A Comprehensive Review of PNC Merchant Services for Small Businesses

A Comprehensive Review of PNC Merchant Services for Small Businesses

Consumer affinity for credit card purchases in the United States continues in 2022. IBISWorld predicts that the revenue-based market size of the credit card issuing industry in the US will grow to $164.3bn in 2022. As such, the market size is expected to increase by 3.4% this year.

PNC Merchant Services_Market Size_Body Infographic

One of the major driving forces behind this upward trend is the rising card-based eCommerce sales transactions. Before merchants can process card-based sales, however, they must enlist the services of a merchant services provider. This PNC Merchant Services review offers a comprehensive look at this nationally known merchant services company.

The PNC Merchant Services Client Line  

PNC Merchant Services (or PNC) is a division of Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank. This well-known banking entity has its roots in 19th-century Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Today, this large merchant services provider maintains a national association of client service centers. The company’s services enable businesses to accept credit cards and debit cards plus other forms of payment.

Unlike Square or Stripe, however, PNC Merchant Services isn’t directly involved in payment processing. Instead, PNC partners with First Data to offer merchant services accounts and Clover point-of-sale (or POS) hardware.

First Data handles the payment processing work for all card transactions. Essentially, they’re the intermediary between the card-issuing bank and the receiving (or acquiring) bank.

After each transaction concludes, the receiving bank deposits the transaction funds (minus the fees) into the business’ FDIC-insured checking account. In this case, PNC functions as the receiving bank that accepts the checking account funds.

PNC Merchant Service Offers Payment Processing Solutions

PNC Merchant Services Company offers a well-rounded menu of payment processing solutions. Besides enabling businesses to accept credit card payments, PNC also facilitates check acceptance and issues gift cards.

1. Easy Payment Processing Methods for Business Owners

By offering several easy payment methods, business owners can increase their chances of making a sale. Both brick-and-mortar and eCommerce stores commonly accept Mastercard, Visa, American Express, and Discover cards. In addition, PNC equipment can process EBT payments, loyalty cards, and gift cards.

2. In-person Payment Processing

PNC Merchant Services offers payment solutions for retail stores, restaurants, and many other brick-and-mortar businesses. Point-of-sale systems, payment terminals, PIN pads, card readers, and check readers are the most common types of equipment in use. Many businesses also utilize EMV and contactless payment hardware.

3. Clover Point-of-sale System Features

Businesses that accept in-store card payments can choose from several Clover point-of-sale (POS) systems. Clover functions as a First Data subsidiary. PNC Merchant Services features two Clover POS software choices and three counter-based hardware terminals.

Clover Software Plans

Clover software plans include Register Lite, which enables a business to accept all types of payment methods. The Register Lite package also includes other payment-related operations along with sales tracking and employee management functions.

The Register software plan includes all the Register Lite functionality, plus the framework for inventory management and customer loyalty programs.

Clover Countertop Hardware

Small business owners can select from three Clover POS hardware options. Each piece of equipment is geared to a slightly different type of use.

  • Clover Station – This relatively large POS system features powerful credit card processing capabilities and a good-sized countertop display. Clover Station processes all types of payments and prints receipts. It also scans barcodes and captures electronic signatures.
  • Clover Flex – This convenient handheld payment terminal processes magnetic stripe and chip-based cards along with contactless payments. It also scans barcodes, prints receipts, and captures electronic signatures.
  • Clover Mini – This little touchscreen-equipped terminal offers the Flex’s functionality with a smaller footprint. The Clover Mini is designed for countertop installation but is also adaptable to portable use.
  • Clover Go – The compact Clover Go card terminal is ideal for service-based companies such as electrical or plumbing contractors. Craft-show vendors and home-based businesses may also find that the Clover Go hardware suits their needs.

4. PNC Merchant Services Provides Payment Processing Hardware

PNC Merchant Services provides retail and restaurant customers with another hardware option. The proprietary First Data payment terminal and customer-facing PIN pad are designed to meet specific market needs.

Businesses with multiple stores can opt for multi-location terminals. Note that PNC does not provide specific details on its alternative payment processing hardware.

5. Check Acceptance Solutions for Small Businesses

For small business owners who are concerned about bounced checks, PNC Merchant Services offers a popular solution. The TeleCheck Electronic Check Acceptance (ECA) service quickly changes paper checks into electronic transactions.

When the transaction is complete, TeleCheck deposits the funds right into the merchant’s business checking account. Any TeleCheck-enabled POS terminal can perform the paper-to-electronic conversion.

6. On-the-go Mobile Payment Processing Solutions

On-the-go small business owners may appreciate PNC Merchant Services’ Clover Go mobile payment processing solution. The Clover Go payment choice is best-suited for farmer’s market vendors, mobile dog groomers, trade show exhibitors, and other mobile businesses.

A smartphone-friendly card reader, wireless terminal, and mobile app make it easy to accept swiped and chip payments on the road. With a Bluetooth smartphone or tablet connection, contactless payments are simple. Note that Clover Go works with the iOS and Android operating platforms.

7. Best eCommerce Payment Processing

Businesses that accept mail order/telephone order (or MOTO) payments need a way to process these transactions. eCommerce retailers too, need a vehicle that enables customers to complete their purchases.

To meet these needs, PNC Merchant Services offers the First Data-sourced Payeezy payment gateway. This highly secure product enables transaction processing via credit cards, electronic checks, and the PayPal platform. Payeezy also supports foreign currency conversion, and seamlessly meshes with more than 70 eCommerce programs.

A virtual terminal, recurring payment support, and other payment-related tools are also part of this online payment processing package. One such example is hosted checkout functions that are designed to gather customer billing details. Finally, Payeezy includes a real-time payment management function that obtains and reports transaction information.

8. PNC Merchant Services Gift Card Program

Offering year-round gift cards can help businesses generate extra revenue while providing customers with an easy gift option. PNC Merchant Services invites merchants to use pre-made gift card designs or create a customized card that reflects the business’ theme. Signs, promotional displays, and other accessories are also available.

9. Online Cash Flow Analysis Tools

For a small business, it’s important to manage cash flow consistently. Monitoring the company’s income, expenses, and receivables can spell the difference between staying solvent and incurring financial disaster.

With an eye to the customer’s financial health, PNC Merchant Services offers the Cash Flow Insights package of online cash flow analysis tools. Merchants can add Cash Flow Insights to their accounts for a monthly charge.

10. PNC Merchant Services Data Security Protocols

Business owners are understandably concerned about their customer’s data security. No one wants to get that dreaded “data breach” call or email. Fortunately, PNC Merchant Services customers can benefit from several card security measures.

First, the PNC website offers quite a bit of card security information for consumers as well as business owners. Merchants concerned about data breaches may add the First Data TransArmor Data Protection Plan to their accounts.

The TransArmor services package helps to ensure a merchant’s compliance with payment card industry (or PCI) standards. Regardless of the business size or type, PCI compliance helps to ensure the customer’s data security.

TransArmor also adds encryption and tokenization safeguards for every transaction, further protecting against compromised card incidents. The monthly service fees also include insurance coverage in case a data breach does occur.

Clover users can also opt for the Clover Security Plus service. This package includes TransArmor’s benefits along with liability waivers and virus protection.

11. Customer Care Services

The customer service lines of most companies are staffed by third-party call center associates. These workers often possess only a basic knowledge of a company’s products or services. This can potentially impact the quality of caller service.

In contrast, PNC Merchant Services maintains a phone-based customer care center and POS Help Desk. These services are available around the clock, every day of the year. Lines are available for general questions, authorization help, terminal support, and security issues. 

In addition, PNC business banking customers receive extra benefits. Examples include certain next-day credit card funding options and money management tracking services.

PNC Merchant Services Contract Terms

Like a few other payment card industry service providers, PNC Merchant Services offers a one-size-fits-all three-year contract. Merchants who cancel their contracts prior to fulfillment are assessed an early termination fee (or ETF).

The ETF amount varies based on the number of months remaining on the contract as of the cancellation date. Some merchants have reportedly been charged up to $900. Any ETF fee negotiations should take place prior to the merchant’s signature on the contract.

Merchant Service Provider’s Pricing and Service Fees

Like many other merchant services providers, PNC Merchant Services doesn’t include much pricing information on its website. Instead, merchants must contact a PNC sales associate, who will structure a service plan tailored to their business needs.

Interchange Rate Tiered Pricing Structures

PNC Merchant Services utilizes a three-tiered pricing structure. Qualified sales receive the lowest-priced markups, while Non-Qualified transactions are the most expensive to process.

Currently, the costs that PNC discloses (and are therefore likely their lowest rates) are:

  • 2.6% + 10 cents for in-person swiped and chip transactions
  • 3.45% + 15 cents for keyed-in transactions
  • 2.9% + 20 cents for eCommerce transactions

Within each tier, customer cards have different interchange rates. However, the provider bills each transaction at that tier’s established processing rate. This rate is already higher than the priciest card in that tier.

As a result, the provider makes a profit on every sale while the merchant pays artificially high processing rates every time. In addition, the tiered pricing structure prevents merchants from determining the provider’s profit on each sale.

PNC Merchant Service Fees and Chargeback Costs

Like most other merchant services providers, PNC Merchant Services charges numerous service fees to its customers. Following are examples of common fees, although each provider’s fee structure varies.

  • Transaction authorization fee
  • Per-transaction fee
  • Batch processing fee
  • Assessment fee (charged by the card companies)
  • Monthly minimum fee
  • Monthly or annual service fee
  • Statement fee
  • PCI compliance fee
  • Early termination fee that has been reported to be as high as $900

It should be noted that PNC requires an initial contract length of at least three years. Interestingly, PNG does offer to waive both the contract term and the early termination fee if a merchant signs up exclusively online.

In addition, merchants are subject to chargeback fees. This happens when a customer disputes a previously completed transaction charge.   

PNC Merchant Services_Fees_Body Infographic

Benefits of PNC Merchant Services for Small Businesses

PNC Merchant Services is a large-scale merchant services provider connected to a well-known national bank. As a result, PNC offers several attractive benefits to its small business customers.

1. Custom Credit Card Processing Solutions and Fees

PNC’s range of card processing options may appeal to businesses across diverse industries. The company also offers custom processing solutions (with fees to match). Targeted service packages are available for these business types:

  • Business to business (B2B)
  • eCommerce retail
  • General business
  • Healthcare services
  • Professional services
  • Restaurants
  • Retail stores

2. Multiple Credit Card Payment Platforms

PNC customers can process credit card payments from the POS stations of their brick-and-mortar businesses. Mobile businesses can execute customer transactions from a card reader-equipped smartphone or tablet. Mail order/telephone order and eCommerce retailers can process customer payments via a virtual terminal or payment gateway.

3. Accept Multiple Payment Processing Types

Businesses that accept multiple forms of payment are favorably positioned to attract more customers. PNC merchants are equipped to accept all currently available payment types.

  • Magnetic stripe cards
  • Chip-enabled (EMV) cards
  • Contactless payments such as Apple Pay or Google Pay
  • Personal checks

4. Centralized Banking Merchant Services

Existing PNC business banking customers may find it helpful to access several business tools from one source. Besides merchant services, the company offers PNC Bank business checking accounts and business credit cards.

5. Accessible Customer Support

PNC offers 24/7 live support for its customers. For small businesses who operate outside of the standard 9-5 (like many retailers), this constant access is a leg up on other providers who only operate during certain hours.

The Downsides of PNC Merchant Services

Some current and former PNC Merchant Services customers have expressed their displeasure with the provider’s business policies and actions. The complaints have taken a few different forms.

1. Customer Complaints and Concerns

PNC Merchant Services has been the subject of over 30 public complaints. Although that’s not a large number of complaints given the company’s size and longevity, the reports contain several common themes.

  • Hidden fees – Merchants have frequently complained about PNC’s hidden fees. Whether the provider never disclosed the fees or the merchant failed to read the contract’s fine print, the result is the same. These hidden fees are a concern for business owners in diverse industries.
  • Overpriced leases – Budget-conscious business owners may be tempted to lease their card processing equipment rather than buying it. Avoid this practice if at all possible. Leasing a terminal over a defined time period will cost far more than simply purchasing the equipment outright. 
  • Unethical sales practices – Complaints about shady sales tactics are fairly common in the payment processing industry. PNC Merchant Services has certainly gotten its share of bad reviews about its sales agents’ practices.

First, there’s no indication that PNC uses independent sales agents who may be focused on commissions above everything else. With that set aside, merchants have reported that PNC sales agents do not always disclose applicable fees. (Or simply that the company would go on to charge fees never once brought up in the sales process.)

In other cases, the sales representatives made specific claims that weren’t honored in subsequent merchant agreements. Finally, some PNC sales associates didn’t disclose the fact that an application is actually a legal contract.

2. PNC Merchant Services Class-action Lawsuits

PNC Merchant Services is the subject of three class-action lawsuits. The most recent legal action finished up in April of 2022. This lawsuit alleged that PNC routinely overbilled customers and charged additional fees not included in customer contracts. PNC settled the suit out of court and agreed to pay $10 million to claimants.

In 2017, another class-action lawsuit alleged that PNC Merchant Services consistently charged customers more than what was allowed for in their merchant agreements. This lawsuit was filed on behalf of customers across the country. It remains an active case.

PNC Merchant Services Reputation with The Better Business Bureau

While researching the reputation of a business, viewing its Better Business Bureau (or BBB) profile can be helpful. In November 2020, PNC Merchant Services had an A+ BBB rating, although the business lacks the desirable BBB accreditation.

In the PNC file’s complaints and reviews section, however, readers are referred to the profile of their parent company, PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. As a result, the complaints and reviews don’t accurately reflect the performance quality of PNC Merchant Services. Rather, you will find many complaints about the business to the consumer side of the bank.

The Final Verdict on PNC Merchant Services

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PNC Merchant Services offers payment processing options and support services to customers in many industries. Targeted solutions are available for specific types of businesses.

Along with this impressive array of services, however, PNC has incurred lots of negative press from previous customers. In addition, two class-action lawsuits were filed against this nationally known merchant services provider. So, businesses considering PNC as a merchant services provider should carefully review the merchant agreement before making a commitment. 

However, if you want to avoid the numerous fees associated with PNC (and concerns about hidden fees or unethical sales practices), choosing a wholesale payment processor like Payment Depot is your best bet. To learn how Payment Depot can help you save $400+ a month on credit card processing fees, contact us today. 

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