Pivotal Payments Review
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- Date Established
- Plano, TX
- All-in-one payments
- Free payment gateway
- Multi-currency support
- Next-day funding available
- Gift cards
- $395 early termination fee
- Deceptive sales tactics
- Expensive hardware leases
- Limited support materials
- Monthly fee to access advanced reporting
Pivotal Payments hasn’t had a particularly good reputation over the years. We’ve been one of the many review sites calling them out for unethical practices. But it seems the company is trying to turn things around, and it’s made changes to fix some of the biggest complaints against it, particularly transparency.
That does beg the question: Has anything really changed with Pivotal Payments? Does a merchant stand a decent chance of getting a fair deal and everything they need?
Pivotal Payments services about 70,000 businesses and operates both in the US and Canada. It offers just about everything a merchant needs, including retail and ecommerce processing, EMV support, and a mobile payments app.
I do believe Pivotal when it says the company is trying to turn things around. The problem is, like so many big processors, Pivotal Payments uses an independent sales force. Far too often for our comfort, this means that predatory sales reps promise merchants the world, under-deliver on promises or outright mislead a merchant, and then disappear. Despite all of Pivotal’s changes and improvements, it’s pretty clear this problem persists. And because of that, you should be wary.
Pivotal Payments’ pricing format isn’t exactly industry leading, either. With multi-year contracts, early termination fees, and other fees tucked into the contract by default, it seems very much like a remnant of a previous age of the payments industry. Combined with shady sales reps who seem to neglect to mention these costs (according to public complaints), Pivotal’s pricing model is problematic. That said, the company does accommodate month-to-month agreements, multiple rate options (including both interchange-plus and tiered models), and options to buy, rent, or reprogram equipment if you don’t want a lease (please don’t lease terminals). So there’s potential here.
If you go through the company directly (not a third-party sales representative), and negotiate a monthly contract with interchange-plus pricing, you can honestly probably get everything you need from Pivotal. The potential is certainly there for a good deal.
For all of these reasons, we’re raising Pivotal Payments’ rating to 3.5 out of 5 stars. With some further changes, Pivotal could see even more of an improvement in its rating.
Check out the full review for more details. If you’ve worked with Pivotal, especially recently, please leave us a comment! Good or bad, we always love to hear from you!
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Table of Contents
Products & Services
Pivotal doesn’t have quite the diverse array of product offerings that the giants of the industry do, but it does cover all of the basics (that I feel, at least) a merchant could need. As always, I encourage you to sit down and assess your requirements carefully and be certain that Pivotal truly has everything you want and need to grow and thrive.
- Merchant accounts: As far as merchant accounts go, it’s pretty standard and in line with what you see from larger processors: a three-year contract with one-year autorenewals. We’ll get into more specifics later. You can also expect next-day funding (11 PM EST cutoff) for US merchants.
- Integrated payments: Pivotal’s FlexPoint platform makes it easy to integrate your POS and payments system. You can check out the documentation at developer.pivotalpayments.com.
- Mobile processing: More and more merchant account providers are leaning towards also offering an mPOS. Pivotal, to the company’s credit, has had its app, PivotalMobile, for a while. The app appears to be a custom-skinned, white label option from NetSecure, which makes several other apps, none of which are noteworthy but seem to have decent reviews. This isn’t an uncommon practice in the industry, so there’s nothing to worry about there. However, we haven’t tested the mobile app itself — though it stands to reason it’s nowhere near as advanced as Square.
- Terminal leases/sales: Pivotal’s leasing program is actually through First Data Global Leasing. Check out this article before you do anything hasty because leases are almost always a terrible option for merchants. You can also purchase new equipment or reprogram existing equipment — we’ll get into that a bit more later on in this section. But Pivotal does have EMV equipment, which is always good to see.
- Gift card and loyalty program: Gift card and loyalty programs can attract and retain customers, so they’re definitely worth having. Pivotal gives you access to both for an undisclosed fee (it promises “low setup costs”).
- eCommerce: Pivotal isn’t very clear about its ecommerce offerings, apart from the fact that they exist. The site talks about integrating with a shopping cart and getting set up quickly, but there’s not much other information to be had. But I was able to confirm that Pivotal’s gateway services include a hosted payment page and integrations with/plug-ins for all major third-party shopping carts. In addition to multi-currency pricing and local currency displays (see below) there’s also an option to add on services such as automatic account updaters, tokenization, fraud prevention tools and more.
- Multi-currency pricing: This is one feature I didn’t expect to see, but it does suggest maybe Pivotal has thought more about its ecommerce solution than I am willing to give credit for. You can display item prices in not just USD, but one of 60 different currencies from around the world. Pivotal will handle the conversions for you.
- Reporting tools: This kind of service is an industry mainstay, so it’s really more remarkable if a company doesn’t offer it. Pivotal Payments’ reporting platform is called Pivotal360. The basic, free version gives merchants their monthly statements and the five most recent batched and funding events. If you want more advanced reporting options (including real-time data and the ability to export to accounting software), you need the paid monthly plan. You will get a free two-month trial for the advanced version when you sign up with Pivotal. You can also opt for Pivotal Merchant Insight Essentials, which is a more advanced platform for business intelligence and social media monitoring. Again, you get a free one-month trial, but it’ll cost you a monthly fee after that.
- Merchant club program: Signing up with Pivotal automatically also gives you a free two-month membership to PivotalONE. After that, you’ll pay a monthly fee. Signing up provides you with various discounts, warranties, and supplies. We’re usually wary of these programs because they tend to be more of a way to make money from sponsored plugs. You have every right to be skeptical, too. However, there is definitely one clear benefit to joining PivotalONE, which we’ll get to in a moment.
- Dynamic currency conversion: If you frequently encounter customers from another country (such as in the hospitality industry), this could be good for you. Pivotal will accept cards that originate in another country and handle the currency conversion for you.
- Merchant Cash Advance: It honestly feels like everyone is getting in on this trend. Pivotal lets you borrow up to $300,000 per location and pay it back either with a fixed payment plan or as a percentage of your processing volume. However, MCAs are usually significantly more expensive than other funding (such as small business loans), so approach this with caution. Check out our merchant cash advance calculator, too.
I personally didn’t expect to see all of these features from Pivotal, and I am impressed. However, I’m not thrilled about the monthly fees associated with the reporting features, since so many other companies offer this at no additional charge. The fact that some of the best ecommerce features are add-ons is also frustrating because you can get them from other providers at no extra cost.
I hate to stress this again, but please don’t lease a terminal from anyone. Yes, buying a terminal (or multiple terminals) is a big upfront cost. But you could easily wind up paying three times as much for the hardware and not even own it. Pivotal’s leasing is through First Data and it’s a three-year non-cancelable deal, so if you leave Pivotal, you’re still stuck with the hardware. It’s been a consistent pain point for merchants.
Buy your terminal upfront if possible, or else rent one. (There are no limits on Pivotal’s rental periods; you just return the hardware when you don’t need it.) If you have existing hardware, Pivotal will reprogram your device(s) to work with its system, provided there’s no compatibility issue. If you do run into trouble, however, it definitely pays to be a member of PivotalONE: The company can, and often will, switch your equipment out for a new compatible device, and you’ll retain ownership.
Fees & Rates
Your rates with Pivotal Payments will depend on your processing volume, your industry, and other factors, so it’s not surprising that the company doesn’t disclose its pricing. Pivotal offers four different pricing plan options:
- Tiered Pricing
- Flat-Rate Fees
- Enhanced Recover Reduced (ERR)
You’ll definitely have to negotiate what kind of pricing you want, though unless you’re a fairly large business I think it’s pretty likely you’ll start with a tiered pricing rate quote, which is a pretty common practice, even with the big processors. Interchange-plus tends to be the most fair and transparent, however.
Beyond that, there’s a chargeback fee that ranges from $10 to $35 per incident. If you read your merchant agreement you’ll also see two additional fees: a $25 monthly fee and an annual PCI compliance fee for the very specific sum of $139.80. A $25 monthly fee, while not ideal, is actually on the reasonable side. PCI compliance fees are common, though they are expensive and annoying as well.
Additional fees come from Pivotal’s optional add-on programs:
- PivotalONE: $9.95/month (after free 60-day free trial)
- PIvotal360: $9.75/month (after 60-day free trial)
- Pivotal Merchant Insight Essentials: $29.99/month (after 30-day free trial)
The cost of the ecommerce add-ons isn’t disclosed, but if you plan to sell online, it’s worth looking into those costs.
I think that Pivotal has come a long way toward disclosing fees, but it’s not a perfect system. The most recent merchant complaints indicate that there are still some shady sales reps who just want to close the deal. So make sure that you read your application and rate quote carefully, as well as the merchant agreement. Get any promises of waived fees in writing, because, without a signed piece of paper, you’re going to be stuck paying.
It’s worth setting reminders on your calendar to cancel the add-on services when the trial periods end if you don’t plan to use them beyond that point. As much as I don’t like the idea of paying for reporting, it’s probably worth keeping the paid version of Pivotal360 at least.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Pivotal Payments does offer month-to-month agreements, but it’s not the default option. Instead, you can expect a three-year, auto-renewing contract with one-year renewal increments. (In Canada, the law limits renewal terms to six months only.) You’ll have to submit a written request for cancellation about at least 60 days before the contract expires (or whatever your particular contract says) if you want to close your account without paying the steep early termination fee (ETF).
I’m happy to say that Pivotal has done away with the liquidated damages provision, except for occasional high-volume Canadian merchants. That is great news. However, if you do want to cancel your contract early, you can expect an early termination fee of $395 if you process less than $25k per month, or $495 if you’re over that mark. In Canada, the fee is based on a more tiered structure.
It’s worth noting you can get a month to month agreement with no ETF — but you’ll have to negotiate for it. And make sure you get it in writing, or you might find yourself saddled with unexpected costs.
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your contract all the way through before you sign anything. It doesn’t matter what someone is telling you, what they promise you — make sure it’s reflected on the paper too.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Pivotal’s biggest problem is its reliance on independent sales reps. There’s a sizeable in-house sales team, too, and Pivotal insists that it screens and scrutinizes its ISOs (independent sales organizations) carefully and ends partnerships if they lead to merchants being taken advantage of. I’m inclined to believe this, given how much the complaint volume has dropped. But far and away the most common recent complaints about Pivotal come from merchants who feel like they’ve been had by a sketchy representative.
Unfortunately, you can’t really do much to prevent shady sales reps from promising the world to merchants and then disappearing into the wind with their commission. All you can do is stop them from doing it again. And yes, like other brands that use third-party salespeople, Pivotal does promise lucrative rewards for salespeople and organizations that close the deal, so there’s definitely a commission.
Going directly to Pivotal’s website and reaching out that way ensures your chances of getting an in-house rep who will treat you fairly and remain your point of contact throughout the process.
That said, Pivotal Payments doesn’t offer much information on its website. There’s content, for sure, but it’s general and not tailored to explain exactly what features Pivotal offers. While that strategy avoids deceptive sales gimmicks, it’s hard to call that transparent, either. There’s not even a search bar to help you find what you’re looking for. I don’t think the information on the site is helpful, but it’s also not out of line with other companies. I would like to see some more specifics about, say, the cost of the loyalty program or the ecommerce features, for sure. Some more disclosure on the prices of PivotalOne, Pivotal360, and Merchant Insights would be fantastic.
The third point of concern relates back to previous allegations about failures to make disclosures. Having looked at the merchant agreement, I can say that all of the problem areas were fairly disclosed. Make sure you look over the application as well as the contract before you sign anything. Ask questions about what you don’t understand, and get any promises of waived fees in writing. I can’t stress how important reading is — it’s fairly easy to neglect to mention something important in a conversation when a sales rep is trying to get you to sign up.
Overall, I honestly think Pivotal has improved its advertising and sales transparency. But rogue sales reps are still a problem, and it’s one reason to be wary of choosing Pivotal Payments. And there’s still a lot the company could do to improve and even stand out among competitors. Listing prices for services that have a set price would be a great start. More disclosure about how services work would be good as well. Even just a blog with actual content would help.
Customer Service & Technical Support
We’re glad to see that 24/7/365 phone-based customer service listed among Pivotal’s offerings, and all of it is handled in-house. This seems to have reduced the overall comments about the poor customer service. That’s a major feat.
In addition to phone support, there’s an email query system — and that’s it. There’s no knowledgebase, no blog, no live chat, no other means of customer support. A little disappointing, but given how much of a pain point a lack of in-house phone support tends to be for merchants, I am happy to see Pivotal doing more than some of its competitors at least.
If you have an experience with Pivotal Payments you’d like to share, please leave a comment!
Negative Reviews & Complaints
To be honest, I don’t see a lot of recent complaints from merchants about Pivotal Payments. Most of them are from 2014 or earlier. The ones from 2016 and 2017 tend to relate primarily to cases of shady sales representatives, most of whom seem to be independent, not in-house. These complaints invariably run something like this:
“(Sales rep) came to my business promising me better hardware/better rates/everything I could ever dream! They signed me up for Pivotal but the hardware doesn’t work/I’m paying more than I was told/nothing is like I expected, and now Pivotal won’t let me out of the contract without paying an ETF, and I can’t reach my sales rep!” (Not an actual quote, but might as well be.)
This is why we don’t like third-party sales teams. They’re hard to manage and they can do a lot of damage to a processor’s reputation when the sales reps get desperate to close the deal.
Of the complaints we’ve seen, here are the biggest problems:
- Unexpected fees: The monthly and PCI compliance fees seem to surprise people the most. It’s not clear from recent complaints whether the PivotalONE and Pivotal360 fees are part of the problem, as they’re not named explicitly. I do see some more general claims of “I am paying way more than I was quoted” as well.
- Undisclosed ETFs: Early termination fees fall in the category of “unexpected fees” but it specifically seems to be an issue of sales reps promising month-to-month contracts, and merchants finding out that’s not the case when they do get fed up and want to cancel.
- Hardware troubles: Sales reps promise to upgrade equipment, but for some reason, it doesn’t work right and the sales rep disappears into the night, leaving the merchant left to deal with Pivotal on their own. Alternately, merchants wind up with a hardware lease and become frustrated that they can’t get out of it.
Pivotal Payments has 66 complaints against them through the BBB, which is pretty reasonable for their size. The company has earned an A+ rating for their handling of complaints. I think Pivotal is better than average in responding, but there’s room for improvement. For certain, I’ve seen companies do far, far worse.
The company also has 11 reviews at the time of writing this, seven of which are negative and one of which is neutral. That’s not great, but it is a small number.
In addition, Pivotal has 60 complaints through Ripoff Report, but there have been only two complaints since 2013.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
There aren’t a lot of recent negative reviews about Pivotal Payments, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s a huge array of positive ones, either. But I have found a small collection if praises on the web, and this is what I hear from Pivotal’s satisfied merchants:
- Great Customer Support: It appears that moving customer support in-house was a good idea because this is the most consistent praise I see about Pivotal.
- Easy to get set up: I see a few people saying it was simple and fast to get set up, with no complications in the service.
That’s really about it. It does seem like Pivotal is making strides regarding customer support, and trying to work with merchants to fix what’s been done wrong. But it’ll be a long time before we start to see an outpouring of praises to that effect.
It seems that Pivotal Payments is committed to making improvements, but all of it may come a day late and a dollar short. The company certainly has a decent array of services, but it seems like some of its offerings come at a premium when many other providers are giving them away for free. Second, while transparency has improved, Pivotal’s reliance on an independent sales force is a continuing source of trouble for merchants.
So for now, Pivotal Payments has earned 3.5 stars. While you can certainly get an offer from Pivotal comparable to other reputable companies, you’ll have to beware of sketchy sales reps, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be offered what you want or need from the get-go. If you’re absolutely 100% certain that Pivotal is the company for you, proceed with caution. You can get a good deal, but don’t assume you’ll get one handed to you.
On the other hand, you can get a guaranteed fair pricing plan with no ETF and great customer support from one of our top-rated merchants. For Pivotal to join those ranks, we’d need to see less reliance on its independent sales force, for sure, and for monthly contracts and interchange-plus plans to become the standard. I would like to see the elimination of fees for services that many other leaders in the industry offer at no charge, as well. It would be a major step in bringing Pivotal into the contemporary market.
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