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Definition, Purpose, and Methods of a Settlement Bank

What Is a Settlement Bank?

A settlement bank is a bank that processes transactions on behalf of someone who receives a payment, usually a merchant. As the merchant’s primary bank for receiving payment, the settlement bank can also be referred to as the acquiring bank or the acquirer.

Key Takeaways

  • A settlement bank processes transactions on behalf of someone receiving payments, usually a merchant.
  • When a customer swipes a card, the merchant's settlement bank contacts the issuer bank through its network to process the transaction.
  • Settlement banks charge merchants a fee for their services.

How Settlement Banks Work

Electronic or credit card transactions occur between three parties: the cardholder's bank (also known as the issuer bank) the settlement bank, and a payment processor. The settlement bank is the lead facilitator for these transactions.

When a customer swipes their card, the settlement bank contacts its network to process the transaction. The payment processor contacts the cardholder's bank to ensure that funds are available. If the payment clears, the issuer bank debits the customer's account and sends the funds to the settlement bank on behalf of the merchant.

Some settlement banks deposit funds into the merchant’s account immediately. In other cases, settlement may occur at the end of a business day, or after 24 to 48 hours. The settlement bank provides settlement confirmation to the merchant when a transaction has cleared and funds become available.

.2 Trillion

The total value of all digital payments in the U.S. in 2022.

Benefits of Settlement Banks

A settlement bank makes it easy for merchants to accept payments from customers. To facilitate electronic transactions, the merchant must first open a merchant account and sign an agreement that details the terms for processing and settling their transactions. Acquiring banks usually charge merchants a per transaction fee and a monthly fee for their services.

Merchants typically choose settlement banks based on their relationships with major processing networks. Some banks can receive payments from all of the major processing networks, while others can only work with a single processor. Since processors charge fees for their services, merchants will have to weight the advantages of paying higher fees to reach more customers.

The best credit cards often offer incentives to their members, such as loyalty points or cash back. These costs are typically supported by merchant payment fees.

What Is the Difference Between Clearing and Settlement?

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Clearing is the exchange of financial messages between different banks to ensure that a transaction is processed correctly. During the clearing process, an issuer bank will debit their customer's account, and the settlement bank will credit the merchant with the same amount. After clearing, the banks still need to settle the obligations between themselves. The issuer bank might send the settlement bank a payment for the value of a transaction, or they may exchange a large net payment for all transactions within a given time period.

How Do Payment Processors Make Money?

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Payment processors charge fees for the merchants that use their network. This typically entails a flat monthly fee, a percentage-based fee from each transaction, and additional charges for any equipment that the merchant rents from the processor. Merchants benefit by having smoother transactions and a larger pool of customers.

How Much Do Merchants Pay for Transaction Settlement?

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Credit cards charge a small percentage of the cost of each successful payment through their networks. Typically, this fee is around 2-2.5% of the total transaction. Although it cuts into their bottom line, merchants benefit from this arrangement by reaching a larger pool of customers.

The Bottom Line

Settlement banks are a primary component of the transaction process, helping to make electronic transaction processing available for merchants. With a significant majority of customers seeking to make electronic payments, it is important that merchants have good relationships with processing entities including settlement banks to ensure a fast and efficient payments system for their business and their clients.


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