– Diary of the Application Process

I’m sat here a week after I initially instigated the application process for my gateway and merchant account, and I’m slightly frustrated I’m not yet able to take payments.  With the lack of transparency of the length and rigour of  the application processes on the signup page (or site in general) I thought I would outline the steps I’ve been through to anyone who is interested.

So, Why

I’ve advised clients before and assisted them with their merchant account applications, but I’ve never done one for myself and been at the coal-face so to speak.

The were two main reasons I choose to go with The first being the platform I’m using for my eCommerce site is Magento. Magento comes out of the box with integration modules for the Direct Post Method (DPM) and the Advanced Integration Method (AIM). The DPM option seems to suit my application fine, so that’s one box ticked.

The next reason is my perception of the alternatives. PayPal are obviously a contender, and while on the face of it their transaction fee’s aren’t terribly bad  (2.9% on monthly sales of £1,500 – £6,000) this fee is applicable to all orders, whereas with more traditional merchants the fees are lower for debit cards (a flat fee of around 30p – 40p). The next obvious option was NatWest as I have a business bank account with them. I was put off though due to the fact you can’t get any information out of them regarding fees and other basic questions without meeting with a sales guy. They also use a third party (Streamline – WorldPay).

The added attraction of being an online organisation meant I thought it would be a simple case of filling in a few HTML forms as opposed to the stuffy procedures you’d expect to go through with high street banks. This was a mistake.

The Process

It’s Monday (28th April) evening, and it starts with me selecting the plan I’m interested in (the start-up option) and them asking a few basic contact details. Then onto a further one or two steps asking the sort of questions you would expect… up-sells, product description site URL, agree to t&c’s  etc.

I can’t remember exactly, but it then comes to an end when it it tells you someone will be in contact once your application has been approved. Ok, I thought it would be completed online, but fair enough.

I receive the expected welcome auto generated email fairly quickly along with a PDF that needs to be completed. This is my first sigh of frustration. It needs to be signed, so printed out, signed and scanned back in. This means I’ve got to wait until I’m back in the office  the following day.

So it’s Tuesday (29th April) and the form is promptly filled out and emailed back. The form is seven pages long, so pretty comprehensive. This is also the first indication I have that the merchant account is actually provided by a separate company (AIB)… it was probably in the t&c’s but I didn’t see it.

Wednesday (30th April) morning, I receive an email stating the form was received and passed on to the set-up team. Later that day I receive an email with the subject “Welcome to”. Brilliant I though… I can crack on with my email campaign and make some money.

The email contains an activation link and code.

I click on the link, enter the code and submit the form, the next page shows my name (something’s working) and asks for my ‘company id/NI number’. Well that’s odd, I don’t have a company number as I’m a sole trader and they don’t know my NI number to verify it. I’m also not certain why they would want this. I dig it out anyway but get told it’s incorrect, hmm. So I fire an email off to support.

Almost an hour goes by from my welcome email and another one comes through from the sales coordinator. The first thing I notice is ‘SSN/Tax ID number’ and it says I will need it during the activation process… ahh, is this the number it wants for my NI number?

I click on the authorisation link again but now it’s invalid… grr.

I have no response at this point from my support email so decide to give them a call. I’m greeted by the usual automated service you’d expect, it asks for my gateway ID followed by the pound sign… “sorry, followed by the what!”. A call to the sales line confirms the pound sign means the hash symbol (I’m guessing this is a US/UK thing). Ok, so I ring them back but it doesn’t recognise my ID… ffs!

Back to sales who now put me through to support.

After being greeted by a rather over the top yankie-doodle-dandy message that almost makes me spit my coffee out with laughter. I finally get thorough to a tech guy. He confirms the SSN/TAX ID number on the email is in fact the ‘company number/NI number’ (obviously something else missing from the translation engine) and sends me a new activation email. Up and running again.

Now my gateway is active. A bit of a hiccup and slightly longer than I initially anticipated, but happy none the less.

However I now pay more attention to the email I received half an hour before with the infamous SSN/TAX ID on it.

Attached are three more pdf forms for completion and a further set of instructions. These being:

  1. For Audit purposes AIBMS requires the original hand signed application form. We will require that you post this to us. (This is the form I submitted to them via email yesterday)
  2. Certificate of Incorporation (Don’t have one, so n/a)
    1. If your company is based outside of the UK, in addition provide proof of directors of the company and the shares they hold  (n/a)
  3. Two years of financial statements or 6 months merchant account statements or a business plan. (oh God… I’ve got to do a business plan)
  4. Proof of bank accounts receiving funds (no biggie)
    1. The document must state the name of your legal entity
    2. The document must not be dated older than 3 months
    3. The document cannot be an online printout
    4. This document must contain your account numbers
  5. Certified proof of ID and proof of personal address for 2 directors of your company (unless only 1 director present)
    1. Proof of ID can be a certified copy of your passport, driver’s license or ID card
    2. Proof of personal address can be a  certified copy of your utility bill, bank statement, or bank letter, this document cannot be dated older than 6 months (urgh…. all this and my passport is at home)
    3. NOTE: both proof documents need to be signed and stamped by a lawyer, accountant or solicitor stating these are true copies of the original documents. (You what! Signed? This is going to incur extra costs now)
  6. Please fill out the Beneficial Ownership form (attached) (Fine)
  7. Please fill out the Internet questionnaire (attached) (Fine)
  8. UK Based Merchants Only: Please fill out the Direct Debit Mandate (attached)  (Fine)
  9. Your Website, please ensure these are available to be viewed online and provide links for: (Fine)
    1. Main page of your website
    2. Payment page where the customer will enter their credit card details (can be provided by a test URL link)
    3. Privacy Policy
    4. Terms and Conditions

I fire an email straight back asking if it’s really necessary to have these documents signed and do I really have to submit a business plan!

I spend the evening getting the info together and start on a business plan in anticipation of bad news.

Thursday (1st May). Yep, docs need to be signed by a professional (but I’m now informed the Post Office can also do it and the business plan is necessary.

So I crack on and finish the business plan with projected figures. Copy my documents, visit the nearest town, get them signed at the Post Office (£7.15 charge) and post the original application form.

Get back to the office and realise the ID was stamped on the back…. that’s no good as they need to be scanned… off back to town.

The form that did strike me as a bit odd was the ‘Internet questionnaire’. It asks questions about the security of the gateway, one of which I needed to ring for the answer (the support line advised me I would need to speak with sales as they have no knowledge of the merchant account provider AIB, I’m guessing this is because support are US based and AIB supply the UK merchant accounts). Anyway, you would have thought the questionnaire would have taken it for granted you were using the gateway and therefore it’s PCI compliance already ascertained.

Finally get everything else filled in and emailed.

Friday (2nd May), receive acknowledgement everything is in order and the original application for was received in the post. Now it’s been passed onto AIB.

Tuesday (6th May). Attempt to fully test the gateway in anticipation of the merchant account being approved. It becomes apparent that this can’t be done until the merchant account is live though. Poor. Informed that the approval process can take approx 10 working days.

Thursday (8th May), I receive an invoice for the set-up fee and first monthly subscription… also rather cheekily… a £0.67 charge for the gateway for the last day of April. Now, at this point in the application process I fully understand that the merchant account is supplied by a third party company AIB (although I didn’t at start-up). It is this third party company I’m waiting on to enable me to take payment on-line. However it is who promote, solicit and  take payment for AIB, I also have no point of contact with AIB. So you would have thought it reasonable practice for not to start billing you for the gateway until the merchant account that, they bill you for, is ready to go.

Monday (12th May). Receive an email entitled ‘Returned Payment Fee Notification‘. They attempted to debit my business account for £14.13. This payment was declined (I only put in this account what is expected to go out) so they are informing me a fee of £25.00 has been added to my account. Rage isn’t the word! What is this £14.13 for  and why did I not recive notification it was going out. Send an email to my sales guy. I also mention the fee for the one day in April as a side note.

Tuesday (13th May). Sales guy responds but just concentrates on my secondary point regarding the £0.67 fee for April… it’s in the t&c’s apparently, AIB are a third-party company blar blar blar… that I have no doubt of, but it speaks volumes of the type of company I’m dealing with here if they just refer you back to t&c’s without addressing your point directly (t&c’s I have no copy of or way of viewing by the way). As a footnote he also gives me a number to which I should refer any billing queries too.

I call the billing line (once again, automated service asking for my merchant ID followed by the ‘pound’ sign grrr). The guy is pretty blase to my concern that they are just taking random amounts of money on random days, but it tuns out this is actually the VAT due for the initial setup fee and monthly subscription. I’m left dumbfounded, what sort of company takes the net and VAT values separately almost 2 weeks apart. Not only that, the invoice I received on the 8th May (that includes the VAT) clearly states at the top, in no uncertain terms, “Payment Terms: Paid by CC“. Not only that, it also has a due date of “31-May-14“. So… which is it guys… have you taken payment or haven’t you, is the payment due or isn’t it! The £25.00 late payment charge is reversed and I’m instructed to pay the balance of £14.13 online today. I’m also informed that the VAT charge will come out separately every month… an odd (an unprofessional) practice, but at least I’m now aware. Outstanding VAT bill paid.

Wednesday (14th May). Receive confirmation my application for a merchant account has been accepted. I have to leave it 48 hours before I should attempt to take any payments, this will take me to Friday 16th May, 18 days since my application.


I was disappointed the time it’s taken me to prepare all aspects of the application. Including the business plan I’ve probably spent 16 hours on all the forms, getting stuff stamped, scanned, printed, posted, doing the business plan and looking for the pound sign on my phone. Then again, after exploring other options I think this is roughly the same for some other merchant accounts.

Other than that I distinctly get the feeling the UK division of isn’t quite as polished as it should be, with inconsistencies from the US operation slipping in, anomalies with the way they charge VAT and foreign sounding ringtones for the support you really don’t get filled with confidence as a customer. The AIB application also seems somewhat disjointed from the gateway application. The “AIB are a third-party company” excuse gets touted a bit to much for my liking too,

Is it worth it?

Well, I can’t answer that as I’ve not processed any payments yet. I’m hoping this setup will all be a distant memory and I’ll have many a happy year as an customer.

The alternatives

When I was really having a strop last week about doing the business plan I did actually make a few enquires  with some alternatives. Here’s what I learnt:

Streamline (WorldPay)

I managed to get someone to call me from Worldpay in the end (as opposed to visiting). It would appear that the application process would have been far more straight forward as they can get most the information from my bank. The setup fee was higher than’s though (£125). The offered there own gateway, or I could have used Setup time would only be about 5 working days I’m told. Transaction fees were slightly cheaper. The sales guy was nice, but seemed more sales orientated rather than knowledgeable.

Sage Pay

Out of everyone, the customer service guy from Sage was the most helpful and reassuring, they really sounded like a professional organisation. They also use a third party for their merchant accounts and were very open and honest about that, but then again, maybe I just know the right questions to ask now. There was no setup fee, but there merchant account supplier does require you to be PCI certified with costs over £100 pa. Monthly fee was £25 + VAT.

PayPal Pro

After speaking to the guy for 20 minutes or so I’m left thinking this would have been a good ‘no fuss’ option. PayPal supply the merchant account and gateway so the application process would be more streamlined. It should also only take 5 working days. Also as an added bonus you can use a standard business PayPal account (PayPal Express) while the Pro one is being created. No setup fee and only £20 pm (inc VAT). As mentioned previously though. PayPal charge a percentage based commission on all translations, whereas most merchant accounts only charge a small flat fee for debit card transactions.


If approaching this situation afresh with what I’ve learnt, I think my preferred option would be to get the merchant account from my bank for ease of application, and then use either Sage’s or’s payment gateway. While Sage doesn’t work with Magento out of the box, there is a free extension available from Magento Connect.

PayPal would be a good option though if you can live with the fees.

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