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Balanced Makes Volume Pricing Public (balancedpayments.com)
85 points by zende on Jan 9, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments



This is actually one of the very few things that has bothered me about Stripe – they don't make their volume pricing public (Amazon does, now Balanced does). We've had to email when we hit larger sums to get pricing reduced.

Edit: although to be fair, I asked them about this, and they said their processing costs vary user to user, so they don't have a simple matrix (rather, they apply discounts based on the costs associated with an account). That's probably the best possible answer short of a pricing matrix...


Right; we've gone back-and-forth on how best to implement our volume pricing. The upside of a clear pricing matrix is that it's clear. The downside is that it's conservative -- we can (and do) give lower pricing than what we could commit to in a matrix like this to many users.

Perhaps we should release a matrix of what we do on average (or a set of minimum discounts) or something.

(As ever, feel free to drop me a line to discuss -- patrick@stripe.com.)


we can (and do) give lower pricing than what we could commit to in a matrix like this to many users.

Can you elaborate on this? What factors influence what rates you can (and do) give? Chargeback rate? Mix of card types? Type of product or service being sold?

Perhaps we should release a matrix of what we do on average

I think that would be great -- even better if it's combined with a list of situations which would result in the rates being higher or lower than the norm.


(I work at Stripe)

The biggest factor in processor costs is actually the card mix, and not the volume that a business generates. To give you some sense, international, AmEx and corporate rewards cards tend to be much more expensive to process. Debit cards, on the other hand, tend to be fairly inexpensive to process for (although, despite the costs mentioned elsewhere in the thread, not all debit cards qualify for Durbin debit rates).

Balanced's pricing matrix only takes one factor (volume) into account. So, for example, if a business accepts a high percentage of debit cards, we can offer a significantly lower rate than the prices in Balanced's matrix.


What happens if a customer's card mix changes?


Generally, we hold to the offered rate even in the case that the card mix changes and becomes more expensive. In the case that the card mix becomes less expensive, we'll decrease the rate as our costs have changed and we can offer a better price. Our pricing is always based on the costs of the transactions, rather than volume alone.

There are downsides to focusing rates and adjusting them on volume alone. With the Balanced pricing matrix, if a merchant has a mediocre Q3 in volume, their pricing could increase for the highest volume quarter (Q4), even if Balanced's effective cost per transaction hasn't changed at all.


> Generally, we hold to the offered rate even in the case that the card mix changes and becomes more expensive. In the case that the card mix becomes less expensive, we'll decrease the rate as our costs have changed and we can offer a better price. Our pricing is always based on the costs of the transactions, rather than volume alone.

This poses an interesting optimization problem. Given that model, a customer should email you at the beginning of every month asking you to (re)evaluate their rate given whatever period (trailing month? trailing 3 months?) you use to determine the card mix.

If the card mix has changed such that Stripe's cost has decreased, the customer would get a lower rate. If the card mix has not changed or has changed such that Stripe's cost has increased, the customer would maintain the same rate.

The above process could further be improved if the customer keeps track of their own card mix and only emails when favorable to do so. This could even be automated.

> There are downsides to focusing rates and adjusting them on volume alone. With the Balanced pricing matrix, if a merchant has a mediocre Q3 in volume, their pricing could increase for the highest volume quarter (Q4), even if Balanced's effective cost per transaction hasn't changed at all.

Yes. It's certainly not perfect. We used to have a tiered model where in each month the first $x was charged at some rate, the next $y would be charged at another rate, etc. It became difficult for customers to calculate their effective rate and project into the future. We'll continue try to improve based on the feedback we get from customers on our current model. Regardless, we'll publish any improvements in our pricing model and make it available to everyone.

I don't want to make this conversation about Balanced vs. Stripe. I asked my question because I was genuinely interested and wanted to see if there was something we could learn from each other. If you do have an internal formula, I encourage you to publish it. If the model is better than the one Balanced uses, it will allow us to learn and for everyone to improve. That is the nature of openness and what we're trying to accomplish.


That's assuming we're only looking at the card mix for a given month. Generally, we're looking at a trailing 3-month period -- and if a user wants to email us every three months to ask if we can lower their rates, we welcome them to do so.

We've certainly thought about how we can be more open with our pricing, as Patrick mentioned, and for customers that want details about why their rate is the way it is, we'll definitely dial-in to the details. We optimize for simplicity though, as we know that many of our users don't want to read an excel spreadsheet detailing the variety of charges we incur from card networks and other parties, which factor into their overall rate. Many of our users have chosen Stripe because we abstract away all the complexity involving pricing.


Why not give clients the benefit of a rolling 3-month rate automatically? That way you could help educate them (by showing them their own data back to them- scheme tier x volume) as to how merchant charges work.

To keep it simple, you could require a minimum volume to participate which may also help you get people to consolidate their merchant activity with you, similar to the way traditional tiering works.


zende, cristinacordova, I like where this is headed. Created an issue on Balanced's blog repo to discuss the topic further.

This would be a huge win for customers if we could find a way to work together to bring prices down even further!

https://github.com/balanced/balanced.github.com/issues/72


why couldn't you charge a markup based your cost? So I as a vendor pay more to process Amex and less for debit.

I can certainly steer my customers to use different cards by offering discount coupons for debit. On the internet 1% can mean a big swing in sales.


(I'm a Balanced employee)

We certainly could offer cost+ pricing. In fact, that's the status quo in most of the payments industry right now. But as cristinacordova from Stripe points out above:

"We optimize for simplicity though, as we know that many of our users don't want to read an excel spreadsheet detailing the variety of charges we incur from card networks and other parties, which factor into their overall rate. Many of our users have chosen Stripe because we abstract away all the complexity involving pricing."

Balanced chooses to offer blended, simple pricing for similar reasons.


That makes sense – the main thing that bothered me actually is that I didn't (and still don't) know when to ask for discounts. Even if you said discounts vary, but we'll look automatically look at what we can offer when you hit the following sums... that would be great.


We had the same issue with our banking partners. Their pricing schemes are very opaque and we didn't know when we should approach them. We, and you, have better things to do than polling a bank/payments provider asking for discounts. The not knowing is part of the problem.


It probably can't hurt (or take more than 15 minutes) to periodically shoot an email and ask.


True. But we just love the experience of getting emails from AWS telling us we're paying too much and what we can do to bring costs down. Balanced is striving toward that level of transparency and customer focus.


+1 for openness


how about pricing for debit cards?


(I'm a Balanced employee)

Sorry if this isn't clear. We don't have separate pricing for credit vs. debit cards. These rates are blended for all card types.


And to further the transparency, Visa & Mastercard also publish their interchange fees, which is the main cost for a processor like Balanced.

Here's Visa's: http://usa.visa.com/download/merchants/visa-usa-interchange-... For online the fee program is usually "e-Commerce Basic".

So here's Balanced's interchange costs, for Visa:

Major debit cards[1]: 0.05% + $0.21

Unregulated debit cards (small banks): 1.65% + $0.15

Non-rewards credit cards: 1.8% + $0.10

Rewards credit cards: 1.95% + $0.10

Visa Signature Preferred (highest-end Visa cards): 2.4% + $0.10

Mastercard is usually similar. AmEx is usually more expensive.

-----------

[1] This 0.05%/$0.21 rate is super interesting to note. The Durbin amendment was recently passed and regulates most debit card interchange down to practically nothing. This basically just happened and is potentially a huge profit center for processors who haven't updated their fees to reflect it. My guess is processors are right now all looking at each other and waiting to see who breaks rank.. but for the moment, merchants are not necessarily seeing the benefit. Processors are.


This is one of the advantages to having a real merchant account instead of using a 3rd-party processor like Balanced/PayPal/Stripe. I pay interchange + 0.04% for all cards, so when someone pays me with debit, I'm charged 0.09% and not 2.9%. Several thousand dollars a month of my subscription payments are from debit/check cards; it adds up.


This is dead on. Here's a few other things to keep in mind:

1. A Durbin Regulated Debit Card include any bank that has over $10B in deposits. That's most debits cards by volume.

2. We've been lucky in being able to negotiate with our processing banks (also called acquiring bank) to receive very favorable rates to pass on those savings. You have to factor in this cost in addition to the interchange defined by the card brands.

3. Amex is more expensive than most other cards, but Amex is also the only card brand that will negotiate on their interchange based on volume and other factors.

abalone: thanks for writing this up. It's a more detailed answer to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7033534


This is really good insight abalone. Thanks for sharing.


Your insight about the debit markup is very interesting as it seems to me that Stripe and Balanced do it and perhaps also Braintree. That is a great revenue source for them and there is no way that the cost of accepting Amex (typically about 3.5% but can be negotiated down based on volume) outweighs the revenue from that markup on debit.

The only issue that I see with your analysis is that you refer to Balanced as a processor. Read their commercial entity agreement here: https://www.balancedpayments.com/terms/selleragreement Correct me if I am wrong but the references to Vantiv and Wells Fargo Merchant Services in this agreement indicate that those two entities are doing the processing--although Wells Fargo Merchant Services may have First Data do the actual sending of the transaction across the VISA network. What Balanced is really doing is signing up merchants for these entities as an ISO and perhaps also a Merchant Servicer as defined by VISA.

For the purpose of the following breakdown of Balanced's charges lets exclude closed loop networks like Amex and Discover because they don't have the same structure. Balanced's VISA and Mastercard rate is really a result of the following:

-Interchange charged by VISA and Mastercard (which is what abalone just explained). This fee goes to the bank that issued the user's card. One caveat is that abalone's explanation does not include EIRFed transactions which is a ~0.50% markup ontop of interchange for transactions that are not entered properly. For some companies this is a big pain and a source of unexpected cost.

-Assessment charged by VISA and Mastercard for using their network. This fee is ~0.11% + $0.0195.

-Processor's markup from Vantiv and Wells Fargo. Given their volume, this fee is probably ~0.06% + $0.10 or whatever calculation that gets the processor around 12 basis points from an individual transaction.

-Acquiring bank's cut of about 2 basis points for providing the BIN/ICA. For the Wells Fargo Merchant Services transactions

-Everything else is Balanced's commission that they charge for the service of signing up a merchant for the acquirer (ie bringing them x amount of transactions) and a charge for the service that they provide the merchant (customer service, great API, etc).

I'm not quite sure the reason for having 2 processors though. It must be a difference in price at a certain transaction size and risk profile.

Basically, it is really all of those factors combined that make up the price to the merchant. The reason for the tiers is that processing is all about economies of scale which means that the additional cost to the processor for routing more transactions through their systems is very small. That is how they are able to provide these tiers.

In reality these companies are not that transparent.


I've been dealing with credit card merchant accounts for our company for many years. The lack of transparency in the industry made it impossible to know if I was getting the best rates possible. Then I found http://www.cardfellow.com where major providers compete for your business. All bids are cost plus based, so you can do a real comparison of the bids. Rates are locked in for life. You can keep the gateway that you're currently using. I ended up with a different division of the same provider I was using, but at a much lower rate. This reduced my net merchant account cost by 3 percentage points. Give it a try. There's no cost. And I have no connection to CardFellow other than that of a very happy customer.


I'm sorry if this is stated somewhere but I have not seen it anywhere. How are these thresholds calculated? Is this per store/merchant account or for the whole marketplace?


(I'm a Balanced employee)

We calculate these fees per marketplace. Usually a single marketplace has many merchants associated with it.


Thank you! This is pretty nice then, I think when I first stumbled upon the pricing page a while ago, these reduced rates were already public. At the time I just assumed it was counted by store and got back to work. I still chose Balanced for the native marketplace support and general "openness" feel I get from the company.


Bravo to transparency. Isn't this expensive though?


Balanced employee here. You can compare yourself:

* http://blog.balancedpayments.com/volume-pricing/

* https://stripe.com/us/pricing

* https://www.braintreepayments.com/faq control-f pricing

TL;DR: Everyone has 2.9% + 30¢ on their page, Stripe mentions to email them for a discount if you're doing over $1MM/year.


PayPal's volume pricing has always been public as well:

    $0 - $3,000/month	2.9% + $0.30
    $3,000 - $10,000	2.5% + $0.30
    $10,000 - $100,000	2.2% + $0.30
    $100,000+		1.9% or less, requires calling sales
Nonprofits automatically get 2.2% with no minimum volume, and in-person transaction with a PayPal Here dongle on your phone/tablet automatically get 2.7% flat with no minimum volume.

https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/merchant-fees


PayPal's open pricing was part of the inspiration for opening up our pricing tiers. PayPal however sells directly to merchants. Balanced sells to marketplaces, which benefit from the aggregated volume of merchants on their platform, hence the higher transaction volume criteria for our tiers.


It's the same pricing as all their competitors if I recall correctly.


Uh...no. In fact, 1.9% is probably way less than their costs (ie, unsustainable).


It's not.


Cool. So this is essentially per marketplace? I've just launched simplegym.co that uses Balanced for handling payments. We currently are only doing around $10K/month in payments, but I believe it could grow into the discounted volume over the next few months.


Thanks for using Balanced.

Yes, this is per marketplace. We'd love to give you a discount. Our discounts are applied quarterly, so if you get to $100K+ by April 1, we'd be happy to drop your rate to 2.7% + 30¢

More here: https://www.balancedpayments.com/pricing


I am really trying to integrate balanced into my software but I am just getting stuck. A few video tutorials or a live workshop/meetup/hack day would really help!


MyNameIsMK: We'd be happy to help. We're online right now for chat on #balanced on irc.freenode.net, which you can join online by going to http://webchat.freenode.net/?channels=balanced&uio=MTE9OTIaf

You can also email us at support@balancedpayments.com


live workshop/meetup/hack day would be really fun!


Does this flat rate include AMEX transactions?


yes.




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