Fee-Free Credit and Debit Cards: Selecting a Payment Processing Partner

The world of payment processing is rapidly evolving. Consumers are increasingly adopting mobile wallet solutions like Apple Pay, along with new payment solutions such as Venmo, which enables a social way to pay friends, without dealing with cash. To meet this consumer demand, utilities are investing in the ability to accept fee-free debit and credit cards. By and large, utilities offering fee-free debit and credit card processing are doing so by partnering with a payment processing vendor to ensure a safe and secure payment transaction. 

This series of columns is exploring how utilities are working to provide fee-free credit and debit card acceptance. My first column on this subject explored the business case, while this column provides guidance on selecting a payment processing partner, which is a core element of the logistics involved in delivering this service to customers. 

For utilities moving forward with offering fee-free payment processing, one of the first steps will be to secure a payment processing partner who brings to the table qualities of experience, flexibility and compliance. To develop this column, I was fortunate to be able to interview Phyllis Messner, a national account executive with Speedpay, a Western Union Company. Speedpay is one of several leading providers of payment processing. Messner has personally led the implementation of many fee-based and fee-free credit and debit card applications for utilities and other industries.    


Teaming with partners with experience in implementing successful payment processing solutions is very important. Messner advises utilities to identify a “partner that has expertise in payment processing, has demonstrated success in providing this service, and is investing in their infrastructure and the ongoing development of their applications.” Finding a partner that brings this expertise to the table will help ensure the utility is taking all important issues into consideration as they plan for implementation.

Some questions to consider as a utility evaluates a potential partner are: Is payment processing their core business, or is it a service they offer in addition to their core services? Do they have a proven track record of successful implementations?


Flexibility is important. The payment space is very fluid at this point in time in regards to pricing, options and the regulatory environment.  Messner suggests that utilities secure a partner “who is keeping abreast of the latest developments, and who is also flexible enough to refine their business model to adapt to unique circumstances.” When a utility partners with a provider that is flexible, the result is a win for customers, a win for the utility and a win for the payment processing partner.


Compliance with consumer and data security laws and regulations, along with compliance to any pertinent utility regulations, is vital.  Messner notes that utilities want a partner that “takes the high road and makes compliance a focus of their business model.” In an era of increased data breaches, a partner must be able to demonstrate they have a culture of compliance. Messner suggests that utilities “set the bar high with regards to compliance. This high bar is a protection mechanism for the utility and for your customers.”

Payment processing is an area undergoing significant transformation. Not only are consumers increasingly adopting digital payment solutions, they’re understandably  demanding payment data security. More and more utilities are presenting the business case to regulators that offering fee-free credit and debit card payment is vital to meet the changing consumer demand. To successfully implement fee-free, there are logistics involved, including the vital element of selecting a payment processing partner that can enable the credit and debit payment transactions. Utilities are wise to find a partner with deep experience in payment processing that will not only bring both the strong capabilities needed for successful implementation, but also the ability to provide flexibility with a solution born from experience.

About the author: Penni McLean-Conner is chief customer officer at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. She serves on several boards, including the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.








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