Understanding Your Processing Options: Amex Direct vs. Amex OptBlue

American Express (Amex) is known globally as a trusted credit card company that offers unique benefits and attentive customer service to their customers. Although they have been in the credit card business for 70 years now, they were originally founded as a freight forwarding company, and it took them 100 years to roll out their first credit card. Fast forward to 2020, and American Express continues to pioneer the digital commerce space while offering new and exciting options to its customers and merchants.

American Express has long been viewed as the “other” credit card in terms of merchant acceptance. With steeper processing rates than Visa or Mastercard, merchants are often hesitant to accept Amex cards as it can cut into their profits. But, Amex has continued to offer exciting additions to their suite of products that have made it easier and more profitable for merchants to accept Amex cards—the key, however, is understanding these more appealing options for qualified merchants.

Merchants who want to accept American Express cards should be aware that Amex offers two different account setup options, each with various pros and cons. Amex Direct, or Amex ESA, is a direct merchant services account with Amex, while OptBlue is an account that’s set up through a processing bank (such as Fiserv or Elavon). Keep reading to learn more about your options as a merchant and to see which account setup is better for your business!

Amex Direct

Amex Direct, also referred to as Amex ESA, is a separate, dedicated merchant services account with American Express. Most elements of processing—such as fees and deposits—are handled by American Express. At the end of each billing cycle, merchants receive a bill from Amex that’s separate from any bill they may receive for Visa and Mastercard transactions.

A direct account usually targets businesses that process more than $1 million in Amex transactions. However, there are specific industries in which merchants who process less than $1 million would also benefit from an Amex Direct account. Additionally, merchants with large tickets (high-cost products or services) are often better off with Amex Direct. 

With most payment gateway integrations, Amex Direct merchants receive funding one day later than they would through a processing bank. However, Fidelity’s payment gateway, Cardknox, offers a unique solution to ensure that Merchants receive their Amex funds the very next day, just as they would through a processing bank.

Amex OptBlue

Launched in 2015, Amex OptBlue is American Express’s solution for small businesses. OptBlue allows merchants to accept cards through the same credit card processor that they use for Visa, Mastercard, or Discover processing, and the merchant is funded by the processing bank in the same way as well. At the end of the billing cycle, merchants will receive one bill from their processor that includes Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and Amex fees. 

Previously, the only option for merchants to accept American Express cards was through the Amex Direct route, which often resulted in higher, non-negotiable rates and more intermediaries. Fortunately, OptBlue was introduced to provide smaller merchants with better rates and reconciliations, simplified billing, and quicker payments. Small businesses that previously shifted or shied away from accepting American Express cards can now do so affordably and on their own terms. 

Which One Should I Choose?

Deciding between OptBlue and Direct generally comes down to your industry, processing volume, and average ticket sizes. As always, Fidelity Payment Services is here to work closely with you to determine the right credit card processing account setup that will boost your bottom line. Our 20+ years of industry knowledge and proprietary technology enable us to offer the most advanced features at the most competitive rates! To learn more, reach out to our Customer Service team or your Fidelity Sales Representative.