Independent sales organizations all perform effectively the same major functions, but that doesn’t mean they’re all alike! There are two main categories that define ISOs – registered and unregistered – and the category a business falls into has a huge impact on both how they operate and how much they can earn in monthly residuals. Unregistered ISOs are essentially independent agents – owner-operated businesses that aren’t allowed to subcontract work or hire employees. On the other hand, Registered ISOs can hire as many of their own independent agents as they want, making registration the key that unlocks major growth and the revenues that come along with it. But registration isn’t easy – after all, if it was, every ISO would do it. Instead, it’s a long, drawn-out, costly process that can be broken down into three major tasks:

  • Finding a processing sponsor,
  • applying with credit card companies, and;
  • paying hefty registration fees to each. 

1) Find a Processing Partner to Sponsor Your New ISO

Before you can begin the actual registration process with the card issuers, you’ll need to find a sponsor – a payment processor or Super ISO willing to take you on as a partner. The sponsor serves two major functions: first, it shows the credit card companies that you actually have services to sell, and second, it acts as a first step in the due diligence process, as your sponsoring processor won’t just take on any new ISO that asks them. A new partner represents a certain level of risk, so a sponsor will want to know basic information at a minimum, like your company structure and business history, in order to ensure you’re reputable and can be trusted with their services. And while only one sponsor is required for registration, top ISOs all work with multiple processors, and the more partners you have in your corner upfront, the better. 

2) Apply for Registration with the Major Credit Card Companies 

A new ISO partnered with a known and reputable processor represents a lower risk to the card companies than a completely unknown and unbacked business, but the risk is still significant, and the real due diligence starts with an application for registration. Would-be registered ISOs must apply to each major card issuer they want to work with, and that generally means two applications at an absolute minimum – Visa and Mastercard. 

The registration process is long and in-depth – often taking months to complete and involving a complete review of every aspect of your business history and financials, right down to your personal finances and credit history as the owner. Each company performs its own review and, once passed, will grant registration upon payment of the mandatory fees. The registration process is complex and can be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with it, so it’s often worthwhile to bring on a trusted advisor or consultant who has gone through the process start-to-finish in the past. 

3) Pay Your Fees

Unfortunately, registration isn’t just time-consuming and difficult – it’s also extremely expensive as well. Newly registered ISOs must pay a $10,000 registration fee upfront for each card company they want to work with – $20,000 at a minimum, and potentially significantly more. Every year thereafter, an additional $5,000 is due to each company to maintain the right to continue selling payment services as a registered ISO. 

While the fees involved are steep, they pale in comparison to the potential revenue growth an ISO can enjoy by registering. As a result, successful ISOs don’t blink at the tens of thousands they pay in yearly registration fees. But a large outlay due up-front acts as an effective barrier to ensure only serious candidates apply for registration, making the fees more important as gates than as sources of revenue for the card companies. 


The registration process is arduous by design and represents a major investment for ISOs looking to grow and maximize earning potential. But registering is not a guarantee of growth or success in and of itself. Newly registered ISOs still have to successfully navigate the extremely competitive payments industry and find ways to carve out market share from their competitors, operate efficiently, and serve merchants better. Arguably the best way for new registered ISOs to get ahead of the competition and ensure their investments in registration aren’t squandered is through the adoption of an advanced payments CRM, like IRIS CRM. 

IRIS CRM provides both registered and unregistered ISOs with all the tools they need to streamline and improve everything from merchant acquisition, to the onboarding process, to ongoing service and support, to residuals reporting, training, long-term planning, and much more. It also centralizes all of an ISO’s most important sales and administration tasks, bringing them into a single point of control and saving countless amounts of wasted time, energy, and money. 

To find out more about everything IRIS CRM can offer your ISO, reach out to a member of the team or schedule a free guided demonstration today.