you’d really need to take the quality of their resellers into account. For now, I can give the company proper an above average rating of 4 stars. With those yucky default contract terms, this might be on the generous side, but I’m factoring in their low total complaint volume as well. If you think any complaints about Merchant e-Solutions are landing on other third-parties by mistake, let me know. And, if you think there’s likely a better “e-solution” out there for your “e-business,” give our merchant account finder tool a try.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.