What is transaction settlement?

If your business handles payments, it’s important to understand the transaction settlement process and how it may shape the future of payments.

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September 29, 2023
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What is transaction settlement?

If your business handles payments, it’s important to understand the transaction settlement process and how it may shape the future of payments.

This page will explain how transaction settlements work, offer advice on how to improve your settlement processes, and explain where the transaction settlement sector is heading.

Transaction settlement explained

Transaction settlement is the culmination of a transaction, marking the definitive transfer of funds among the involved parties. It is the procedural step that guarantees the exchange of mutually agreed-upon items in a transaction. In the context of finance, settlement predominantly pertains to the mechanism through which securities, commodities, currency, or various other assets are handed over in exchange for payment.

Key components of transaction settlement

The key players involved are the cardholder who initiates the payment, the business providing goods or services, the acquiring bank processing payments for the business, and payment processors facilitating transaction details. 

Then there are card networks – like Visa and Mastercard – authorizing and processing payments, and issuers (or issuing banks) providing credit or debit cards to cardholders, with some card networks also serving as issuers.

The importance of efficient settlement in business

Efficient settlement enables your business to transfer funds in a timely and accurate manner, while reducing financial risk, improving cash flow management, and building trust among stakeholders. 

It also reduces operational costs and can help you hit goals on time and within budget, contributing to overall financial stability and growth. In short, it’s crucial.

How transaction settlement works

To help you understand the credit card transaction settlement process in greater detail, we’ve broken down how it works…

The transaction lifecycle: From initiation to settlement

Here’s a quick breakdown of the transaction settlement lifecycle…

  1. Initiation – merchants initiate the process by submitting completed transactions to payment processors.
  1. Authorization – the issuing bank authorizes the transaction by verifying the CVV, account number, and billing address.
  1. Clearing – this typically takes one to two business days, when issuers return funds to card networks en route to the merchant's account. Dynamic currency conversion may also happen during this phase. 
  1. Settlement – the card network transfers funds to the acquiring bank, with fees distributed among the issuing bank, card network, and payment processor. Once the remaining funds reach the merchant account, settlement is finalized.

Roles involved: Merchants, banks, and intermediaries

In transaction settlements, merchants start things off by submitting completed transactions to payment processors, while banks play a key role in clearing and transferring funds between parties. Intermediaries, such as payment processors, facilitate and expedite transaction details between merchants and banks, ensuring efficient settlements.

Common challenges in transaction settlement processes

Common challenges in transaction settlement processes include: 

These challenges can lead to financial losses, operational inefficiencies, and potential disputes between parties involved in the settlement process.

Types of transaction settlements

These are the most common types of transaction settlements and their differences…

Real-time vs. batch settlement

When it comes to credit card transaction settlement time, there are two common procedures. Real-time settlements transfer funds immediately, while batch settlements are grouped and processed together at specific intervals, with funds transferred in batches.

Gross settlement vs. net settlement

With gross settlements, each transaction is settled individually, without offsetting against other transactions. Net Settlements involve multiple transactions that are offset against each other, with only the net amount settled.

Interbank vs. intra-bank settlements

Interbank settlements are between different banks or financial institutions, while intra-bank settlements take place within the same bank, often involving accounts held by different customers or entities within the institution.

Technologies powering modern transaction settlement

There are numerous technologies empowering businesses to execute more efficient transaction settlements, including…

The Rise of smart contracts in settlement automation

Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with predefined rules and conditions written in code. When specific criteria are met, they automatically trigger and finalize transactions, reducing the need for intermediaries while ensuring secure, transparent, and efficient settlements.

How APIs are streamlining the settlement process

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) facilitate seamless communication between different software systems. In settlement processes, APIs enable swift and direct data exchange between parties involved, improving automation, real-time tracking, and integration with various platforms and financial systems. This leads to faster and more efficient settlement workflows.

Improving transaction settlement: Best practices

There are many ways your business can bolster its transaction settlement processes, including…

Regular reconciliation and audit

You should not only reconcile transactions at the end of the day but also throughout the day, in real-time, comparing incoming and outgoing payments to expected patterns. 

Doing this more often should your business spot any problems or unusual activities, like pending funds, possible fraud, or unmatched receipts. It also helps you access payment information quickly – if you find any issues, you should fix them promptly and inform payment system operators if needed.

Adopting modern tech solutions

To ensure efficient transaction settlements, it's crucial to have modern technical infrastructure for collecting customer payments. Choosing the right payment processor is in your hands and can make a significant difference. 

With Checkout.com's payment processing product, you can seamlessly handle online debit and credit card payments, as well as various local payment methods. We can help boost your authorization rates, ensure compliance with regulations, and, most importantly, swiftly transfer funds to your bank account with minimal delay.

Understanding and mitigating settlement risks

By identifying and preventing risks, including delays or reconciliation issues, your business can ensure smooth and timely financial transactions, bolster trust with stakeholders, and safeguard your reputation.

To mitigate these types of issues, we recommend investing in robust automation and integration of payment processes to minimize human error and to streamline operations. You should also regularly monitor and reconcile transactions, promptly addressing any anomalies or delays, and establish clear communication channels with banks and financial institutions to ensure seamless coordination in resolving settlement issues.

The future of transaction settlement

Here’s what your business can expect from the future of transaction settlements…

Emerging trends in digital settlement

There will be a growing demand for instant, cross-border, real-time payments functionality, which is something that blockchain-based payments can offer. According to Juniper Research, global ecommerce payment transactions for blockchain-based payment networks will exceed $7.5 trillion by 2026, up from $4.9 trillion in 2021.

You can also expect to see an uptick in tokenized financial assets, cryptocurrency to fiat currency conversions, and Central Bank Digital Currency.

Global standards and regulations

With new regulations in place, such as PSD2, there will be stricter requirements for your business to settle payments. PSD2 mandates stricter customer authentication, known as Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), for various online transactions, especially high-value and recurring payments. The aim is to elevate customer security and safeguard their interests.

Potential challenges and solutions on the horizon

The payment processing sector faces challenges in security, regulation, cross-border compliance, competition, and adapting to consumer preferences. It plays a critical role in the global economy and must continually innovate to remain secure and competitive.

However, there are solutions and opportunities to help your business stay ahead of the curve. For example, payment processors can achieve global expansion through strategic partnerships with local financial entities, necessitating compliance with diverse regulatory frameworks and aligning with regional payment trends.

Meanwhile, offering value-added services like data analytics, loyalty programs, and invoice management enhances differentiation and boosts customer loyalty. Additionally, integrating with cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain, IoT, and AI should empower your business to innovate new solutions, elevating both efficiency and security.

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September 29, 2023 20:40
October 29, 2023 20:40