The vast majority of businesses now accept credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, and a number of other credit types as a valid form of payment for goods or services.

When was the last time you walked into a business and saw a sign that said “cash only”? The way consumers pay for purchases has changed dramatically over the past several decades – even checks are rarely used any more thanks to the popularity of debit cards and online payment options.

What PCI Compliance Means for the Small Business Owner

As a business owner, this means that you enjoy multiple avenues for conducting sales transactions, as well as the opportunity to offer your customers convenience when it comes to forms of payment.

But you must comply with Payment Card Industry (or PCI) standards any time you process a credit transaction. And compliance laws are nothing if not complex.

However, they are necessary to protect both you and your card-holding customers from fraud, identity theft, and other illegal usage. And the consequences for failing to comply could be severe.

While you don’t necessarily have to be an expert when it comes to PCI compliance rules and regulations, you at least need to understand the basic requirements that must be met in order to remain in compliance. And they largely revolve around securing data in order to ensure safe transactions.

The Basics of PCI Compliance for Your Business

Like any business, you’ll want to start with a firewall and antivirus software that protects your system from outside threats, as well as procedures and policies that ensure employees are unable to access and use customer data in inappropriate ways.

But from there you’ll need to take steps specifically designed to ensure that access to sensitive customer information is protected at the point of sale and beyond.

And whether you run a retail store or an online operation, it is imperative that you take all necessary steps to address the potential for threats both outside your company and within your walls.

Along these lines you’ll want to consider adding password protections for customers that use online accounts, as well as encryption software for data being sent over public networks. And access to credit information should be limited.

If you run a brick-and-mortar store, this could mean using software that will X out all but the last four digits of a card number on receipts.

In the online setting, it may mean hiding certain portions of sensitive data from all but the employees that are specifically authorized to see it. And of course, you’ll need to have some kind of oversight and monitoring in place to ensure that systems, processes, and policies are working properly to protect cardholder data.

Why Is Merchant Account Processing Security So Important?

Now that you have a rough idea of what you’re supposed to do to remain compliant with PCI standards, you need to know why your end of merchant account processing security is so important.

Consider for a moment what might happen if one employee switched off your internet gateway. Every computer in your network would lose internet access. This could affect your ability to make sales, impacting customers negatively and losing you money.

The good news is that this problem is easily rectified by simply restoring power to the gateway. Compromised data associated with credit card processing can be viewed in a similar light except that the damage is on a much larger scale.

Your customers are entrusting you with their consumer identity every time they make a purchase via your real-world or virtual merchant account. So a failure to properly protect that sensitive information can not only cost you a customer, but it could cost your customers a lot more.

In addition to suffering a lawsuit associated with such a breach, you’ll face fines that could come out to as much as $500,000 per incident.

And what’s worse, your reputation will almost certainly suffer as a result. When your customers don’t trust you to protect their interests, they’re bound to favor competitors that can offer the security they expect.

It doesn’t matter if you manage a retail location or your run transactions through an ecommerce merchant account – the onus is on you to go the extra mile to protect the sensitive, personal credit information your customers entrust to you. And the benefits of doing all you can to comply with PCI regulations are manifest.

The Benefits of Living Up to PCI Standards for Your Business

You’ll earn the trust and loyal patronage of consumers, you’ll avoid costly fines and potential lawsuits, and you’ll keep your sterling reputation for ethical business practices intact.

So rather than hemming and hawing about the difficulties of compliance, think about all you stand to gain in the process, and what you stand to lose if you fail to live up to PCI standards.