High-risk businesses aren’t necessarily “bad” business. On the contrary, if handled right, high-risk business can mean high profits for the bank, processors and the merchants themselves.

High-risk merchants have superior access to global markets and unlimited processing. If we look at what makes you high-risk, you can see where to mitigate the drawbacks and maximize the returns of that designation.

Why are some businesses labeled high risk?

Numerous reasons can make a processor put a ‘high-risk’ label on a merchant. While a merchant can be identified as high risk due to the nature of his or her business and/or clientele, he or she can also put this label on themselves with poor business practices. However, banks look at four main groupings to assess the risk you pose them: your company, your industry and your billing model & volume.

How banks define merchant risk

In order to understand your risk, you need to understand all the moving parts in your transaction process, in the same way the banks understand them. A business is considered a high-risk based on following factors:

1. The Industry

Based on the industry you are in banks will look at processing history of all businesses in that industry it deals with: how many refund/chargebacks, how much fraud, etc. Particularly if you’re new to the business, this gives banks a baseline for how much risk they can expect from you running transactions through them.

2. Your Financials

Whether you’ve been operating in your vertical or any other, the banks will have a look at you. After all, the merchant account is signed for by you and not by your business entity, so that’s the history they look at. They’ll also look at your current business’ position: debt to equity, your burn rate, and your overall profitability. In this regard, it’s much the same as when you apply for a line of credit; they look at both you and your business.

3. Billing Model

The banks will also want to know about the kind of processing you’ll be executing. Card present transactions are lowest in risk while card-not-present transactions get progressively riskier. One of the riskiest billing models are monthly subscriptions. If you happen to offer annual packages, that’s of particular interest to the banks. In the case that you sell an annual package in January and go out of business in March, they’ll need a contingency to limit their liability.

4. Volume

Transactional volume is of particular interest to the card associations. They have created a sliding scale of risk based on the number of annual transactions you send:

  • Level 1: Over 6 million transactions (highest risk)
  • Level 2: 1 million to 6 million
  • Level 3: 20,000 to 1 million
  • Level 4: Under 20,000 (lowest risk)

Again, like your financials, they look at all your businesses combined.

Other factors that can label your business high-risk

The manner in which you run your business might place you in the “high risk” category. Here are additional factors that make your business high-risk:

  • Businesses that lost their last processor account because of excessive chargebacks and are branded TMF (terminated merchant file)
  • Businesses with little or no credit card processing history
  • Poor credit history
  • Businesses within a high chargeback ratio industry
  • Businesses operating abroad or with countries that have a high chargeback risk (almost everywhere except the US, Canada, European Union, Australia, European Union, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore)
  • Multi-currency businesses

Only a couple of providers specialize in supporting merchants with high-risk business bank accounts, which were turned down by other high-risk processors. The contracts and fees of these businesses are even more rigorous.

What are the high-risk products?

As explained above, high-risk products and services a business offers are one of the most important factors that place it in a high-risk category. Products and industries that are usually flagged high risk by processors include:

  • Online gambling, casinos, and gaming
  • Telemarketing, VOIP, calling cards
  • Online medication providers, pharmaceuticals, drug stores
  • Adult entertainment (materials, products, or services), dating services
  • Accommodations, travel, airplane tickets, ticketing agents
  • Cryptocurrencies or foreign exchange trading
  • Magazine and other subscriptions
  • E-cigarettes and timeshares
  • Computer hardware and software

What being high-risk means

The banks do a high degree of diligence to determine your risk profile, so heed their designation. They’re looking at empirical data on how and where you’re conducting business, so you don’t have much wiggle room. Ensure your billing model is optimum for your business. Try not to run too much debt. But more importantly, if you’re in a high-risk industry, especially if you’re processing high volumes, you face that risk as much as the bank does.

What you can do

Make sure your processing is PCI-compliant and 3D Secure. By proxy that means you should have your payment service provider hosting your authentication process. Always verify billing addresses and CVV codes in your gateway. Make sure you’re working with reliable and reputable merchant services. And of course, you should keep your chargeback ratios as low a possible through chargeback management.

High-risk merchants can’t undo their risk designation, but they can manage that risk responsibly. If you have any questions about how to better mitigate your risk profile, ChargebackHelp can help. We specialize in getting merchants the processing solutions they seek.

Drop us a chat down on the right, shoot us an email, or go old-school and call us 1.888.821.5302