payment processor

Card network vs. payment processor: Essential insights

Understanding the roles of different entities is crucial for smooth and secure transactions in electronic payments. This article explores the distinctions between various key players: card networks, payment processors, merchant acquirers, and others. We’ll break down these concepts to clarify their functions and relationships, providing examples and detailed explanations to ensure a comprehensive understanding.

What is the difference between a payment processor and a payment network?

A payment processor is a company responsible for handling transactions between the merchant and the customer’s bank. It ensures that funds are transferred from the customer’s account to the merchant’s account securely and efficiently. Payment processors manage the technical aspects of the transaction, including authorization, capturing, and settlement. Examples of payment processors include PayPal, Square, and Stripe.

On the other hand, payment networks facilitate the transfer of transaction data between the issuing bank (the customer’s bank) and the acquiring bank (the merchant’s bank). Payment networks, also known as card networks or card schemes, set the rules and standards for processing transactions. Examples of payment networks include Visa, MasterCard, and American Express.

To illustrate, when you swipe your card at a store, the payment processor is the company that handles the request to deduct money from your account. Meanwhile, the payment network is the system that routes this request between your bank and the merchant’s bank. The difference between payment processor and payment network lies in their roles: the processor manages the transaction, while the network facilitates the data transfer.

What is the difference between a payment processor and a card scheme?

A payment processor handles the details of transaction authorization, processing, and settlement. They are the middlemen that connect merchants with the broader banking network, ensuring that the transaction flows smoothly from the point of sale to the final deposit into the merchant’s account.

A card scheme, such as Visa or MasterCard, provides the infrastructure and rules allowing card transactions. They set the standards for processing transactions and ensure that different banks and payment processors can work together seamlessly. Card schemes also manage the branding and marketing of their respective networks, maintaining trust and recognition among consumers and merchants.

For example, when a customer uses a Visa card, Visa (the card scheme) ensures that the transaction adheres to its standards and rules. The payment processor, such as Square, then handles the actual transaction, ensuring funds move from the customer’s account to the merchant’s. Thus, the difference between a payment processor and a card scheme is that the processor handles the transaction, while the card scheme provides the framework for these transactions.

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What is a card payment network?

A card payment network is the backbone of card transactions. It is a system of rules, technology, and financial institutions that work together to facilitate the transfer of money when a card is used. Major card payment networks include Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. These networks ensure that transactions are authorized, cleared, and settled correctly, providing a reliable way for consumers and merchants to conduct business.

For instance, when you use your MasterCard at a retail store, the card payment network is responsible for routing the transaction information between the merchant (the acquiring) and your bank (the issuing bank). The network checks for sufficient funds, validates the transaction, and ensures the funds are transferred appropriately.

Card payment networks also handle dispute resolution and chargebacks, allowing consumers to contest unauthorized or incorrect transactions. This robust system ensures trust and reliability in electronic payments, making it a cornerstone of modern commerce.

What is the difference between ISO MSP and PSP?

An Independent Sales Organization (ISO) and a Member Service Provider (MSP) partner with acquiring banks to provide merchants with payment processing services. They often handle the sales and service aspects of the payment processing business. For example, an ISO might help a small business set up credit card processing capabilities by connecting them with the right payment processor and providing customer support.

On the other hand, a Payment Service Provider (PSP) offers a more comprehensive suite of payment services. PSPs provide payment processing and additional services like fraud detection, multiple payment methods, and integrations with other business tools. Examples of PSPs include PayPal, Stripe, and Adyen.

The main difference between ISO MSP and PSP is the range of services provided. ISOs and MSPs focus more on sales and support, while PSPs offer a broader range of payment-related services, including advanced technological solutions and comprehensive payment gateways.

What is the difference between a PSP and a card network?

A Payment Service Provider (PSP) is a company that allows merchants to accept payments online. PSPs offer various services, including payment processing, fraud prevention, and integration with other business systems. They simplify the payment process by providing a single platform for merchants to manage all their transactions. Examples of PSPs include Stripe, Square, and PayPal.

A card network, however, is a system that facilitates the transfer of transaction information and funds between the issuing bank and the acquiring bank. The card network sets the rules and standards for these transactions, ensuring compatibility and security across different banks and payment processors. Examples of card networks are Visa, MasterCard, and American Express.

The difference between PSP and card network lies in their roles: PSPs provide merchant services and facilitate payments, while card networks provide the infrastructure and rules for these transactions. PSPs interact directly with merchants, whereas card networks operate behind the scenes to ensure the transaction ecosystem functions smoothly.

What is the difference between ISO and MSP?

ISO and MSP are terms often used interchangeably, but there can be subtle differences. Both entities resell payment processing services on behalf of an acquiring bank. An ISO typically focuses on signing up merchants for payment processing services, while an MSP may have a broader role that includes customer support and additional merchant services.

For example, an ISO might approach a retail store to offer payment processing services from a specific acquiring bank, helping them set up and get started. An MSP, while also performing these functions, might provide ongoing support and additional services like fraud prevention tools and business analytics.

The difference between ISO and MSP often comes down to the specific agreements and roles defined by the acquiring bank they partner with. ISOs are primarily sales agents, while MSPs may offer a wider range of services and support.

Merchant acquirer vs. payment processor

A merchant acquirer is a bank or financial institution that processes credit and debit card payments on behalf of a merchant. The merchant acquirer works directly with the merchant to manage their account and ensure funds are deposited. Examples of merchant acquirers include Chase Paymentech, Bank of America Merchant Services, and Wells Fargo Merchant Services.

A payment processor, meanwhile, handles the technical aspects of the transaction. They ensure that the transaction data is sent to the correct networks and banks, and that the transaction is authorized and settled. Examples of payment processors include First Data, Square, and Global Payments.

The key difference between merchant acquirer vs payment processor is that the acquirer works directly with the merchant to provide financial services, while the processor handles the technical processing of transactions. The acquirer ensures the merchant receives their funds, while the processor ensures the transaction is executed correctly.

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Payment acquirer vs. payment gateway

A payment acquirer is a financial institution that processes card transactions and settles funds into the merchant’s account. They are responsible for ensuring that transactions are authorized and funds are transferred correctly. Examples include Worldpay, Chase Paymentech, and Elavon.

A payment gateway, on the other hand, is the technology that facilitates the transfer of transaction data from the merchant’s website to the payment processor or acquirer. It encrypts sensitive information to ensure secure transactions. Examples of payment gateways include Authorize.Net, PayPal, and Stripe.

The main difference between payment acquirer vs payment gateway is that the acquirer handles the financial aspect of transactions, while the gateway handles the technological transfer of transaction data. The gateway bridges the merchant’s website and the payment processor, ensuring that transaction data is securely transmitted.

What is an acquirer in payments

An acquirer in payments is a bank or financial institution that processes merchant credit and debit card transactions. They ensure funds are correctly transferred from the customer’s bank to the merchant’s account. Acquirers also provide merchants with the tools and support to accept card payments, manage accounts, and handle transactions.

For example, if you run an online store and accept credit card payments, the acquirer is the entity that ensures the money from your customer’s payment ends up in your business account. They handle the authorization and settlement processes, ensuring that transactions are processed securely and efficiently.

Acquirers play a critical role in the payment ecosystem by enabling merchants to accept card payments and ensuring that transactions are processed securely and efficiently. They often provide additional services such as fraud prevention, chargeback management, and transaction reporting, helping merchants manage their payment processes effectively.


Understanding the distinctions between different entities in the payment ecosystem is vital for anyone accepting electronic payments. Card networks, payment processors, merchant acquirers, and others each have unique roles that contribute to the seamless processing of transactions. By recognizing these differences, businesses can decide which services best meet their needs, ensuring smooth and secure customer payment experiences.

Whether you’re choosing a payment processor, understanding the role of a card network, or selecting a merchant acquirer, knowing these differences will help you confidently navigate the complex world of electronic payments.

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