Credit Card transaction flow

It has been a VERY long while since we last updated. Q1 has been a very challenging period for not just us, but for our clients, and I am sure, many businesses around the world as well. It’s just a lot of things (not necessarily good) happening, and we can only wish all our customers and readers to be safe and to take care of oneself during these challenging times.

Instead of going into too technical a subject, it may be a good idea to just start off this decade with a quick recap on some basics of credit card flows. This allows us to understand certain things dealing with PCI-DSS and gives us some background on more technical subjects later. This article takes us back to the basic.

How does a credit card transaction flow look like?

a) A cardholder (you and me) uses a credit card to purchase something – either online (card not present) or physically (card present).

b) The merchant either uses a POS, or virtual terminal or e-commerce, but at the end the authorisation request is transmitted to the ‘acquirer’.

c) The acquirer in this case the the merchant’s bank (or payment gateway, if not a bank). Not yours (issuer). So when you receive a credit card receipt, take a look at the receipt and it should state the acquirer. The acquirer acquires (signs up) merchants to accept card payments and ensure the merchant gets reimbursed for the credit card payments they accept.

d) The acquirer sends on the request to the processor. A processor does the authorisation and settlement service for all credit card transactions for each of the cards accepted by the merchant. These generally requires a front and back end processor.

e) The processor passes the transaction to the issuer, who approves/declines the transaction for whatever reason. Your issuer is the one issuing your card and generally has badge over the card (e.g your bank).

f) Whatever the response from issuer, the processor then sends it back to the acquirer, and the acquirer then sends it back to the merchant, through the terminal or however the request came in.

g) The merchant now has the approval (or decline) code, and the transaction is completed by providing the cardholder with the receipt.

h) Now the merchant and the acquirer goes through the clearing and settlement phase and the acquirer credits the merchant’s account.

i) The acquirer submits the transaction for settlement via the processor, and the processor requests the issuer to reimburse the acquirer for the transaction.

j) Finally, the issuer post the transaction to the cardholder account and the cardholder needs to settle the account (or not) on their statement.

That, in a nutshell is how a basic credit card flow works. Of course, there are inner workings in there, such as usage of settlement banks, consolidation of different acquirers, daily clearing data file reconciliation etc. But the above overall should give you a good working knowledge of what happens when you dip or wave your card in the next transaction you make.

For more information on PCI-DSS or ISO compliance, please drop us an email at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com! We will get back to your immediately. Stay safe!

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