To switch or not to switch (payment providers), that is the question
Is it hard to switch payment providers? Speak to folks in payments and you might hear “low margin, commodity business”, which suggests it is easy to switch. But I have seen instances where despite major painpoints AND higher fees, prospects did not switch.
In this post, I will:
- Evaluate both points of view: is it easy to switch or is there deep loyalty?
- Discuss underlying factors in the switching decision.
- Share implications for GTM and Product.
Weighing both points of view
Point of view A: Payments processing is NOT sticky. It is easy to switch
- It has become easier for merchants to set up accounts with PSPs. Merchants have more choice than they did 5+ years ago, where they had mostly banks to work with. Today there are more players to choose from — Braintree/PayPal, Stripe, Checkout.com etc.
- There are more low code options for merchants to set up their own sites via platforms (Shopify, Wordpress etc). Those platforms offer easy integration into a wide variety of payment providers. The payments set up is plug and play, with minimal integration work. For example, Woocommerce has 43+ PSPs for merchants to choose from.
Point of view B: No, payments is sticky. It is hard to switch
- Switching costs is high — don’t break what works: There are many other things to focus on on besides redoing your payments integration.
- A back up is good, but just as a back up: You might integrate another PSP as a back up when one is down. If you have more than two PSPs, you either (1) Build a payments routing system or (2) Work with a payment orchestration layer like Spreedly and Primer. Even with (2) you’ll have to form multiple PSP relationships (eg. commercial agreements, risk/compliance onboarding).
Factors defining how easy/hard it is to switch
I’ve presented the case for both points of view on the ease or difficulty of switching PSPs. Three themes stand out:
- Payments use case complexity
- Business size
- Trigger events
1. Payments use case complexity
If it’s plain vanilla card acceptance, it’s easier to switch to another provider. However, if there are more complex payments systems, it’s harder to switch. More complex payments systems could be — a business operating in multiple geographies, marketplace/seller payments, having to roll out terminals in thousands of locations.
2. Business size
It’s generally easier to switch payments processor in a smaller company with single threaded decision makers (CEO, CTO etc) vs a larger enterprise with multiple decision makers, and more complex payment and technical systems.
3. Trigger events
Trigger events could be:
- Product driven: New country expansion, new use cases
- Issue driven: PSP downtime, cost reduction exercises, contract renewal
- People driven: Relationship changes (e.g. new account manager)
All of this could help make switching PSPs to be a priority.
So what? Implications for GTM and Product
Payments is generally not sticky for smaller merchants on low/no code platforms that enable multiple options to switch providers.
Payments is more sticky for larger businesses with complex technical systems, organizational structures, and other business priorities.
Here are some implications:
- For sales: Look for trigger events. The size of the company influence how you navigate the deal.
- For buyers: Choose carefully. You might end up being with your payments provider for longer than expected. It is easier to change a software tool, but it’s not easy to stop using your PSP.
- For account management: This team is the swiss army knife in building customer loyalty. I’ll end with a true story of the power of account management (shoutout to all Customer Success Managers / Account Managers!)
There was once a phenomenally successful fashion retailer with one payment provider. This provider went down frequently, so the retailer had a second provider. However, the relationship between the retailer and the first provider was so good that during downtime, the retailer routed downtime volume to the second provider, but switched back to the first provider once issues were resolved. The first provider kept the majority of the payments volume.
PSPs that deftly navigate relationship management will extend the longevity of the partnership, even if there are product gaps and technical issues. Good product alone is insufficient for loyalty. Payments can be sticky with good product AND good account management. It is magical when both occur together.