High-Risk Merchant Accounts Guide

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High-risk merchant accounts are payment taking systems dedicated to businesses considered ‘high risk’ – such as new ventures, or those with bad credit rating.

With rising interest rates due to the UK’s economic stagnation, banking institutions are going through a conservative stint and deeming more businesses ‘high-risk’. However, if your business falls under this category, not to worry: we’ve prepared this guide for you to know the ins and outs of high-risk merchant accounts, if you need one, and some of the best accounts of this kind out there.

What are the top 3 high-risk merchant accounts for UK businesses?

  1. Worldpay – Best for gambling businesses
  2. Instabill – Best for travel agencies
  3. ccNetPay – Best for pharmacies

Clicking any of the links above will allow you to compare quotes to find the right merchant account for your business.

What is a high-risk merchant account?

A high-risk merchant account is a payment solution that specialises in assisting businesses considered to be “high risk” in charging customers and accessing funds. High risk businesses include new, inexperience ones; those that deal largely with international transactions; and those that have a bad credit rating.

Generally speaking, to accept card payments – whether that’s online, over the phone, or from behind a counter – you’ll need a merchant account. For many businesses, attaining one can be a pretty straightforward process. You simply apply for a merchant account either directly with a bank, or through a third-party UK merchant account provider.

Not all businesses, though, are created equal – and some will have a hard time being accepted for a standard merchant account.

Why? Because some businesses are classified as ‘high risk’. New businesses, those with bad credit ratings, or those that trade in high value international transactions all fall into this category. The same goes for the gambling and adult entertainment industries, as well as businesses that sell pharmaceuticals.

As you can imagine, banks are acutely aware of this elevated level of risk, and as a result are less keen to offer these businesses merchant accounts. Hence, high risk merchants have to go elsewhere if they want to start taking payments – specifically, to a high risk merchant account provider.

So, is your business high risk? Let’s find out.

What businesses are considered high risk?

Your business might be considered high risk if:

  • You’re a new business, with little experience in processing card payments
  • Your industry is considered high risk
  • You deal mainly in high value transactions
  • You deal largely in international transactions, involving countries deemed to have a high chargeback risk (basically anywhere outside the UK, USA, and Australia/New Zealand)
  • You have a bad credit rating
  • You’ve previously had a merchant account terminated because of excessive chargebacks
  • You’re a multi-currency business

If any of these might apply to you (or are even starting to ring a few alarm bells), then keep reading!

Did You Know?

On the topic of alarm bells, make sure you know the difference between a business account and a merchant account. It could save you a headache or two in the future!

Which industries are considered high risk?

High risk industries are considered so because they trade in products that come with a higher inherent level of risk. These include:

  • Alcohol, tobacco, and electronic cigarettes
  • Pharmaceuticals (drug products and prescriptions)
  • Travel, airline, and tourism
  • Debt collection agencies and payday loans
  • Adult entertainment, gambling, and escort services
  • Foreign exchange (Forex)
  • Timeshares and pyramid selling
  • Subscription services and monthly memberships
  • Events and ticketing services
  • Online auctions
  • Affiliate marketing and advertising services
  • Charities and nonprofits

Banks deem businesses in these industries to be associated with a higher risk of chargebacks. This is where consumers complain to the bank about an incorrect or dodgy card transaction, and the banks have to return the money.

Travel agents, for example, are seen as having a greater risk of chargebacks. Why? Well, because such a long time often transpires between payment (purchasing flights or accommodation) and the delivery of the service (actually going on the holiday), there’s a lot of time for customers to change their minds, or dispute the payment. A chargeback gets issued, and the bank (and your business) loses out.

Online subscription services are another example of an industry with a high chargeback risk. If you’ve ever signed up with an online service for a free 30-day trial period (Amazon Prime comes to mind) and then swiftly forgotten about it, you’ll know why. People check their bank statements, balk at the amount they didn’t know they’d spent, and – you guessed it – call up their banks and complain.

Chargebacks are a huge hassle for issuing banks (not to mention for you!), so naturally, they’re more reluctant to issue merchant accounts to businesses that fall into this bracket.

What if I have a bad credit rating?

If you have a bad credit rating and are looking for a merchant account, well… there’s both good news, and bad news.

The bad news is that you’ll be considered a high risk merchant by the banks. Even if your industry isn’t high risk, you will be. 

The good news is that you won’t necessarily need a high risk merchant account to start taking card payments. That’s right – there are several providers (including payments platform Stripe and Square) that don’t run a credit check when you sign up. This lets you sidestep the bigger fees commonly associated with high risk merchant accounts, and start taking payments right away – without the label of high risk hanging over your head.

Read our Square Review.

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Which high-risk merchant account is best for my business?

There’s a range of merchant account providers in the UK that specialise in catering to high risk businesses. The trouble is, the less scrupulous of these providers can take advantage of their customers’ situations, charging high processing fees and providing substandard service.

We’ve done the research, and found the best high risk merchant accounts for a range of industries. The best high risk merchant accounts come from Worldpay, Instabill, and ccNetPay. Let’s find out why.

The best high-risk merchant accounts for UK businesses:

  1. Worldpay (best for gambling businesses)
  2. Instabill (best for travel agencies)
  3. ccNetPay (best for pharmacies)

While we’ve highlighted three sectors that each of the following high-risk merchant providers are best for, we should note that these specialisms aren’t all they’re good for. Each of the below providers offers merchant services for a range of industries and business types considered high risk.


Best for online gambling businesses

Worldpay already provides high-risk merchant accounts to over 150 gambling businesses, including big names such as William Hill, bet365, and Ladbrokes. Its dedicated gambling team will work with you to help increase player conversion rates, while tailoring a risk screening process to the unique needs of your business. With over 200 secure payment methods and more than 120 currencies to choose from, Worldpay is a safe bet for your business.


  • Process over 200 transactions per second
  • Up to 90% of bank transfers reach your account the following day
  • Highly scalable and suitable for high risk businesses of all sizes


  • Some pricing packages may outprice small businesses


Best for travel agencies

Instabill specialises in providing high-risk merchant accounts to businesses around the world. As well as offering merchant accounts specifically for sellers of bitcoin, hemp oil, and cannabis, Instabill also offers a service tailored to the unique needs of travel agents. If you can get past the rather basic look and feel of its website, you’ll benefit from Instabill’s real-time, international payment processing, as well as its developed fraud protection features. Throw in 24/7 technical support, and you’re looking at a scalable, secure option for your high risk business.


  • Intelligent risk management techniques come with the service
  • Offers a range of ways to accept card payments, both online and over the phone


  • It’s US-based (with an office in Malta), which means it may be less attuned to the needs of UK businesses


Best for pharmacies

ccNetPay also suffers from having an unfortunate-looking website, but that shouldn’t detract from its reliable high-risk merchant account services. Providing offshore, multi-currency payment processing, ccNetPay is ideal for connecting UK-based businesses to their European neighbours and beyond. It also offers a merchant account built for the demands of online pharmacies. Sure, the rates are a tad steep, but applying is quick, and you can be accepted within 48 hours.


  • There are no caps on the volume of card payments you can accept
  • Offers payment processing for bricks and mortar pharmacies, as well as ecommerce merchants


  • It takes between one and two weeks to have your account activated

Next steps

If you’ve read this far, you’ll have a good idea what a high-risk merchant account is, and whether your business or industry belongs in this category. You also have three high-risk merchant account providers, all of which offer industry-specific solutions, to get you started.

But it’s not always easy to choose the provider that’s right for your business. And it’s even less easy to compare quotes, and to know exactly how much you can expect to pay amidst the myriad fees involved with a merchant account.

Here’s where we can help. Simply fill in our free quote-finding form, and enter a few details about your business requirements (it takes less than a minute). You’ll receive quotes, tailored to your needs, from several leading merchant account providers in the UK. It’s free of cost, hassle, and risk!

High-risk merchant accounts FAQs

What is considered a high-risk merchant account?
Merchant accounts that serve inexperienced new businesses, those with bad credit rating, those which trade in high value international transactions, or those in risky industries (such as gambling or adult entertainment) are considered high-risk merchant accounts.
How does a high-risk merchant account work?
High-risk merchant account works largely like their regular counterparts, in the sense that they also provide a payment system as well as a buffer account for your customers’ money to stay while the transaction is being made. However, they also come with risk screening tools specific to high-risk companies.
What are high-risk merchant account fees?
High-risk merchant account fees are the fees charged by the provider in order to offer you the merchant account service. Normally, you’ll be charged a fixed monthly fee (usually between £25 and £75 per month) and then fees on top of every payment you take (which typically range from 1.25% to 2.75% per transaction).

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Written by:
Rob Binns
Rob writes mainly about the payments industry, but also brings to the table industry-specific knowledge of CRM software, business loans, fulfilment, and invoice finance. When not exasperating his editor with bad puns, he can be found relaxing in a sunny (socially-distanced) corner, with a beer and a battered copy of Dostoevsky.
Reviewed by:
Ruairi uses his 3+ years of research experience to uncover insights which can help Expert Market provide the best business solutions for their users. He has done this by meeting with business owners to find out what is important to them and what challenges they face on a daily basis. Ruairi specialises in tools that can be used to grow your business and has done research for a wide range of categories on Expert Market, such as EPOS, Website Builders, and Merchant Accounts.