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Today’s Mobile Uncharted Territory Lesson: What Happens When Your Processor Is Ordered To Not Take Payments?

Written by Evan Schuman
March 6th, 2013

Today’s frightening question: What happens when your payment processor gets into a legal fight and suddenly can’t process your transactions? This is likely to happen periodically with mobile payments, as patent violations and state revenue rules start to play out. As if to prove that point, Illinois is ordering Square to halt any payments processed within its borders, something that is not likely

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to sit well with Illinois Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) fans—nor Starbucks itself, nor any other Illinois Square merchant.

The Illinois cease-and-desist order involves the ghastly accusation that Square has not obtained the proper state license, something that is complicated by the fact that Square is arguing it doesn’t qualify for that particular license. Square has been fighting this battle in other states, too, with varying results. This is just something to remember when mobile processors are pitching their extreme savings. When entering new, uncharted financial waters, the costs get lower as the risks get higher. This won’t likely be an issue in about two or three years. But for now, having one or two back-up processors is probably not a horrible idea.


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3 Comments | Read Today’s Mobile Uncharted Territory Lesson: What Happens When Your Processor Is Ordered To Not Take Payments?

  1. Bob Skattum Says:

    Good point regarding another factor to be considered when employing new payment vehicles. However, what seems to have been consistently missed in the posting/re-posting of the “ghastly accusation” regarding Square is the fact that the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation also filed C&D’s in January 2013 against NetSpend, Skrill USA(aka MoneyBookers), and TouchPay Holdings. In contrast to Square, these three had applied for licenses, appeared to have been working with the IDFPR to provide requested information and somehow the process had not yet been completed. Perhaps this is not a major issue, but simply one where a governmental department is firing a warning shot to get the firms involved to bring the process to closure.

    Given that states often look to each other for “revenue-generating” opportunities, I would not be surprised to see other situations like this arise going forward.

  2. Chris Phillips Says:

    My read of the C&D in the context of the historical money transmitter exemption for merchant acquirers is that Square is in the line of fire (i) for its digital gift card program and (ii) because it allows consumers to receive payments (as opposed to merchants offering goods or services for sale). My guess is that Square can continue its pure play acquiring business for merchants, as that is a business that is typically not subject to these laws. It’s the non-commercial role of individuals in this process that has attracted IL’s attention. The C&D isn’t really clear about that, but if this is the case as I suspect, Sq and the state of IL have outlined these parameters between themselves.

  3. Evan Schuman Says:

    Agreed. Was merely making the point that states can and will issue these kinds of broad orders as the early days of mobile payments continue. Not saying it’s right, but that it will happen regardless.

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