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Demystifying the Top 10 Credit Card Processing Giants: A Deep Dive

Swiping that little plastic card to pay for goods and services has become second nature for consumers worldwide. But behind every tap, dip, or click to authorize payment via credit card lies a vast technical infrastructure enabling the seamless flow of money.

Processing these billions of sensitive financial transactions annually requires the complex systems and sophisticated fraud protection that only massive corporations can provide.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll uncover who the biggest players are in credit card processing globally and provide an inside look at how these financial behemoths help power the payments ecosystem. Whether you‘re a merchant looking to accept card payments or just curious about where your money goes when you make a purchase, read on to learn how the top 10 processors shape the credit card industry.

The Scale of Payments Processing Today

It‘s hard to overstate how ingrained credit cards have become in commerce. According to The Nilson Report, consumers worldwide charged a staggering $30.44 trillion to Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover cards in 2021 alone. The same report indicates that global card purchase volume has climbed 70% over the last decade.

Driving this growth is the surging popularity of online shopping and mobile wallet use for in-person payments. eMarketer forecasts ecommerce sales will top $5 trillion globally in 2022. Tapping to pay via Apple Pay, Google Pay or other wallets is also becoming the norm.

For merchants, accepting electronic payments is now a requirement to stay competitive. But what many don‘t realize is that behind the point-of-sale terminal, every credit card transaction involves an intricate process:

  • Authorization to check the card is valid and has sufficient funds
  • Processing to route the transaction between the merchant, issuing bank, and card network
  • Settlement to transfer the funds to the merchant‘s account
  • Data to record and store the payment information

And that‘s just the beginning – a whole array of value-added services like fraud prevention, loyalty programs, reporting and more come into play.

Bringing this all together today are a select group of dominant players, serving millions of merchants globally. Let‘s examine who the biggest credit card processors are and how they‘ve ascended to the top.

Ranking Methodology: Determining Today‘s Power Players

With thousands of companies facilitating payments worldwide, how do we identify the largest credit card processors? For this analysis, we focused on traditional merchant acquirers – companies that provide card acceptance, processing and settlement services.

Processors were ranked based on their annual processing volume – the total value of credit and debit card transactions handled. Two factors determine annual volume:

  • Merchant portfolio size – number and types of clients
  • Transaction frequency – how often the average merchant processes payments

For private companies that don‘t disclose volumes, we estimated rankings using available data on their client base, markets served, and industry expertise. Revenue was also considered where available.

Now, let‘s explore the top 10 leaders serving millions of merchant accounts globally.

10. Elavon – The Flexible Acquirer

  • Annual processing volume: $212 billion
  • Headquarters: Atlanta, GA
  • Year founded: 1991

First on the list is Elavon, a subsidiary of U.S. Bank that has been in the payments game for over 25 years. It processes over $212 billion annually for nearly 1 million businesses across the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Elavon stands out for its flexible technology platforms tailored to numerous verticals. For retail, it offers robust omni-channel payment capabilities and value-added loyalty and security tools. In hospitality, Elavon boasts deep expertise in integrated hotel, restaurant, and cruise ship systems.

The company also caters to enterprises through a global acquiring network spanning 36 countries. Customers include Applebee‘s, Macy‘s andasha

9. Global Payments – The Trans-Atlantic Acquirer

  • Annual processing volume: $590 billion
  • Headquarters: Atlanta, GA
  • Year founded: 2001

Serving merchants in over 30 countries, Global Payments processes around $590 billion annually. It‘s one of the few non-bank merchant acquirers that gained scale without being part of a larger financial institution.

Formed in 2001 from a merger between National Data Corporation and Global Payment Systems, Global Payments now provides services to 3.5 million businesses worldwide. Its offerings include point-of-sale systems, business software, card terminal hardware and of course payment processing.

Fun fact – in 2019, Global Payments and Total System Services (TSYS) merged in a $21.5 billion deal. The combined entity operates as Global Payments but with expanded reach across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

8. PNC Merchant Services – The High-Touch Processor

  • Annual processing volume: $600 billion
  • Headquarters: Pennsylvania
  • Year founded: 1852

While PNC Merchant Services may not be a household name, it‘s the primary merchant acquirer for PNC Bank, the nation???s 6th largest bank. The provider brings in around $600 billion annually from its base of small and mid-size businesses.

The company differentiates through high-touch, in-person service. PNC utilizes locally-based sales and support teams to cater to clients under a "high tech, high touch" model. Merchants also gain access to the bank‘s wider array of financial services.

Fun fact – PNC Financial Services traces its roots all the way back to 1852 when it began as the Pittsburgh Trust and Savings Company. It remains headquartered in Pittsburgh today.

7. FIS – The Fortune 500 Leader

  • Annual processing volume: $2.7 trillion
  • Headquarters: Jacksonville, FL
  • Year founded: 1968

You may not know FIS by name, but millions of consumers interact with its technology daily. This Fortune 500 fintech giant generates over $2.7 trillion in processing annually across card issuers, banks, and merchants globally.

FIS provides core processing infrastructure to financial institutions as well as merchant payment solutions. Its 2019 acquisition of Worldpay – one of the industry‘s largest deals ever – cemented its leading role in ecommerce transactions.

Headquartered in Florida, FIS employs over 65,000 people worldwide. Its services extend to capital markets, wealth management, and retail and institutional banking segments in over 130 countries.

6. Fiserv – The Omnichannel Innovator

  • Annual processing volume: $5 trillion
  • Headquarters: Wisconsin
  • Year founded: 1984

With 40,000 clients spanning 100 countries, Fiserv is one of the largest processors on the planet, handling over $5 trillion in payments annually.

Fiserv offers account and transaction processing, digital banking, card production, risk management, ecommerce and more. In a major expansion, it acquired First Data Corporation in 2019 to enhance its merchant acquiring and debit card processing capabilities.

Innovations like its CaratTM operating system provide true omnichannel experiences. Carat enables consistent commerce across in-person, mobile, and online channels – a major demand as consumer payment habits shift.

5. Intuit QuickBooks – The Integrated Platform

  • Annual processing volume: $140 billion
  • Headquarters: Mountain View, CA
  • Year founded: 1983

Known for Quicken, TurboTax and QuickBooks software, Intuit has deep roots in accounting and finance. By acquiring Credit Karma and adding QuickBooks Payments, Intuit now also processes around $140 billion annually for its small business customers.

Unlike other providers, Intuit offers fully integrated credit card processing within its QuickBooks software. This means seamless reconciliation, reporting, and payments management under one system.

For the over 7 million businesses using QuickBooks, bundling payment processing and accounting creates convenience and saves time. Intuit can also leverage reams of financial data to underwrite and approve traditionally underserved startups.

4. JPMorgan Chase – The Global Banking Giant

  • Annual processing volume: Over $1 trillion
  • Headquarters: New York, NY
  • Year founded: 1799

As one of the "Big Four" U.S. banks and the largest globally by assets, JPMorgan Chase sits at the intersection of consumers, merchants, card networks and banks. With over $1 trillion in annual processing volume, Chase Paymentech is a dominant force in merchant acquiring.

Processing capabilities gained from bank acquisitions coupled with the bank???s capital and data resources make Chase a power player. Its SMB and enterprise clients benefit from robust analytics around spending patterns and fraud prevention.

Fun fact – the bank traces its origins all the way back to 1799, when its earliest predecessor Bank of Manhattan Company was founded.

3. Wells Fargo – The Banking and Payments Leader

  • Annual processing volume: $1.5 trillion
  • Headquarters: San Francisco, CA
  • Year founded: 1852

Wells Fargo is one of the "Big Four" U.S. banks and a leader in nearly every aspect of financial services – from banking and loans to payments processing.

A long-time acquirer serving SMBs, its 2012 purchase of Debit and credit card processor First Data Solution further expanded its processing capabilities. It now handles over $1.5 trillion in purchases annually.

Wells Fargo Merchant Services offers integrated payments acceptance, robust data and analytics, mobile point-of-sale systems, and ecommerce gateways. Competitive pricing and high customer service levels make it a merchant favorite.

2. Bank of America – The Nationwide Processor

  • Annual processing volume: $2 trillion
  • Headquarters: Charlotte, NC
  • Year founded: 1904

As the second largest bank in the U.S. with retail branches coast to coast, Bank of America has payment processing in its DNA. In fact, with over $2 trillion in annual processing volume, it rivals the largest dedicated providers.

Acquiring card processing capabilities through acquisitions of MBNA and Merrill Lynch, Bank of America Merchant Services now serves over 3 million business clients. It offers POS systems, mobile tap-to-pay, analytics dashboards and integrated payments across sales channels.

Industry-leading authorization rates help attract enterprise merchants. The bank also provides access to business lending, accounting tools and other financial services for clients.

1. JPMorgan Chase – The Payments Industry Leader

  • Annual processing volume: Over $3 trillion
  • Headquarters: New York, NY
  • Year founded: 2000

Occupying the top spot as the largest credit card processor globally is Chase Paymentech, the merchant acquiring arm of JPMorgan Chase. Its processing volume has reached a staggering $3 trillion annually.

Chase Paymentech is the product of numerous acquisitions that brought together leading processors from Chase, JP Morgan, First Data, Paymentech and the acquisition of Visa‘s former acquiring business. This unparalleled scale provides unmatched capabilities in data analytics and cross-border payments.

The processor enables clients ranging from small startups to global enterprises to accept payments anytime, anywhere. In addition to card processing, Chase Paymentech also provides fraud tools, point-of-sale systems, online payment gateways, and other payment services.

Key Takeaways: How the Top Players Shape the Industry

The rankings illuminate key themes about the companies that dominate as the top credit card processors globally:

  • Scale and stability – Large banks and financial services firms underpin the biggest processors due to capital, resources, capabilities gained through mergers and acquisitions. Consolidation has led to a smaller group of large players with global reach.
  • Serving the full spectrum – Leading processors work with enterprise retailers down to small main street shops, providing customized payments solutions tailored to each business.
  • High investment in technology – Processing trillions in payments annually requires cutting-edge software, analytics, security infrastructure and hardware that only the largest corporations can develop and maintain.
  • Focus on speed, versatility and convenience – Consumers increasingly expect seamless payment experiences anywhere, whether in apps, online, or tap-to-pay in-store. Top processors are enabling frictionless transactions across all channels.
  • Value-added services – Competing on more than just payments, processors are providing everything from POS systems to loyalty programs to financial planning tools as integrated service packages.

How Merchants Can Pick the Right Credit Card Processor

Given the complexities of electronic payments, partnering with the right processor directly impacts a merchant‘s budget, operations, and customer satisfaction. Here are key considerations when making this critical business decision:

  • Transaction volumes – Assess your current and projected annual processing to determine the appropriatesized provider. Enterprise-level volumes demand sophisticated systems that smaller processors may lack.
  • Tools for your business model – Clarify must-have capabilities based on your sales channels (retail, ecommerce, mobile), average transaction size, etc.
  • Growth plans – Seek a processor that can easily scale with your goals and expand internationally if relevant.
  • Service and support – Vet providers‘ customer service reputation and availability of implementation, onboarding and ongoing support.
  • Hidden fees – Beware of complex contracts with expensive early termination fees, non-compliance penalties and other "gotchas."
  • Data security – Rigorously evaluate providers‘ fraud prevention, cybersecurity practices and safeguards given the risks of handling payment data.

By focusing on the fundamentals of payments needs, risk tolerance, service requirements, and growth trajectory, merchants can find the right fit from among the industry‘s top processing companies.

The Future of Credit Card Processing

As consumer reliance on credit cards continues expanding globally, future growth in the hundreds of billions is assured for leading processors.

For merchants, that means investing now in omnichannel payment capabilities, robust data analytics, and flexible acquiring relationships is imperative to stay competitive. Understanding the players shaping these payment infrastructure advancements provides helpful perspective on the evolving commerce landscape.

In the fast-moving world of electronic payments, yesterday???s leaders may be tomorrow???s laggards if they fail to innovate. We???ll be monitoring developments from major processors as the race to handle trillions in credit card purchases accelerates.