Should Your Business Use an Account Updater? Find Out…

by | Jun 12, 2020 | Payments

Abstract blue credit card photo

Is an account updater right for your organization? It’s something you should consider if you are concerned about failed credit card transactions. An account updater adds another tool to your arsenal to help minimize failed transactions

How an Account Updater Works

An account updater refers to software that can automatically perform credit card updates for cards stored in your vault. For example, if a credit card expires and a customer with an active subscription forgets to update the credit card on the company’s website, the account updater performs this task. The business or customer does not need to intervene.

Credit card information changes regularly due to re-issued cards, account closures, card upgrades, mergers, and so forth. 

Another useful feature of account updaters for an organization is that (depending on the payment gateway that offers the service), you configure it to conform to your business processes. 

Here are a few examples of how businesses might configure the automation of an account updater: 

  • Check credit cards nightly if your company processed them in the past three months. 
  • Check credit cards nightly if your company will bill them in the next billing cycle.
  • Always check a set of declined credit cards.

Why Use an Account Updater? 

An account updater can benefit organizations that keep card information on file for future payments or rely on recurring credit card payments (or donations). Examples range from health clubs to software-as-a-service (SaaS) to non-profit organizations. 

Consider the potential cost savings in using an account updater: 

  • Devote significantly less time tracking down customers to ask them to update expired credit card information. 
  • Stop paying the transaction fee for failed transactions, which you must pay whether or not the card is approved.
  • Prevent income loss from the failed transaction. 

The other benefits of using an account updater relate to customer satisfaction. By automatically updating the customer’s credit card, they don’t lose access to the service (or product) they’re paying for. If your business places an unpaid account on hold due to a failed transaction, the customer also doesn’t have the hassle of contacting your customer service team to reactivate the account.

Account Updater Basic Features

Account updaters are usually available from payment gateway businesses (typically as an add-on). One exception is Spreedly, which provides access to multiple payment gateways and also has its version of an account updater

The sheer number of payment gateway companies prevents us from providing a comprehensive list of features for account updaters, but we’ll touch on a few of the more important ones: 

  • Real-time versus batch updates
  • When cards are updated
  • Reporting

Real-Time Versus Batch Updates

If your company has predictable billing cycles, the standard off-line batch processing for credit card account updates will likely work just fine for your business. A batch account updater can have a 2 – 5 day response time.

However, some payment gateways and processors can offer the account updating service in real-time (during the time of authorization). Adyen revealed impressive results in recovering churn when their customers used a real-time account updater along with the standard batch process. 

As of this writing, real-time processing is an add-on type of service, and there’s likely an additional fee associated with it. 

When Credit Card Are Updated

Typically, when a company first uses an account updater, it checks all of the cards in the vault for changes. After that, the updater checks cards based on criteria, such as:

  • Cards with fail transactions that have specific decline codes
  • Billing payment due within X days or weeks
  • Cards that expire in the current month

The criteria vary depending on which company is providing the credit card update service. 


Getting access to reports is essential so that you can monitor the results and (if possible) tweak the timing, criteria, batch size, and so forth to optimize the service. 

If you prefer to update the card information on your end instead of letting the account updater to do it, then having a report of the cards that have changed is crucial. Make sure you understand how to access the reports (user interface, .csv download, API) before you sign up for the service. 

What Else You Need to Know

Depending on who provides the service, you may not get credit card updates across all countries or all credit card companies. For example, the updater may work only with Visa and Mastercard, but not Discover or American Express.

Additionally, not all cards are automatically updated. Even if the account updater works with, say, Visa, it’s the banks issuing the Visa cards that must agree to participate in the payment gateway’s account updater feature. And to go yet another level down, customers can opt out of using this service with the issuing bank.

Is an Account Updater Worth It?

Of course, fees for an account updater service will vary by company. While some companies may have worked the cost into their base rate, other companies may charge a set-up fee followed by a per-transaction fee each time the updater runs. Yet others may charge a fee based on each updated card or a rate based on how many cards get updated in a batch. 

We suggest doing some digging to figure out what the typical credit card failure rate is for your industry, segment, country, currency, etc. Based on your average transaction price, you should have a good idea of how much more revenue you might be able to hold onto by using an account updater. 

In closing, an account updater isn’t a magic pill to make all your payment failures go away. It’s merely another tool you can use (along with fraud checks and payment gateway adjustments) to help raise the number of payment successes. If you make an effort to enable this with your payment gateway, we think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Related Articles