What is a credit card account updater?

An account updater service helps your business automatically update and maintain the latest, most accurate credit and debit card details for your customers.

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Darja Beljassova
October 27, 2023
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What is a credit card account updater?

If you run a business that relies on subscriptions – a gym, for example, or a monthly delivery service – ensuring accurate customer payment information is vital. After all, you’re billing those customers every month or year – and if you can’t collect that money because of outdated debit or credit card details, your business would struggle.

Yet ensuring you’re working with your customers’ latest payment information is easier said than done – because those details are constantly changing. According to Visa, 30% of all card details change every year – and over a third (35%) of customers forget to update them.

When this happens, payments fail. The customer (often inadvertently) loses access to your service, and your business loses out on the recurring revenue they were bringing in.

Which begs the question – what can your business do about it?

A credit card updater service is an excellent place to start. Below, we’ll explain what an account updater is, how it works, and talk you through some of its most popular use cases. We’ll also discuss how these services reduce card declines as well as churn – as well as the myriad other benefits Checkout.com’s own real-time account updater can offer your business.

What is an account updater?

An account updater service helps your business automatically update and maintain the latest, most accurate credit and debit card details for your customers.

This is particularly important if your business relies on recurring payments; on charging customers every month, or year, for an ongoing membership or subscription.

A recurring payment is a type of card-on-file transaction. This is when you store your customers’ credit or debit card information ‘on file’ – enabling a quicker, simpler payment experience for the returning customer every time they make a purchase from your business. In industry parlance, these are known as merchant-initiated transactions (payments ‘pulled’ by you, rather than ‘pushed’ by the customer), and they’re generally seen as low-risk, highly convenient ways for you to take recurring payments from your customers.

The only catch? That, as we’ve mentioned, customers’ card details change. This could be for several reasons, including:

  • A lost, stolen, or damaged card that had to be replaced
  • Card expiry, or changes to its expiration date
  • Account changes or closure
  • At the cardholder’s request (they may have suspected fraudulent activity, changed their name due to marriage or divorce, or simply requested a different card design)
  • The issuer updating the card’s security features

When card details change (and aren’t updated by the customers themselves), their payments bounce. This payment delinquency leads to subscription interruptions, customer frustration, and – if the stalled payment isn’t dealt with – churn.

By automating the process of updating this payment information, a credit card updater service helps your business avoid these negative repercussions – and their impact on your bottom line.

How do credit card account updaters work?

So – how credit card account updaters work, exactly? It all begins when a cardholder creates a card-on-file agreement with your business.

The issuing bank (or simply the ‘issuer’ – that’s your customer’s bank) submits these card details to the credit card account updater. These include:

  • Mastercard Automatic Billing Updater (ABU)
  • American Express Card Refresher
  • Visa Account Updater (VAU)
  • Discover Global Network Account Updater

Although they operate slightly differently (as we’ll unpack below), these services store and maintain the latest cardholder account and payment details, and send them to acquirers (acquirers are financial institutions that work with merchants to accept payments; they’re the kind of ‘opposite’ of issuing banks).

The acquirers then send updates to the merchants whose payments they handle via a process called network tokenization. The merchant (that’s you) can now transact with the customer – safe in the knowledge that they’re working with the latest details.

Like many of the other processes involved in the world of accepting payments online, this all happens in mere moments, and includes several different parties: including issuers, acquirers, merchants, and the credit card updater services themselves.

Let’s say, for example, that Bobbi has just recently received a new card, after she lost her old one. She signed up for Netflix with her old card. Here, her issuing bank submits these details to Mastercard’s ABU.

The ABU then lets acquirers know. They, in turn, inform the merchants they work with of the change. This includes HelloFresh, Disney+, and Birchbox – all of whom Bobbi has subscriptions with. These services update her payment records to reflect her new card details – and, come renewal dates, Bobbi’s payments for each go through smoothly.

Use cases for credit card account updaters

Let’s take a whistle-stop tour of some of the top industry applications for credit card account updaters – and how they benefit businesses across sectors and business models.

Recurring payments

Credit card account updaters are particularly useful for subscription-based businesses.

Not only do account updaters reduce subscription failures (and the associated customer churn), they also help your team avoid having to reach out to the customer to recoup payment. (A tactic called dunning management, and one that – perhaps unsurprisingly – customers themselves aren’t too enamored with.)

Card on file (CoF) payments

Card-on-file payments include any transaction in which a customer’s card details are saved by the merchant, to make the recurring payment experience easier going forward.

On top of recurring payments, card-on-file transactions encompass:

  • Installments
  • Reauthorized payments
  • Incremental payments
  • Delayed transactions
  • No-show payments
  • Resubmitted payments

A credit card updater service enables merchants to benefit from the latest cardholder credentials – and so enable seamless billing when it comes to installments or no-show payments – without the taxing, time-consuming process of reentering card details manually.


For ecommerce websites, a little friction at the checkout can have big consequences.

If a returning customer has saved their details with your online website, for example, they’ll be accustomed to breezing through the checkout smoothly. If their card details have changed since that customer last bought from your site, however – and you’re not using an updater service – they’ll have to re-enter those details to continue.

This can cause friction and frustration (particularly if the customer is shopping on the go, from their smartphone, and doesn’t have the new card to hand), and may result in an abandoned cart – and lost revenue.

Want to know more about ecommerce payment processing? Dive into our guide for the full rundown.

Benefits of an account updater service

If you regularly accept credit and debit card payments online from your customers, an account updater service is vital. Some of the benefits you’ll see include:

  • Reduced involuntary churn: when a customer didn’t mean to cancel their service with you – but instead, it simply happened because their card details changed and they forgot to update them – it’s called involuntary churn. Whether voluntary or involuntary all churn is bad – but an account updater service can at least protect you from the latter’s damaging (and unintended) consequences.
  • Boosted recurring revenue: put simply, fewer delinquent or declined payments means more revenue – and more funds available to evolve and expand your business.
  • Improved customer experience: in exchange for their ongoing custom, consumers demand interrupted access to the streaming services they pay for. By ensuring these memberships and subscriptions continue seamlessly, account updater services help improve rates of customer loyalty towards, and satisfaction with, your brand.
  • Time and cost savings: manually updating customer card details is a time-suck, and subject to human error. By automating the process, account updater services free you up for things you actually want to be doing – and slash your administrative costs, too.
  • Less friction at the checkout: by automatically updating their card details for them, you remove this burden from the customer when it’s time to check out – allowing them to make one-click payments without having to re-enter their information.
  • Fewer false declines: antiquated card information can lead to legitimate transactions being (incorrectly) rejected. By processing a payment only with the current, correct card details, account updater services reduce the likelihood of false alarms.

Account updater service by scheme

Credit card account updater services differ depending on the card scheme.

Card schemes (also known as card ‘brands’, or ‘associations’) include Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. They set the standards and lay out the foundations upon which transactions between merchants, cardholders, and financial institutions can take place.

Here’s a quick guide to how each brand’s real-time account updater works by scheme – and how, through working with Checkout.com, you can get access to them.


For Visa cards, Checkout.com enrolls your business in the VAU program.

Once that’s complete, we monitor each transaction for card updates. If there’s been changes to a debit or credit card’s details, Visa provides us with the new information – all in real-time. We only update cards stored in the system, and that are actively in use – so the update will only happen as the payment is taking place.

This means Visa, in payment industry terms, supports a ‘pull’ model – providing updates when we request them. Once we’ve received the updated card details after successful authorization, we feed them back into the real-time account updater service.


For Mastercard, Checkout.com enrolls you in the ABU program.

We then take all your stored cards and subscribe each one, after which Mastercard creates a ‘watch list’. Whenever a card is updated, Mastercard lets us know. We update the details on our side, and let you know the old and new card details.

Unlike with Visa, Mastercard updates aren’t tied to a payment. Also in contrary to Visa’s way of doing things, Mastercard supports a ‘push’ model – immediately sending a notification to the real-time account updater service when cardholder details change, rather than requiring a request first.

American Express

Checkout.com doesn’t provide American Express’s Cardrefresher – yet.

But watch this space, because we’ll be offering American Express’s credit card account updater to our merchants in 2024. 

How do real-time account updaters help with card declines?

Firstly, let’s make the distinction between real-time account updaters and those that process updates in ‘batches’. 

Batch updaters collect cardholder data changes over a period of time – such as a day or a week – then process them all in one go. (Like doing laundry on a designated day). However, this can mean that if changes to a customer’s card details come in right after a batch has been processed, the payment might fail.

On the other hand, real-time account updater services (like Checkout.com’s) process updates to debit and credit card information in real time. They constantly monitor and synchronize your customers’ payment information with the latest data available from card issuers. This checking also happens when a customer initiates a transaction – avoiding payment declines because you’re only working with the most relevant, reliable cardholder information.

Interested in how Checkout.com’s real-time account updater service can optimize the way you accept payments online? Read on.

Explore a real-time account updater with Checkout.com

At Checkout.com, we’ve developed a real-time solution that – by pairing our account updater with network tokens – offers a fast, foolproof way of preventing payment failures and reducing card declines. Better still, our credit card account updater works with both Visa and Mastercard, and – unlike some other services, which refresh card details in batches, rather than live – supports you as you’re taking payments.

Safe in the knowledge that you’re working with the latest, most relevant cardholder details, you can offer one-click payments to your customers with confidence – increasing conversion rates and reducing friction at the checkout.

You can also continue to accept recurring payments without the fear that payment failure (and worse, involuntary churn) are lurking just around the corner. All while taking back control of your business’s time and resources, and reducing the likelihood of false declines.

Sound good? Get in touch with our sales team today for a friendly chat. We can discuss where your business is at in your credit card processing journey, where you want to be – and how Checkout.com can help you get there.

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October 27, 2023 11:42
October 27, 2023 11:42