Leaders Merchant Services has a history of providing payment processing services to businesses of all industries for all payment modes. As economic activity expands in the US and entrepreneurs think of innovative new startups, a good mix of companies cater to the old and new economy. There is an abundance of new startups focusing on the likes of crypto, Web3, and the metaverse. However, there are just as many business formations as part of the ‘old economy.’ More often, businesses are looking to adopt a hybrid model where they want to start a restaurant, but a significant portion of their sales may come from online orders paid for by consumers’ smartphones.
For over two decades, Leaders has honed its expertise in offering payment processing and POS solutions and being a registered ISO/MSP of BBVA. Unfortunately, the company has some dark clouds around its reputation. There have been reports of deceptive sales tactics, surprise fees, and sudden account closures. Business owners should exercise caution and explore alternative merchant service providers before contracting with Leaders Merchant Services.
Founded in 2000, the Westlake Village, California-based company offers various payment processing services for businesses of all sizes. Leaders Merchant Services (LMS) operates as a reseller, sourcing equipment, software, and hardware from Clover and its parent company First Data, which is now owned by Fiserv – a leading payment and financial technology provider.
There have been more than 250 public complaints that LMS was misrepresenting the actual cost of its services, the sales team wasn’t forthcoming with all the fees that would eventually be levied on customers, funds were withheld from merchant accounts without notice or explanation, and when merchants attempted to contact the company’s support line, it was nearly impossible to get a hold of anyone to explain what was happening and why.
It was a result of such claims that LMS has also been subject to civil penalties that involved both court fees and recompense to merchants. More details can be found in the complainants and legal section of this review below.
Choosing Leaders as a merchant service provider may not be the best option for merchants. Instead, whether you’re a new or low-volume merchant or your business requires a more seasoned payment processor due to high processing volume, Host Merchant Services is recommended due to its affordable hardware, month-to-month billing, and transparent pricing.
Leaders Merchant Services was established in 2000 and has become a large Independent Sales Organization (ISO). In 2017, Leaders was acquired for an undisclosed sum by iPayment, its long-time partner, but continues to operate using its own name, as do several companies under the iPayment umbrella.
Due to its extensive history of deceptive and fraudulent sales practices, Leaders is currently operating under a permanent injunction. As a result, there is little else to report on the company. The company continues using in-house sales teams and independent sales agents that have garnered a poor reputation.
The company has also stopped advertising the best rates and savings, or they’ll offer a $200 gift card. These types of gimmicks are exactly that, a cup and ball type of scam rigged in the provider’s favor. They never pay the guaranteed amount because they only have to beat your provided figure by a penny to avoid paying technically.
There are many other ways in which Leaders has projected to prop up its image. Although this no longer happens, many online forums reported that Leaders had used false testimonials to improve the company’s standing. It can be said that much of the company’s advertising and marketing efforts have been cleaned up.
LMS has a channel partnership with Fiserv to resell its Clover line of products. Below is a summary of the available options to give you an idea of what you can expect from Leaders.
Payment Processing – LMS is a subsidiary of iPayment, which is also a reseller of Fiserv merchant services. However, they may also provide merchant accounts from other back-end processors.
Check Processing – Leaders Merchant Services offers a check assurance program with two options: paper check guarantee or electronic check conversion (ECC). With ECC, in the event of a bounced check, you will receive a reimbursement and will not incur any bounced check fees. Additionally, the ECC option eliminates the need for a trip to the bank to deposit checks.
Point of Sale and Mobile Apps
Point of Sale terminals – POS equipment offered by Fiserv is very high-end, and its pricing structure is often at the upper end of the budget ranges. Also, the equipment is proprietary and incompatible with other vendors. Furthermore, most agreements with Fiserv are long-term, with automating renewals that have strong language against early cancelation of service and carry hefty fees in the event a merchant decides to end their contract early. Any equipment offered by Fiserv will have the hardware costs (mainly via a lease) of the POS terminal and monthly recurring fees to access the platform utilized by the POS.
Payment Gateway – As is the case with almost every payment processor globally, Leader partners with Authorize.Net to offer their payment gateway. This is the industry’s de facto standard, and the rates available through Leaders aren’t that advantageous, so merchants can simply procure a payment gateway directly from the third-party vendor.
Integration Options – After being in business for over two decades, Leaders is very aware of merchants’ needs to be able to integrate their merchant accounts with numerous other services, especially in today’s hyper-digital world. Leaders allow merchants to integrate with multiple vendors, including QuickBooks for accounting software and CartManager for shopping carts.
Tertiary services include:
Leaders Cash Advance Services – Leaders Merchant Services provides cash advances, requiring a minimum of nine months of business and a history of six months of accepting card payments to qualify. Certain other conditions may also apply. However, it’s important to note that cash advances can have disadvantages and may prove costly for obtaining working capital.
The problem with LMS is so much that its rates aren’t competitive. The biggest complaint against Leaders is that the company has been deceptive about offering a great rate when in fact, that was not the case. Most of what the company offers is standard practice in the industry. Albeit not preferred and often shunned by some of the best service providers, it is common to see a payment processor offering a three-year lock-in agreement that binds merchants to their service, with various arbitrary fees that should generally be a part of payment processing.
LMS charges a fee for PCI compliance. If a merchant isn’t PCI compliant, the company charges a monthly fee for PCI non-compliance. If merchants end their contract before their three-year agreed-upon term ends, they are on the hook for either $250 or $350, depending on how long the merchant has been with LMS, for early cancelation.
The company has partnered with Authorize.net to offer a payment gateway. There really aren’t any benefits to buying that through LMS, and merchants may be better served to procure that directly from Authorize.net. The rates offered for online payments by LMS are identical to what the third-party vendor would charge. However, Authorize.net would offer a much better customer support experience.
Leaders does not disclose its rates other than claims of how low rates can be, which have proven to be deceptive. The company has partnered with Clover as a reseller of its POS solutions. However, once again, Leaders need to disclose whether that POS equipment is leased or sold outright and at what rate.
Leaders offers the standard contract length of Fiserv, multi-year agreement accompanied by an early cancelation fee. Although the website has removed the figures, the contract length and early cancelation fee are still referenced, leaving room for additional fees. Ultimately, it’s left to how savvy a merchant is in negotiating the elimination of fees and prepared they are in their research to ensure that all possible fees are disclosed. However, there is a better way, as most reputable processing companies offer month-to-month billing.
LMS has provided payment processing services for well over two decades. In that time, the company has been an extreme poster child of an industry wrought with a lack of transparency and lack of good faith in dealing with customers and buttressing that experience with long-term agreements that levy punitive fines to those fed up with the experience and wish to end the service at all costs.
As innovative as the payment processing industry has been, it has simultaneously been marred by payment processors notorious for self-dealing and deceptive sales practices, such as nondisclosure of fees, falsely promising low rates that never come to fruition, or taking advantage of high risk merchants with extortionary rates. Fortunately, times are changing. Social media has served as a whole new level of social proof of a product, with word of mouth spreading at the speed of sound about all that typically has plagued the FinTech industry over the decades.
Simultaneously regulators have become more proactive and better versed with the business lingo to quickly take action and enact guardrails to reign in predatory business practices. The culmination of all these headwinds is that Leaders succumbed to court orders and fines to overhaul their business practices.
As a result of these dynamics, Leaders agreed to a settlement of over $2 million in California in July 2021, without admitting guilt, as a result of a lawsuit filed against the company. These civil charges and fines resulted from consistent behavior by the company of not transacting with merchants transparently and fairly. The complaint cited that sales personnel consistently failed to fully disclose the full scope of all the fees a merchant may have to pay, which often led to excessive charges and confusion.
The settlement is a culmination of fines, restitution to its customers, and the payment of litigation costs incurred by the District Attorney’s office
Surprisingly, for a company with a history of being in business for as long as Leaders has been, it is only just as of late-2021 became accredited with the Better Business Bureau. One would assume that the company is on track to mend its ways in serving merchants; however, within months of settling with the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, LMS started racking up a slew of merchant complaints on the BBB website. Based on 28 customer reviews, the company is rated 1 out of 5 stars. Over the last three years, there have been 78 complaints, nine of which were over the previous twelve months. The company is currently rated an “A” by the Bureau.
Many merchants still allege that many of the company’s practices to gain new customers are still misleading, the support team is still unhelpful, and the pricing arrangement at Leaders is unchanged. The consistent theme of both customer complaints and reviews are the following:
Does not live up to the Sales team’s hype – The Sales team consistently overpromises on what can be done, but the company cannot deliver. There seem to be instances where the sales team appears to have said anything and bypassed all red flags just to close the sale. At one time, funds were withheld after being flagged as fraudulent despite assurances from the sales team before signing up that the customer’s current business setup and arrangements would not be a problem, despite the merchant raising the potential of concern himself.
Funding holds – Merchants have consistently complained about the lag in releasing funds. Many merchants question why they were signed up to begin with if this would be a problem, and every transaction required this degree of risk aversion as it was not something they were expecting.
Terrible Customer Support – Customer service is often highlighted as “poor” or “horrible,” and the recurring complaint is that attempts to resolve issues with the support team are futile as they continue to promise something will be addressed and taken care of only never to hear back from them again.
Charges seep in, and Mushrooming Rates – Merchants have complained about arbitrary charges for non-compliance that they had not expected. It’s as if the company is looking for ways to systematically sneak in charges to merchants. Furthermore, another consistent complaint was that rates change upward on a whim without notice. Other merchants consistently cited charges on their statements for “nothing.” Even the fees debited from their account aren’t appropriately labeled with Leaders’ details in the transaction descriptors.
Technical and Installation Support Available
Phone and Email Technical Support
Contact Web Form
Technical and Installation Email Support
Online Basic FAQ Knowledge Base
In conclusion, while Leaders Merchant Services offers payment processing and POS solutions to businesses of all sizes, the company has a negative reputation due to reports of deceptive sales tactics, surprise fees, sudden account closures, and other unethical practices. Business owners should exercise caution and explore alternative merchant service providers before entering into a contract with Leaders. The company has also been involved in a major lawsuit settled with prejudice against the company in July 2021, further solidifying its negative reputation. However, given the type of complaints consistent with the settled lawsuit’s complaints, it does not seem Leaders has learned its lesson and is about to change its ways any time soon.
Merchants seeking a reliable merchant account provider are recommended to consider other payment processors which offer affordable hardware, month-to-month billing, and transparent pricing.