What Stance Do Major Card Brands Take on Products or Services in High-Risk Industries?

In short:

  1. High-risk industries face unique challenges in payment processing due to high chargeback rates and regulatory scrutiny.
  2. Major card brands like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover have varying approaches to high-risk merchants, emphasizing consumer protection and fraud prevention.
  3. Navigating the high-risk landscape requires robust security measures, compliance with card brand regulations, and partnerships with specialized payment processors.

In the vast and ever-evolving landscape of global commerce, businesses span a broad spectrum of industries, each carrying its risks and rewards. Notably, companies operating within ” high-risk ” sectors face unique challenges, not least navigating the complex terrain of payment processing. Major card brands like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover play a pivotal role in this scenario, dictating these businesses’ engagement terms. Understanding the stance of these card giants on high-risk industries is crucial for companies striving for growth and sustainability.

Defining High-Risk Industries

Before delving into the positions of major card brands, it’s essential to understand what constitutes a high-risk industry. Typically, these sectors experience high chargeback rates, have a heightened risk of fraud, or are subject to strict regulations. Industries such as adult entertainment, online gambling, pharmaceuticals, e-cigarettes, and forex trading often fall into this category. The intricacies of defining a high-risk business and its challenges can be further explored in comprehensive guides like the one available at .

The Stance of Major Card Brands

Visa and MasterCard


Visa and MasterCard, the most widespread payment networks, have established detailed guidelines and regulations for high-risk merchants. Their approach focuses on safeguarding both the consumer and the integrity of the payment ecosystem. This includes rigorous merchant screening, higher scrutiny of transactions, and stringent compliance requirements with their operating standards. For businesses in high-risk categories, this often means undergoing enhanced due diligence processes and adhering to specific operational prerequisites, such as securing higher levels of fraud protection and chargeback management protocols.

American Express

American Express

American Express, with its unique model of card issuance and network operations, takes a slightly different approach. Given its direct relationship with cardholders and merchants, AmEx exercises greater discretion in partnering with high-risk businesses. It tends to have more stringent criteria for merchant acceptance and may impose higher processing fees or reserve requirements on industries it perceives as riskier. However, American Express can offer access to a wealthy clientele base for businesses that meet its standards, potentially driving higher average transactions.



While Discover has a smaller global reach than Visa and MasterCard, it is known for its flexibility and merchant-friendly policies. It is also open to working with a diverse range of businesses, including those in high-risk sectors. Nonetheless, Discover also mandates compliance with its regulations and risk management criteria, emphasizing the importance of fraud prevention and secure transaction processes.

Navigating High-Risk Waters

For businesses operating within high-risk industries, aligning with the requirements of major card brands is a critical step toward achieving operational efficiency and customer trust. This involves investing in robust security measures, maintaining transparent business practices, and fostering a culture of compliance and ethical conduct.

Moreover, partnering with payment processors specializing in high-risk accounts can offer valuable support. These entities understand the nuances of navigating the card brands’ expectations and can provide tailored solutions that mitigate risks while optimizing payment acceptance rates.


The stance of significant card brands on products or services in high-risk industries is one of cautious engagement, balancing the need to support business innovation with the imperative to protect the payment ecosystem from fraud and compliance breaches. For merchants in these sectors, staying informed about the evolving landscape of payment processing regulations and building solid relationships with experienced payment service providers are critical steps toward sustainable growth. By adhering to the guidelines set forth by card networks and leveraging expert insights, businesses can navigate the challenges of high-risk commerce with confidence and success.


What defines a high-risk industry?

High-risk industries typically experience high chargeback rates, heightened fraud risk, or face strict regulatory requirements.

How do major card brands approach high-risk merchants?

They implement rigorous screening processes, higher transaction scrutiny, and compliance requirements to safeguard consumers and the payment ecosystem.

What sets American Express apart in handling high-risk businesses?

AmEx exercises discretion in partnering with such businesses, imposing stricter criteria and potentially higher fees while offering access to affluent clientele.

Is Discover open to working with high-risk businesses?

Yes, Discover has a flexible approach and works with diverse businesses, including those in high-risk sectors, while emphasizing compliance and risk management.

What steps can high-risk businesses take to navigate payment processing challenges?

They should invest in robust security measures, maintain transparency, comply with regulations, and partner with specialized payment processors.

How can merchants ensure sustainable growth in high-risk industries?

Stay informed about payment processing regulations, adhere to card brand guidelines, and leverage expert insights and partnerships for tailored solutions.